SEASON will be about far more than football. The horror of the campus shootings
in April, when a gunman killed 27 students, five faculty members and himself,
still reverberates throughout Blacksburg, and the Hokies realize that part of
their purpose is to help the university continue to heal. "I really want to
give our community something to smile about," says coach Frank Beamer.
His team should
be quite capable of accomplishing at least that much. With another edition of
what has become its trademark defense--speedy, swarming and stingy--Virginia
Tech appears to be the class of the ACC and a serious contender for a berth in
the BCS championship game.
The 2006 defense
allowed only 11 points per game, best in the nation, and for the second
straight year the Hokies surrendered the fewest yards per game in the country.
Hard as it may be to believe, this year's unit could be even better, with eight
starters returning, including fifth-year seniors Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall,
the two linebackers who seem to be in on every tackle.
Hall (6' 1'', 240
pounds), the team's leading tackler over the last two years and an all-ACC
selection as a junior, is a ferocious hitter who excels against the run and is
similar in stature and style to Zach Thomas, the Miami Dolphins' Pro Bowl
middle linebacker. "He's one of the best players I've ever coached in terms
of instincts and vision," says defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who begins
his 21st season with the program.
Because of his
speed and pass-coverage skills, Adibi (6' 2'', 236) is the perfect complement
to Hall. In addition to intercepting three passes last season, Adibi forced
three fumbles and returned another fumble for a touchdown to seal a victory
over Wake Forest. "He can go sideline to sideline to make a tackle, and he
can run with players coming out of the backfield," says Beamer. "Xavier
is a classic big-play guy."
With Adibi and
Hall as the foundation, the defense seems well-equipped to uphold Virginia
Tech's proud Lunch Pail defensive tradition. Since 1995 a battered lunch pail
has served as the symbol of the defense's blue-collar approach. A huge replica
hangs in the Merryman Center, the athletic-department headquarters, and one can
be found on the sideline at every practice and game. "It's part of our
mentality," says Hall. "Our goal isn't to be flashy or call attention
to ourselves. Every snap is about getting down to serious, hard work."
Virginia Tech will come from all around the country. "It may be for a sad
reason, but everyone seems to be pulling for us," says senior left tackle
Duane Brown. "In a way, I think we'll kind of be America's team. People who
don't even follow Virginia Tech tell me, 'I'll be rooting for you.' "
But the cheers
that the Hokies care most about will come from their university family. With
students, faculty and the rest of the community eager for the chance to
celebrate instead of mourn, the rewards of their hard work will be greater than