Frank Beamer remembers when the students wore their apathy on their heads. "I'd go around campus," the 14th-year Virginia Tech coach recalls of his early seasons in Blacks-burg, "and see kids wearing North Carolina hats, Notre Dame hats. It drove me crazy."
The students on campus are far more likely these days to sport Beamer-approved headgear. Last season's appearance in the national-championship-deciding Sugar Bowl was Tech's seventh bowl game in seven years. The Hokies intend to use that game, a 46-29 loss to Florida State, as a springboard to college football's upper echelon—the ranks of teams that annually contend, more or less, for the national tide.
Why not? Since Beamer's arrival Tech has gotten more than its share of blue chip athletes from in—and out of—state. Recruiting has recently become much easier. In addition to its handsome campus and sparkling athletic facilities, Virginia Tech also boasts the country's most electrifying player in Michael Vick, a talent so transcendent that he has become an icon for the program.
The losses incurred by the defense stand as testament to the excellence the Tech program has achieved. Four players from the '99 unit went in the NFL draft, and another four signed free-agent contracts. This season only one defender, senior rover Cory Bird, returns to the position at which he started last fall. Gone are the defensive front, two linebackers and both corners. But Tech expects big things from down linemen and rising juniors David Pugh and Chad Beasley, already accustomed to making big plays in backup roles. New cornerbacks Ronyell Whitaker and Larry Austin are faster than last year's starting duo.
Beamer seems less concerned about the defense than he is about the special teams. Virtually everyone having anything to do with last fall's kicking game—holder, snapper, returners, kicker, punter—must be replaced. Also of concern: Unlike last year, the Hokies need to go on the road for their toughest conference games, against Syracuse and Miami.
If his team stubs its toe, the coach can live with that. "Consistency is the key," Beamer says. What he seeks to avoid is being "the kind of program that does it a couple years in a row, then drops out of sight." This year, at least, everyone is still watching.