Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hokie Nation

I am, by necessity, a member of Hokie Nation. I attended Virginia Tech, which was admittedly my choice, however, membership in the nation is now not up to me. Before my school became my alma mater, I attended every Hokies home game for a four year span. This again was kind of my choice, but I really couldn't choose any alternative. I mean I had to go to all those games at Lane Stadium. I had to. In addition, I attended a couple Virginia Tech road games, including an Orange Bowl or two. This was more of a choice than either of the previous choices, yet it still felt like it had to be done. What kind of Hokie would I be if I never saw them play on the road? It would be like claiming I was a Mad Men fan yet never watching it without the aid of a DVR.

Throughout my years, Virginia Tech football won a lot of games and lost very few. In fact, they have won 10 or more games now for six straight seasons. The Hokies won their share of ACC titles during my time as well. That was always the goal: to win the conference. Sure the team was occasionally ranked very high in the polls, but they were never title contenders. After all, they couldn't score with the big boys.

Hokie football has always been about defense and special teams. The defense finishes every season in the top dozen in scoring and total defense. That's their thing. It isn't even a question coming into a season. It is as guaranteed as an SEC program committing recruitment violations. It's a done deal. As for special teams, well that's what we're known for: Beamer Ball. Coach Frank Beamer, unlike most head coaches, takes the special teams in his own hands and makes it a weapon, not just a way to change possession. Blocked kicks and punt returns were a weekly thing.

But 2010 is odd for us Hokie faithful. Sure, the defense lost a lot of starters from last year, and it might be due for a down year, but that's been said before. We aren't worried about Bud Foster's defense. No, the odd thing is the hype surrounding the Virginia Tech offense. Not since Mr. Vick have people thought of a Hokies team as having an offense worth worrying about. Not since Kevin Jones has the offense had one running back worth game planning for, let alone two. Ryan Williams, in his freshman season, was the best running back in the conference. He ran for over 1,600 yards, a Tech record. He scored 22 touchdowns, breaking the ACC record. He could very well challenge for the Heisman Trophy in '10. The only person standing in his way could be teammate Darren Evans. In 2008, Evans' freshman season, he carried the Hokies' offense and went on to win Orange Bowl MVP. The only reason Williams got a chance last year was because Evans got hurt prior to the season, and missed the entire year. A year later, Virginia Tech now boasts a rushing duo to be proud of. It's also been a while since we've had a senior quarterback under center with this much talent and this much promise. Tyrod Taylor is quite the running back in his own right. With such a monstrous dual threat at quarterback, there is no play this offense can't run. And not since, dare I say, Antonio Freeman, has the offense had wide receivers that anyone would bother covering.

(For all those Eddie Royal fans out there, get real. When Eddie was a Hokie, you could leave him be. Believe me. Defensive coordinators weren't up at night worrying about how to cover him on an out route. He was a better wide receiver his NFL rookie year than he ever was in college. Now as a returner...that's another story. Devin Hester had nothing on him.)

The 2010 Virginia Tech offense is rounding into something to be feared. But I'll tell you who is actually scared: Hokie Nation. For you see, this team has never had an offense that made us comfortable. We rarely blew away weaker competition. We rarely saw offensive imagination from our play callers. Hell, the offense rarely outscored the defense and special teams. Now we have a star quarterback in his senior season, yet he's never put together a good season with his arm. We have two of the best running backs in the conference, yet because of injury, they aren't used to sharing a workload or giving up carries. We have a good group of receivers but a question about whether the play calling and quarterback can get them the ball routinely.

Just as stereotypes are developed from truth, or else they wouldn't be developed at all, so are nicknames. Big Game James. You can tell what James Worthy did from that nickname. Mr. October sums up how Reggie Jackson performed come playoff time. Well some people, in the past, have tossed around a nickname for my school: the Virginia Tech Chokies. It is admittedly, slightly clever, yet stings just the same. Virginia Tech is not known for living up to national championship expectations. It has been more than a decade since Tech has made the title game. We lost in 1999, back when Florida State was still good, and Virginia Tech still belonged to the Big East. Since then there have been seasons where the Hokies were ranked inside the top five. Being a top five team, by definition, means you should be battling for the championship. Yet it never seemed like we were, or if we were close, something would go awry.

My feeling of dread always stemmed from a doubt that our offense could ever score if it needed to. Sure, the defense could get us a stop. There was no doubt about that. But if our QB needed to take us 55 yards in under two minutes, I wasn't exactly betting the house it would happen.

So here we are. It is 2010. The season is just around the corner, one month away. Virginia Tech will be ranked in the pre-season top five most likely. Game one will be against an opponent also ranked in the top five in the nation. But that is not the main concern. Hokie Nation is about the big picture. Can the offense actually live up to expectations and run wild on people? Can we be an offensive juggernaut? If so, there is nothing preventing us from running through the ACC and being one of the last two teams standing come New Year's Day. If the offense can actually carry a Virginia Tech team on its back, we are title bound. I am not sold. Or, at least, I need to see it with my own eyes before I jump on board. Is it possible to be dreadfully pessimistic while having ridiculously high hopes? If it is, that's what I am. I am so pumped about the 2010 campaign, and actually watching a team that can score in the 40's. The possibilities make me giddy. And yet, I just can't picture it coming together. Dreadfully hopeful; that's what it feels like to be a member of Hokie Nation.

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