Tech athletics mourns passing of former football standout

(Editor’s Note: Funeral services for Keion Carpenter took place Monday in his hometown of Baltimore. We take one more look back at his life and career as Hokies everywhere mourn his passing.)

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – On a perfect November evening in South Florida, Virginia Tech found itself clinging to a touchdown lead late in a game against Miami at the Orange Bowl, a decrepit venue that had been purgatory for many opponents, including the Hokies, who had never won a game there.

The ’Canes were five years removed from their 1991 national championship and still the BIG EAST’s bullies. They entered this 1996 tussle against Tech without a league loss, and one knew, given their reputation, they would not succumb quietly.

They marched to the Tech 8 with less than two minutes to go. What transpired would be known as one of the most memorable plays in Tech history.

Keion Carpenter, a sophomore and an outgoing young man from Baltimore, intercepted a Scott Covington pass and went 100 yards for a touchdown, sealing the Hokies’ first win in Miami. It was the first of many big plays that would define his career.

Unfortunately, Carpenter’s life was cut short, as the former Tech free safety passed away suddenly early on the morning of Dec. 29 in Florida. He was only 39 years old.

(For the Baltimore Sun's recap of Carpenter's funeral service, please click here.)

Many Tech fans will remember Carpenter for what he accomplished on the field – and for good reason. He started for three seasons at free safety, and while he played well there, he became more noted as a weapon on Tech’s special teams.

Frank Beamer gets credit as the guru of special teams, but the truth is Carpenter provided the execution for a lot of those great schemes by displaying an uncanny ability to block kicks. He blocked six in his career – tied for the most in school history.

He even blocked a punt in his final collegiate game, a 38-7 two-stepping on top of Alabama in the 1998 Music City Bowl on a brutally cold, rainy night in Nashville, Tennessee. The block came on the Tide’s first punt attempt and set the tone for an evening when the Hokies – and not the Tide – rolled.

Carpenter graduated in the spring of 1999 with a degree in residential property management. NFL teams passed on him in the 1999 NFL Draft, but he enjoyed a successful NFL career anyway. He signed with the Buffalo Bills in the spring of 1999 and spent three seasons with the Bills. He later spent three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, and he finished his career with 165 tackles and 14 interceptions.

Following his NFL career, he established his own non-profit organization called “The Carpenter House.” The organization sought to help families from disadvantaged backgrounds, and according to the organization’s website, the organization’s resources have helped a combined 3,000 families/youth.

“Keion was the one of the rocks around which we built our program at Virginia Tech in the 1990s,” Beamer said in a statement released by the Tech strategic communications department. “He was a tenacious punt blocker and a relentless player on defense. More importantly, he had a heart of gold. His work with The Carpenter House and other charitable organizations to help those in need truly embodied the Virginia Tech spirit. Our condolences to Keion’s family on the loss of a great Hokie.”

The athletics department offers its condolences to the Carpenter family, many of whom live in the Baltimore area and are mourning his sudden loss – and obviously will do so for quite some time. Rest assured, his extensive Virginia Tech family will miss him just as much.

Please see the following condolences from those who best knew him:

For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter and on Instagram @vthokiefootball Instagram