Commentary

Virginia Tech's inspiration, new roles for Kansas' players

Originally Published: December 31, 2007
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

FT. LAUDERDALE -- It's an old, black, steel lunch box that has become symbolic of the blue-collar, workman-like ways of the Virginia Tech defense. On the outside, it is inscribed with the motto "WIN" on the front and VT on the side. Inside, it is filled with the players' goals, the team's mission statement signed by each player, and some sort of token taken from road games.

But this year, the battered old box carries even more significance.

The names of all 32 victims who were killed during the April 16 campus shootings have all been placed in the pail as a reminder of what this season is about for the Hokies.

"They're still a proud proud part of our community and our family and we wanted to recognize those people the right way," said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who started the lunch pail tradition with former co-defensive coordinator Rod Sharpless in 1995.

The tragedy has followed the Hokies through every game this season, as they are constantly asked about it by visiting media, and the FedEx Orange Bowl has been no different.

"We try not to talk about it," cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris said. "We try to perform and win games for the community and the university to uplift the people who lost their loved ones in that tragedy.

"It hurts," he said. "But we feel that the only way we can bring joy in their eyes is if we keep winning."

• Kansas senior tight end Derek Fine had a bottle of Fiji water with him as he spoke with reporters at one of the Orange Bowl's player interview sessions on Monday.

That's all Fine said he'll be drinking to celebrate the New Year.

"Hey man, I don't care one bit," he said. "I've got the rest of my life to party and drink booze and do whatever like that. You only have so many opportunities to do something special like we've done for the season and do something special like go to a BCS game, which is our first BCS game ever."

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has given his players a little more leeway. The Hokies are allowed out until 1 a.m. on New Year's morning to celebrate as they please (as long as they're 21, of course). After that, curfew will be at 11 p.m. and no drinking is allowed.

However, if anybody misses curfew -- regardless of what holiday it is -- the Greyhound Experience is still in effect. It's well-known that if any of the Hokies miss curfew during bowl week, they get a bus ride back to Blacksburg.

Apparently the threat works. It hasn't happened since the 1995 Sugar Bowl.

• Virginia Tech junior corner Brandon Flowers said he has received his paperwork from the NFL's College Advisory Committee and was projected to be a second-round pick, but he is waiting until after the bowl game to sit down with his family and coaches and make a decision.

"This is my first time sending my grade into the advisory committee so I didn't know what to expect," Flowers said. "A second-round grade is what I got. That's what I have to deal with. I'm not going to let it affect me [in] any way playing against Kansas Thursday. To be honest I haven't even sat down with my parents yet."

Harris said he has not heard from the NFL advisory committee yet.

"If there's a kid that I feel like you're ready to go, I'd tell him, 'Hey, I'm for you,'" Foster said. "That's the way I am with Brandon Flowers. Brandon's a good football player. Guy like Victor Harris, I think Victor needs to stay another year. He wasn't redshirted. He needs another year to grow from a maturity standpoint, and another year to grow physically."

• Kansas All-American corner Aqib Talib has dabbled on offense for half the season, excelled on defense, and now he's taking his turn on special teams.

Talib, who started at corner as well as wide receiver against Kansas State, has recently added punt return duties to his responsibilities and is expected to do it against No. 5 Virginia Tech (11-2) in the FedEx Orange Bowl at 8 p.m. ET on Jan. 3.

"Certainly he's a talented guy and a dangerous guy back there," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "It definitely gets your attention."

Kansas coach Mark Mangino said it's "out of necessity," as the Jayhawks were next-to-last in the Big 12 with a 5.7 yard punt return average. Part of that can be attributed to a lack of production from sophomore Anthony Webb, who had 19 returns for 16 yards this season (less than one yard per return).

Talib returned his first punt of the season in the regular-season finale, a 36-28 loss to Missouri. He had one return for four yards. He's made a name for himself on defense, where he has 61 tackles and is tied for 12th in the nation in passes defended with four interceptions and 13 passes broken up. As a receiver, Talib caught eight passes for 182 yards and four touchdowns.

• It's only one quarter, but Virginia Tech tailback Kenny Lewis said he plans on making the most of it while suspended rushing leader Branden Ore watches from the bench.

Lewis will be making his first start of the season in place of Ore, who was benched for the first quarter because he was late for the Hokies' final practice before Christmas break.

"That's my main goal, to go out there and prove I can be out here, I can play with these guys," Lewis said. "But then on the other hand, we've got Branden, he's so good, he needs to be out there. … We need to be a double threat."

Ore leads the team with 940 yards and eight touchdowns. Lewis saw most of his playing time early in the season when Ore was dealing with nagging injuries. He is the Hokies' third leading rusher with 209 yards and four touchdowns on 53 carries.

Lewis said one quarter is enough for him -- or the team -- to make "a big difference" in the outcome of the game.

"We're going to go out there in the first quarter and establish ourselves with what we do," he said. "We're running the ball, we're throwing the ball … as long as we're getting carries, that's what I need right there. I'm a momentum back. My first carry is always going to be my worst carry."

• Virginia Tech has a chance to stop the Atlantic Coast Conference's paradox of losing winners.

The past seven ACC champions have lost their respective bowl games. The league is 1-8 in BCS bowls, with Florida State earning the last win in the 2000 Sugar Bowl.

"I think those things go in cycles," Beamer said. "I don't think the ACC has to apologize to anyone. It's a good, tough league. I think it will only continue to get better. It's a super organization and I think over the long haul we'll get our share of wins."

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.