VIRGINIA TECH'SSEASON will be about far more than football. The horror of the campus shootingsin April, when a gunman killed 27 students, five faculty members and himself,still reverberates throughout Blacksburg, and the Hokies realize that part oftheir purpose is to help the university continue to heal. "I really want togive our community something to smile about," says coach Frank Beamer.
His team shouldbe quite capable of accomplishing at least that much. With another edition ofwhat has become its trademark defense--speedy, swarming and stingy--VirginiaTech appears to be the class of the ACC and a serious contender for a berth inthe BCS championship game.
The 2006 defenseallowed only 11 points per game, best in the nation, and for the secondstraight 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 eightstarters returning, including fifth-year seniors Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall,the two linebackers who seem to be in on every tackle.
Hall (6' 1'', 240pounds), the team's leading tackler over the last two years and an all-ACCselection as a junior, is a ferocious hitter who excels against the run and issimilar in stature and style to Zach Thomas, the Miami Dolphins' Pro Bowlmiddle linebacker. "He's one of the best players I've ever coached in termsof instincts and vision," says defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who beginshis 21st season with the program.
Because of hisspeed and pass-coverage skills, Adibi (6' 2'', 236) is the perfect complementto Hall. In addition to intercepting three passes last season, Adibi forcedthree fumbles and returned another fumble for a touchdown to seal a victoryover Wake Forest. "He can go sideline to sideline to make a tackle, and hecan run with players coming out of the backfield," says Beamer. "Xavieris a classic big-play guy."
With Adibi andHall as the foundation, the defense seems well-equipped to uphold VirginiaTech's proud Lunch Pail defensive tradition. Since 1995 a battered lunch pailhas served as the symbol of the defense's blue-collar approach. A huge replicahangs in the Merryman Center, the athletic-department headquarters, and one canbe found on the sideline at every practice and game. "It's part of ourmentality," says Hall. "Our goal isn't to be flashy or call attentionto ourselves. Every snap is about getting down to serious, hard work."
Support forVirginia Tech will come from all around the country. "It may be for a sadreason, but everyone seems to be pulling for us," says senior left tackleDuane Brown. "In a way, I think we'll kind of be America's team. People whodon't even follow Virginia Tech tell me, 'I'll be rooting for you.' "
But the cheersthat the Hokies care most about will come from their university family. Withstudents, faculty and the rest of the community eager for the chance tocelebrate instead of mourn, the rewards of their hard work will be greater thanever.
COACH: Frank Beamer
2006 RECORD: 10-3 (6-2¬†in¬†ACC)
FINAL AP RANK: 19
Offense 8, Defense 8
RB Branden Ore (Jr.)
Workhorse had a pair of 200-yard games in 2006
CB Macho Harris (Jr.)
Forms top corner tandem with Brandon Flowers
QB Sean Glennon (Jr.)
Had as many interceptions as TD passes (11) lastyear
Sept. 1 EAST CAROLINA
8 at LSU
22 WILLIAM & MARY
29 NORTH CAROLINA
Oct. 6 at Clemson
13 at Duke
25 BOSTON COLLEGE
Nov. 1 at Georgia Tech
10 FLORIDA STATE
24 at Virginia
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"Everyone seems to be pulling for us," saysBrown. "We'll kind of be America's team."
Pouya Dianat/US PRESSWIRE
¬†STOPPERHall has been the top tackler the past two years.
Joel Auerbach/US PRESSWIRE (MASCOT)