December 21, 2010
Tech's seniors the main reason for huge 2010 turnaround

From the very time they first walked into Virginia Tech’s football facility, there was a lot expected of the members of the Hokies’ 2007 football recruiting class.

There was the five-star, all-everything quarterback from Hampton, a national player of the year tailback from Indianapolis, the marvelously athletic safety from Varina and a mountainous tackle from Midlothian.

Tyrod Taylor, Darren Evans, Davon Morgan, and Blake DeChristopher were just four of the high school seniors who signed with Tech in February of 2007. And what a class that turned out to be, eh?

The 16 seniors, including Taylor and Morgan (Evans and DeChristopher are redshirt juniors), on Tech’s team created a lasting legacy that will be hard to match for any future group of seniors – and that legacy goes far beyond wins.

Sure, these seniors have won three ACC titles and will have played in three Orange Bowl games. They’ll have the rings to show their kids and grandkids. Also, they’ve got a chance to be the winningest overall class in school history.

Individually, Taylor rewrote the record books at Tech, shattering marks for total offense, passing yards and touchdowns among others. His name, and other guys from this class and the 2006 class (redshirt seniors), sit atop the various lists – at least for now.

But what set this group apart, more than the yards and records and the win total, was its unity and its character.

“You’ve heard me say this before, and I know it might sound repetitive, but the character of this team, and of those seniors, was the key to what happened around here this year,” head coach Frank Beamer said.

“What happened,” of course, is that Beamer’s 24th Tech team pulled off one of the great turnarounds we’ve ever seen.

The 2010 Virginia Tech Hokies were the first team in NCAA history to lose their first two ball games and then win 11 straight. It had never happened before.

Of course, they’ll hope to make it 12 in a row, with the 12th coming against Stanford. That would be an all-time school record for wins in a single season.

“This is a great group of seniors. They are like brothers to me,” Morgan said. “We knew we were better than that (0-2), and we knew what it would take to come back and win. We all believed.”

They believed because they had guys like Taylor and tight end Andre Smith, who spoke to the team. Neither is a shouter by any stretch, “but when they talk, their teammates listened,” Beamer said of the team meeting following the loss to James Madison, which dropped Tech’s record to 0-2.

For Taylor, it was a surreal, gloomy night when he returned to his apartment after the JMU game.

“It was rainy. I couldn’t believe we lost two games in one week. That had never happened to me in my life,” he recounted.

But what was his mood that night in September? “I couldn’t wait to get back on the field with these guys and get back to work,” he said.

When we look at recruiting lists and rankings, we judge kids by height, weight, 40 times and sometimes their other scholarship offers. We knew Taylor was good, and so did Florida, Florida State, Penn State and others who offered. We knew Morgan received offers from Tennessee and Michigan, and DeChristopher could have gone to Ohio State. Tech had to out-recruit some pretty good programs to sign that class in 2007.

But none of those lists and rankings take into account the character of the kids – and that, at least for this year’s Virginia Tech squad, turned out to be its greatest strength.

After all, there’s more than winning. In 2005, the Hokies finished 11-2 and ranked No. 12 in the final polls. But, as you recall, it didn’t taste quite right.

Tech had 17 penalties for 143 yards and lost the ACC Championship Game to Florida State. The Hokies’ first-team All-American safety bumped into an official and got tossed from the Gator Bowl in the first half. Its first-team All-ACC quarterback stomped on the leg of a Louisville player and eventually was dismissed from the team.

Tech had some outstanding young men on that 2005 team, people of very high moral character. But a few knuckleheads left a sour taste at the end of the season.

Beamer and his staff have really put a premium on recruiting the right kind of guys, looking for qualities and intangibles that don’t show up in recruiting rankings, and it really paid off in a big way this year.

I have no inside knowledge of the University of Texas football program, but do know they have very good coaches and have recruited extremely well over the past few years. I suspect they have good, quality kids, too. Their senior end, Sam Acho, was named the winner of the 2010 Wuerffel Trophy, honoring the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with outstanding academic and athletic achievement. In so many ways, Texas is the model program – facilities, operations, staff, etc.

But when your preseason goals are sky high, and then taken away with a couple of disheartening losses, it can be hard to re-focus, and bounce back. Texas was 3-0, got upset at home in week 4, and finished 5-7.

It’s like the guy who goes to Vegas and loses his life’s savings during a four-hour stint at a craps table. How do you possibly bounce back from that?

Similarly, Virginia Tech’s players invested so much into this 2010 season – years of work, offseason training and preparation. They poured every ounce of effort into preparing for this season and their goal was simple: they wanted to play for the BCS national championship.

Then, in one week, they lost it all.

Virginia Tech went from No. 6 in the rankings to completely out of the polls in one disastrous week.

0-2 and hopeless? Hardly.

Resilient is the word. The Hokies didn’t lose again.

“I don’t know that there was a turning point,” Beamer said. “We were down 17-0 at N.C. State and it didn’t look very good. But we battled and played hard. We didn’t always play well, but one thing about this team, it always played hard.”

And it all comes back to the seniors, so many who were key this year.

Smith’s huge day at N.C. State helped Tech come back and beat the Wolfpack. Danny Coale had a brilliant season, including a sensational night at the ACC Championship Game. Money-in-the-bank punter Brian Saunders and kicker Chris Hazley were as good as we’ve seen all year. The consistently solid John Graves was a key up front, and the emergence of end Steven Friday helped the defense come along as the year progressed.

Rock Carmichael was a superstar again in 2010 at corner. He refused to miss the ACC Championship Game. Can’t wait to see No. 21 play one more game.

There’s solid-as-a-rock Beau Warren up front and Kenny Younger, one of the classiest kids ever, leading the way at fullback. I think of the plays Zack Luckett made on special teams this year. His tale is a comeback story in itself.

It was so neat to see Jeff Wardach, Prince Parker and Ron Cooper make big contributions this year, too.

Then there were Morgan and Taylor, who will really be missed around here.

The list goes on and on, of course, but there are 16 really classy seniors on this team who helped turn 2010 into one of the most incredibly memorable seasons ever.

You know, Virginia Tech’s 1995 team remains one of the most popular ever not only because it won 10 games, but also because it won 10 straight after starting 0-2. That team had amazing seniors as well. Tech’s 2010 team is cut right out of the same mold. When things got bad, there was no finger-pointing, no blame game and no dissention.

In fact, the opposite happened with this team. It got closer, it got better and the Hokies ran the table.

They have one more game to play and it will be one emotional locker room at Sun Life Stadium after the game. It’s always tough to play that final game – a teary scene when the jersey comes off for the last time. The finality of it all is always so … well … cold.

But this group has already accomplished something no other team in the history of college football could do by turning 0-2 into 11-2. We’ve enjoyed watching them do it. Privileged, in fact, to witness this season.

And thrilled to get to see them play one more time on January 3.

Programming notes

Here’s our lineup of programming leading into the Orange Bowl game on Monday, January 3.

On TV, our Virginia Tech Sports Today bowl preview show will air on Sunday, January 2, on our network of stations throughout the region and on CSN-Washington. For a list of stations and times, click here:

On radio, we will have three Tech Talk LIVE! shows from Rivals Waterside Sports Grille at the Diplomat Landing in Hollywood, Fla. The shows will air from 6-7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 31, Saturday, Jan. 1, and Sunday, Jan. 2.

On game day, our pregame coverage of the Orange Bowl game will begin at 6 p.m. on our usual affiliates. If you are going to the game, you can hear our Tech network broadcast at Sun Life Stadium on your Live Sports Radio channel E-4.

For updates on Virginia Tech Athletics, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@hokiesports).

HokieSports Shop