A Changed Man
The change has not only saved Ore's football career but also given the Hokies' rebuilding offense a budding star to lean on. That was evident last Saturday in Blacksburg, where Ore led 11th-ranked Tech (4--0) to a 29--13 victory over Cincinnati. With his team struggling on offense and trailing 13--12 midway through the third quarter, Hokies coach Frank Beamer put the game in Ore's hands, giving the ball to the 5'11", 202-pound sophomore on 13 of the next 18 plays. Until that point Ore had been held to 22 yards on eight carries, but then he exploded, finishing the game with 170 yards on 25 rushes and scoring a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown. "It was the first time all year that I felt like I was watching Virginia Tech football," said Beamer after the game.
It took a dramatic intervention by Hite to start Ore's turnaround. Last Jan. 6 Hite traveled to Chesapeake, Va., in a last-ditch effort to salvage the running back's career. In a conference room at the Holiday Inn, Hite laid out the situation in stark terms to Ore; his mother, Karey; his cousin Mike Toliver; and brother, James, as well as to Cadillac Harris, Ore's coach at Indian River High. "I reserved the room for 30 minutes, and we were still there after 90," says Hite. "I told them that unless Branden changed, he was going to be out of this school. The more I talked, the more he slumped in his chair."
Ore, who was second on the team with 647 rushing yards in 2005, was coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Hite suggested that he take the semester off to rehab the shoulder and "get his head straight." The coach arranged for him to get a job with a youth charity in Blacksburg, but when his no-nonsense mother discovered that it would require Branden to work only three days a week, she insisted he take a job she lined up for him instead. That's how Ore came to spend his spring working eight-hour days in a Chesapeake cold-storage warehouse, packing and loading crates for shipment. "Whatever you see people wearing in a snowstorm, that's what I had on," he says. "It was a reality check, and it's the best thing that ever happened to me."
Says Hite, "He finally realized that football was his ticket in life."
Ore called Hite in April and promised to return to campus a changed man. He has been true to his word, arriving 15 minutes early to workout sessions, meetings and even media interviews. He took 12 credits in summer school, attending every class and making up the course work he'd missed in the spring. His play has been sparkling. He leads the ACC in rushing, at 99.8 yards per game, and has already scored seven touchdowns. "He has the tools to be one of the best we've had," says Hite. "He can catch, he's got great vision, and his jump cut is as good as any I've seen."
Tech is breaking in eight new starters on offense, including quarterback Sean Glennon and three members of the line. Ore's emergence, a soft early schedule—the first three games were against Northeastern, North Carolina and Duke—and a dominant defense have allowed the other rookies to get comfortable before the ACC season begins in earnest this week against Georgia Tech. "Being able to run the ball gives the line confidence, which we desperately need," says Beamer.
For his part, Ore says he isn't worried about his inexperienced teammates. After all, if he can come so far so fast, why can't they?
A Bowl in the Cadets' Future?