Postcard from camp: Virginia Tech
Hokies return to gridiron after unthinkable tragedy
Posted: Thursday August 9, 2007 12:26PM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 6:53PM
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- When I sat down with a sweat-drenched Sean Glennon following Virginia Tech's practice here Wednesday, I started by asking the junior quarterback how camp is going. I asked him what his training regimen has been like since the end of last season, where his confidence level is at and what his expectations are for the Hokies' offense this season.
And then, I asked him a question about my questions: "Is it nice to have someone actually asking you about football?"
"Actually, it is," the junior said with a smile. "Ever since Media Day, and all the interviews before that, football [questions] were definitely in the minority."
On a beautiful, albeit oppressively hot, August afternoon on two freshly-painted practice fields adjacent to Lane Stadium, I watched the Hokies go through the same sort of routine drills 118 other Division I-A teams were likely doing the same day. What made this trip different, however, is that shortly after practice, I drove less than a mile to the center of Virginia Tech's picturesque campus, parked my rental car, walked down a sidewalk and found myself standing in front of Norris Hall -- site of the deadliest shooting rampage in the history of this country.
With fall semester not yet in session, Virginia Tech's campus is practically empty right now, causing a quiet serenity that makes it impossible to fathom such a violent event could have taken place in this setting. But from ribbons to banners to bumper stickers to the bracelet on head coach Frank Beamer's arm, there are no shortage of tributes to the 32 people who were killed here on April 16. "I don't know that anyone here has gone a single day without being reminded for at least five seconds what happened," Glennon said. "And that's a good thing."
When the Hokies convened last week on the eve of their first practice, Beamer, who's entering his 21st season, told his players, "this is the most special opening meeting we've ever had. People know about Virginia Tech now that didn't last year at this time. People are probably going to want to follow how we're going to respond to April 16. I think a lot of people probably want to pull for Virginia Tech that didn't know much about Tech before. And our fans and alumni, they want to rally around something, and right now it's the football team.
"So you put all that together, plus the fact that we've been picked fairly high in most of the [preseason] polls, and this a very special time."
In his next breath, however, Beamer stressed the importance of his team preparing for the season the same way it always has. "People want to rally around us," Beamer said, "but they want to rally around something they're proud of."
In other words, to live up to the hefty expectations being placed on their shoulders by a community begging to be uplifted, the Hokies -- which return 16 starters from last season's 10-3 team -- are going to have to live up to their potential on the field. And so, at least for two hours a day this month, these particular Virginia Tech students devote their attention to a more joyful endeavor.
"Even before the tragedy struck, everyone in that locker room's expectations were high, and that hasn't changed. We definitely feel like we should be playing for the ACC championship," Glennon said. "But we also realize we're playing for more than wins and losses. This will always be known as 'the season after the shootings.' We're playing for those 32 families."