When head football coach Frank Beamer retired in 2015, Virginia Tech had to brace for change—change it had not had combatted for over 29 years. Yet out of this adjustment, under new head coach Justin Fuente, came a new tradition that kept a bit of the past.
The former Memphis football leader decided to reward a player each week with the retired No. 25 Beamer jersey to wear for excellent special teams play.
Now almost two seasons in, the tradition is still alive and well, and Blacksburg has seen a variety of players sporting the 25.
For the homecoming game in 2016, the cornerback/return man scored on an 87-yard punt return touchdown and notched 155 All-Purpose yards against North Carolina.
There’s been the big.
Ricky Walker became the largest to wear Beamer’s former numbers.
Hokiesports broke the news, as the three hundred pound defensive tackle would go on to have four tackles, three solo, one tackle for loss, and one pass batted down in a win against Duke.
There’ve been the freshmen.
True freshmen wide receiver Divine Deablo and Australian-born punter Oscar Bradburn in 2016 and 2017 respectively wore the 25, as the newcomers too joined the newer tradition.
Of note, Deablo forced a fumble and the Bradburn had a 53-yard punt, both in victories.
Overall, Fuente says, “Thanks to Coach Beamer, his assistants and many talented student-athletes, Virginia Tech has become synonymous with special teams success.”
Now with Beamer gone, he remains with the team through the tradition and the special teams continue to succeed with great plays like Stroman’s and Deablo’s in the 25.
Beamer thinks this gesture shows the Hokies continue to be good hands.
“I couldn’t be more appreciative of the way Coach Fuente and everyone at [Virginia] Tech has handled the coaching transition. I think we have a great head coach who is going to continue to make Virginia Tech even better.”
Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds became the latest to wear the jersey numbers in Virginia Tech’s 28-22 defeat to Georgia Tech Saturday.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—Laid Out. Beamer’s number has been on four different jersey designs in 2017. The patterns include the 2017 home, away, Hokie stone and homecoming orange. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—Best So Far. Cornerback/punt returner Greg Stroman had the greatest game under the new Beamer Jersey Tradition. Rocking the No. 25, Stroman returned an 87-yard punt for a touchdown and totaled 155 All-Purpose yards against North Carolina on October 8, 2016. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—25 On Shoulder. Beamer’s number is seen on the Hokie stone pattern jersey. The uniforms were worn against Delaware September 9, 2017. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—A Prominent 25. Running back Kevin Jones wore the No. 25 in his last season at Virginia Tech in 2003 under Beamer. He would go on to be a first round draft pick in 2004. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—125 Year Anniversary. VT Football jerseys have the path celebrating 125 years of the program. Beamer has currently been with the program for 34 years: three as a player, 29 as a coach and 2 as a special assistant to the Athletic Director. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—Beamer’s Original Jersey. A display in Merryman Athletic Facility shows the once retired No. 25 Beamer wore. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—Four Of A Kind. Beamer’s No. 25 has been on four different designs in 2017. The patterns include the 2017 home, away, Hokie stone and homecoming orange. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—VT. The jersey shows the letters representing the school on the collar. The VT is on every jersey like there is now a No. 25 every game. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—First Of Tradition. The maroon design was the first jersey to sport the 25 as apart of this new tradition. The jersey was worn against Liberty September 3, 2016. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—Bright Orange 25. For Homecoming 2017, Virginia Tech football wore a new shade of orange jerseys. True freshman Oscar Bradburn wore Beamer’s 25 for the game. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—Frank Beamer Banner. Located at the back of North End Zone, the banner honors Beamer’s once retired 25-jersey number. Photo: Drew Davis.
Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 9—2017 Away 25. The 2017 white away Nike jersey dons the No. 25. The jersey was first worn September 16 against East Carolina. Photo: Drew Davis.
Scott Morgan writes that in every sport other than baseball, less than two percent of collegiate athletes turn pro. At Virginia Tech, the Office of Student-Athlete Development within the Athletic Department has started Career Jumpstart to show student-athletes their options after their playing days are over.
According to hokiesports.com, the “Career Jumpstart provides opportunities for Hokie student-athletes to enhance career development skills, while interacting with alumni and professionals to make connections, learning about specific career fields, and enhancing their networking skills.”
Whether it is getting a feel for what the path is to become a medical professional or learning to change four tires on a racecar, a wide variety of work was on display in Lane Stadium.
Billy Hardee, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at the Community Health Center of the New River Valley, said it was encouraging to see young athletes seeking out their options in the workforce.
The admiration also came from the student-athletes for their new colleagues.
“Tonight was really awesome,” said Mandy Powers, a senior on the Virginia Tech volleyball team. “We just had a great time meeting so many people from so many different companies.”
Like Hardee, other employers sang high praises of Virginia Tech for hosting an event of this nature for its athletes, but they also sang high praises for the student-athletes inquiring about their futures.
Kim Adams, the director of SOX and accounting policy at Union Bank & Trust, is also an alumnus of Virginia Tech. Adams said that she has always tried to give back to the school in which she attended and that Career Jumpstart provided another way for her to do just that.
“I never had the opportunity to do something like this when I was a student-athlete here,” said Dr. Billy Hardee, a former Virginia Tech student-athlete. “It’s great that this is very much a part of Virginia Tech and their athletic department.”
Hardee discusses his experiences with the event in the audio slideshow below.
Some say that speed kills. Others say that it is a way of life. For Blacksburg High School’s star running back Coleton Beck, it is the latter.
At the start of the 2016 football season, Beck was a fairly unknown athlete. Outside of local fans, virtually nobody knew his name. But by the season’s end, he had become the most highly-recruited player out of Southwest Virginia, gaining scholarship offers from big-time programs such as Pittsburgh, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, according to WSLS.com.
Why? Because of how fast he can run.
The local star boasts a 100-meter dash time so fast (10.41 seconds) that he is nearly within qualifying range for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team, which requires a time of 10.16 seconds, according to Flotrack.org. That type of quickness isn’t something that comes natural, either.
“I wasn’t always the fastest kid around,” Beck said. “I started strength, speed and agility training with former NFL linebacker Dennis Haley along with running track in the seventh grade. I’ve been fortunate to have great coaching ever since, including my current high school sprint coach Steve Schmitt.”
The speed that the local football star has gained over the years has helped evolve him into not only a highly-touted athlete, but a coach’s best friend as well.
Thad Wells, the head honcho of the Blacksburg High School football team, says that Beck is the fastest player he’s ever coached. Furthermore, he claims that having a player with speed like Beck’s makes his job much easier.
“Coaching a player like Beck reminds you that the game is simple,” Wells explained. “It comes down to the players. I just don’t want to over-complicate things.”
Despite Beck’s production, Wells still says that there is room to grow for the senior running back, and that Beck won’t reach his full potential until he gets into a collegiate lifting program.
Beck posted a list of his top three college choices to his personal Twitter page on Sept. 14, 2017. The finalists include UNC, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh. Even though anticipation is building, Beck says that he has no timeline regarding when he will announce his commitment.
The speedster hopes that his athleticism will give him the ability to make his dreams in collegiate and professional sports come true.
“My career goals are to be successful at the division one level, maybe the NFL and to make the U.S. Olympic Team as a sprinter,” Beck said.
Joey Slye is no stranger to being nominated for and winning awards. The Virginia Tech football team’s junior kicker was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award in 2016, awarded to the nation’s top placekicker, while also earning a spot on ESPN.com’s all-bowl team in 2015 and being named one of the team’s two Hard Hat Champions for 2017. However, no award may mean more to Slye than that of being named the 2017 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year for Virginia, an award that will be presented this May.
Slye, who lost his brother to Leukemia in February of 2014, was approached in December about running for the Virginia Chapter Man of the Year. According to the Virginia Man and Woman of the Year website, earning the title is based on dynamic and passionate individuals raising funds for blood cancer research.
Slye explains that being named this year’s LLS Man of the Year would have an even deeper meaning, as much of LLS’ research is being aimed at Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the cancer that claimed his brother’s life.
“Honestly, it’s crazy that I’m running this year when LLS’ main focus is going straight to AML,” said Slye. “He’s gone, but it’s kind of cool to know that every cent I make right now would have gone directly to him or someone else’s A.J.”
In order to claim rights to the title of Man of the Year, a candidate must out-fundraise the competing candidates. In an attempt to raise money for his campaign, Slye hosted the fundraiser “Help Joey Kick Cancer” on Sunday, April 23, in the Indoor Practice Facility. The event, which also played host to the Be The Match campaign, an initiative that swabs potential donors and places them on the bone marrow registry, was successful in raising over $6,000 and swabbed over 350 participants.
While Slye’s competitive spirit most certainly applies to the Man of the Year competition, he ultimately just wants to continue to bring attention to a personal cause.
“It’s fundraising money and spreading awareness in good competition with other people,” said Slye. “I mean yes, we want to win, but at the same time, we know as a collective group we are fundraising money that is going directly towards cancer research.”
In the hours and days following April 16, many weren’t certain how Virginia Tech and the community could begin down the long road of healing and regain some semblance of normalcy. When tragedy strikes, people turn to the things they are familiar with and for the members of Hokie Nation, sports was that familiarity.
The baseball team hosted the Miami Hurricanes and while the Hokies lost, the healing process had begun. Now ten years later, the team gets to show their respects again this upcoming Saturday against the University of Virginia. On First Responder Appreciation Day, the Hokies will take the field with special decals on their uniforms and helmets to honor the ten year anniversary.
However, the baseball team isn’t the only sports team at this school that will continue to honor the memories of those lost on April 16.
When playing in-season and during practice, the women’s soccer team wear black armbands as a symbol of the losses suffered that day. All of the players weren’t even in high school when the shooting occurred but they know that it is important to never forget about the past. Although the players were not even in high school yet, they know that it is important to never forget about the past.
“They’ve worn it [arm bands] for years, and its something that they have passed from team to team and its part of our culture that they kind of do it as they go,” head coach Charles “Chugger,” Adair explained. “I think for the players, it’s subtle, but yet, empowering that they have that and they can remember, kind of what Virginia Tech is about and about the previous people that have been here and been a part of the university and part of the culture. It’s empowering to them to see that and understand that it’s more than just them as a soccer team and more than a student body.”
While wearing arm-bands and decals show how impactful April 16 was on the campus, it also shows the resilient spirit of this community and university. The school and its sports teams won’t ever be able to fully get out from under the shadow April 16 casts upon this campus, but these teams can lessen that shadow. Through their hard work, dedication and love for their teammates, their school and all of Hokie Nation, they can ensure that Hokie Spirit will continue to live on.
BLACKSBURG, Va., Apr. 11 – Members of the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team practice while wearing black arm bands in honor of the ten year anniversary of April 16th. Photo: Conor Doherty
BLACKSBURG, Va., Apr. 11 – A member of the women’s soccer team waits for a practice drill to begin. Photo: Conor Doherty
BLACKSBURG, Va., Apr. 11 – Head Coach Charles “Chugger’ Adair watches his team practice as he walks towards them. Photo: Conor Doherty
BLACKSBURG, Va., Apr. 12 – One of the catchers for the Hokies baseball team prepares to receive a pitch during practice at English Field. Photo: Conor Doherty
BLACKSBURG, Va., Apr. 12 – A pitcher with the Hokies’ baseball team throws int he bullpen during practice at English Field. Photo: Conor Doherty
BLACKSBURG, Va., Apr. 12 – A member of the baseball flips the ball behind his back to second during fielding practice at English Field. Photo: Conor Doherty
BLACKSBURG, Va., Apr. 11 – A member of the women’s soccer team prepares to receive a pass during a drill. Photo: Conor Doherty
BLACKSBURG, Va., Apr. 11 – A member of the women’s soccer team watches as her teammates take part in a drill during practice. Photo: Conor Doherty
While intramural sports differ from official collegiate sports, they have a similar impact on the Virginia Tech community. Sports are an important aspect of the college experience at Virginia Tech, but many do not realize that also includes intramurals.
The intramural sports program at Virginia Tech serves over 8,500 students, faculty and staff every year, according to Intramural Sports Coordinator, Jeff Feldhaus. The program offers over 40 activities throughout the year including flag football, soccer and basketball as well as non-traditional sports such as inner tube water polo and battleship.
The biggest difference between intramural sports and varsity sports is that it is not about wins and losses. It is an inclusive, social experience emphasizing having fun, sportsmanship and making new friends by playing your favorite sports regardless of skill level.
“Intramural sports differ from varsity athletics in that our mission is to provide recreational opportunities for participants of all skill levels,” said Feldhaus. “We strive to get people engaged in exercise and sport-related activities that promote teamwork, leadership and build healthy lifestyles.”
Each year, teams and organizations join in the quest for the Hokie Grail, awarded annually to the All-University Intramural Champion based on a point system. It gives certain groups such as fraternities and sororities a chance to compete and earn points by participating in intramural activities over the course of the entire year, according to Feldhaus. In short, a group earns points by participating, displaying good sportsmanship, etc. and their points are tallied throughout the year so an overall champion can be determined similar to the Olympic medal count.
According to the Department of Recreational Sports, intramural sports enhances the quality of life for the university community by educating and encouraging participation in activities that promote healthy lifestyles, social interactions and leadership skills.
In addition, the intramural and recreational sports programs at Virginia Tech take pride in serving the community in the spirit of Ut Prosim. Every year, student employees volunteer for a number of activities that serve the campus and local communities including Hokie Helpers and the Southwest Virginia Special Olympics Basketball Tournament.
These programs hope to continue to grow and serve the Virginia Tech community as an atmosphere that encourages individuals to develop life-long involvement in recreational activities and are dedicated to meeting the changing needs of a diverse community by offering quality structured and informal recreational opportunities.
“One of our goals for the intramural program is to increase the number of people we serve until we hit the 10,000-member mark,” said Feldhaus. “Additionally, many of our recreational sports programs will continue to pursue avenues for promoting health and wellness, not only on campus but in the local community.”
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – Score: The maroon team scores two points in their 64-45 win to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – CoRec Competition: The great thing about intramurals at Virginia Tech is that regardless of gender and ability, you get the opportunity to play as male and female players join forces as teammates. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – Intramural CoRec Basketball: Virginia Tech students face off in a CoRec playoff game at War Memorial Hall. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – Crash the Boards: The white team prepares to grab a rebound following a missed shot. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – Basketball: Players of all skill levels come together to enjoy the sport they love with a group of friends regardless of the outcome. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – Defense: Team leaders square off as no. 15 in maroon defends no. 74 in white. Both players were their teams’ scoring leaders in the contest. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – Free Throw: Players watch as no. 23 on maroon shoots a free throw. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – And 1: Players anticipate the rebound following a shot. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – Rebound: Players prepare to get a rebound. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 23 – Good Game: Players shake hands following a fun and hard-fought game. Photo: Johnny Kraft
Coach Justin Fuente and his staff made a statement with Virginia Tech’s 2017 recruiting class. The 2016 ACC coach of the year welcomes 27 new players following his first full recruiting cycle as leader of the Hokies.
Fuente built off his impressive debut season in Blacksburg by signing Virginia Tech’s highest-ranked class in four years. According to USA TODAY High School Sports, the Hokies’ inked a consensus top 25 recruiting class. The full year made a huge difference for Fuente’s staff.
“Last year was speed dating trying to get to know people. This is much more calculated. I probably shouldn’t use that term. I’m much more comfortable because I been around these guys and their families a lot more,” said Fuente at his National Signing Day press conference. “As a class, I have been able to spend a lot more time with these kids and their families. I was able to teach them about Virginia Tech and what Virginia Tech can do for them.”
Virginia Tech prioritizes in-state recruits by keeping them home. This recruiting class is highlighted by three recruits ranked in the state’s top 10 led by prized defensive back Devon Hunter. The other two top in-state recruits are defensive end TyJuan Garbutt and linebacker Dylan Rivers, who flipped his commitment from Penn State in January. This is the first time since 2012 Virginia Tech has signed more than two of Virginia’s top 10 players.
“It’s extremely important. We want the rest of the country to know they’re in for a battle if they’re coming into the state of Virginia,” said Director of Recruiting Operations, Thomas Guerry about in-state recruiting. “This state is our top priority and we’re going after the in-state guys first and foremost.”
“I think the most important detail about this class is the fact that we were able to early enroll nine of these guys. This day in age, it’s so crucial to get these young guys in a semester early and have them develop in the weight room, at the training table with their meals and obviously on the field during spring ball,” said Guerry about the early enrollees. “At the quarterback position, for example, we are going to get to watch all of our quarterbacks compete for 15 practices, which will largely determine where we are headed into fall camp.”
Fuente’s biggest challenge is replacing the offense’s best weapons with receivers Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges as well as quarterback Jerod Evans all leaving for the NFL. However, Fuente is well equipped with many young weapons.
While Virginia Tech welcomes one of the most talented recruiting classes in school history, the Hokies know all of this is meaningless unless they prove it on the field with wins.
“I don’t think it says anything until we produce on the field. There are highs and lows in this industry, especially in recruiting. And it carries over to wins and losses,” said Guerry. “The key is to never get too high and never get too low, always take each challenge as it comes and we’ll be the best we can be. We need to win and keep the momentum going.”
John Engelberger, Cody Grimm, Will Montgomery, Sam Rogers—for some, those names are just that, names, but for Hokie fans, these are some of the most successful and impactful players to ever come through the Virginia Tech football program. However, what links these players is not just their success on the gridiron, but that they were all preferred walk-ons for the Hokies.
According to Recruiting-101, a preferred walk-on is a student athlete who has been noticed by a coach and are then offered a spot on a university’s athletic team, but who does not receive an athletic scholarship. With the glitz and glam of the recent National Signing Day still fresh in the minds of football fans, it begs the question: What is National Signing Day like for those preferred walk-ons?
“I kind of took part in it, but I just signed a blank piece of paper and got the pictures, that’s it,” said redshirt-junior wide receiver C.J. Carroll, a preferred walk-on for the Virginia Tech Hokies football team.
However, that’s not just it, it’s also the start of a long and trying process to ultimately earn that coveted scholarship and cement their name on the aforementioned list. Carroll, who was given a preferred walk-on spot in a signing class that featured highly touted players like Isaiah Ford and Travon McMillian, explains that his walk-on position requires playing with a different edge than that of scholarship athletes.
“You have to [play with an edge], there are very few of us out there that actually play, so once you get your opportunity, you have to make the most of it to try and earn a scholarship,” said Carroll. “As well as, to get the respect of other people who do have scholarships.”
Since joining the Hokies in the summer of 2014, Carroll has used that edge to work his way up in the team ranks, first, starting with the scout team and eventually becoming a key part of the Hokies offense and kick return game.
Carroll was also given the privilege of wearing the jersey number 25, awarded to the special team’s player of the week in honor of former head coach Frank Beamer, in the team’s game against Notre Dame. For Carroll, the opportunity had an even deeper meaning, as coach Beamer was always so giving to walk-ons like himself.
“It was crazy, that whole day was unbelievable,” said Carroll. “Notre Dame is a historic program and to wear that number 25 and play on national television…it was something that I won’t forget.”
As for the advice he would give to other players given a preferred walk-on spot?
“Work hard, earn the respect of players and coaches, and the rest will take care of itself,” said Carroll.
And that it did, just one day after the 2017 National Signing Day, Carroll was finally given his own, real, signing day when was awarded a scholarship by head football coach Justin Fuente.
Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 6- WATCHFUL EYES: C.J. Carroll watches on as his teammates complete their sets of benchpress for the day. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 6- PUSHING TEAMMATES: A key expectation of preferred walk-ons is the job of pushing starters. Here, Carroll cheers on his teammates completing a set of benchpress. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 6- GEAR: Preferred walk-on players are given the same gear as that of scholarship players, such as the w1n-0 training tops Carroll sports here. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 6- GOOD TIMES: Laughing along with teammates during an off-season workout, Carroll was quick to note that preferred walk-ons are treated no differently among the team. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 6- FROM NO TO PRO: Cody Grimm, a preferred walk-on turned NFL draft pick, is among the many Virginia Tech walk-ons to don a spot on the “Hokies in the NFL” wall. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 6- SPECIAL PLACES: Cody Grimm even grabbed a spot in legendary coach Frank Beamer’s book “Let Me Be Frank.” Beamer was well known for his work with special teams, a job taken very seriously, especially by walk-ons. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 6- CAPTAIN: Former Hokie walk-on Jack Tyler earned a position as captain for the 2013 Virginia Tech football season. Former walk-ons such as Will Montgomery and Willie Byrn were also given the honor. Photo: Blayne Fink