Beamer displays his hands-on approach
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- There aren't many Division I-A head coaches who actually coach players. But there aren't many Division I-A head coaches whose teams have blocked 67 kicks in the last 10 seasons.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer coaches the punt block team. Special teams are an integral part of what is known as Beamerball. It's 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, the day before Texas A&M and Hurricane Isabel come to Lane Stadium, and the special teams meetings have just begun.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, remote control and laser pointer in hand, is talking to the field goal defense team as they watch the Aggie field goal team. Beamer is standing in between rows in the back of the meeting room.
"Expect a fake," Foster barks. Most of what Foster says comes out loud and with force, like a bark. "Don't go to sleep up there."
Foster hits the remote, and gets a screen full of color bars.
"That happened to me once," Beamer says.
"Y'all thought Coach Beamer didn't know how to run that," Foster cracked. The players giggled.
Foster continues to caution against the fake.
"The holder is 17, the backup quarterback (Dustin Long)," Foster says. "All the tight ends wear (pass-catching) eligible numbers. We tried to run this against you in practice the other day."
3:25 p.m. -- Beamer opens the door and bellows out into the hallway. "Pride! Pride!" The field-goal defense team leaves, and the punt team arrives. The "uniform" is white tee shirt, maroon knee-covering shorts, white socks, and ... shower shoes? Comfort is paramount.
Beamer shows them several Aggie rushes, and then begins to focus on the punt returner Jason Carter.
"This is a dangerous return guy," Beamer says. "(Number) Seven is the guy they designate an 'athlete.' Good player." He points the laser at the outside players in punt coverage from Arkansas State, which lost to Texas A&M, 26-11, on Aug. 30.
"This is the basic deal," Beamer says, referring to the Aggies' return. "He runs to daylight. Headhunters, you have got to be good. They block you one-on-one 80 percent of the time."
The players view some video of Alabama games from last year. Coach Dennis Franchione brought his entire Crimson Tide staff with him to College Station, so the schemes are likely the same. They watch video of their practice from earlier in the week.
"Don't even take one play off against this team, men," Beamer says.
The punt team leaves, and the kickoff team files in and takes seats. The players see Terrence Murphy, who has already broken a 77-yard return this year, angle toward the right sideline.
"I'm telling you," Beamer says. "This guy will bring it back on you. We don't need to be screwing around with this deal." Every second or third question Beamer asks, he follows with, "Say 'yeah,'" just to make sure his players are paying attention. The laser is pointing at the headhunters bearing down on Murphy, but Beamer is talking to his players who will fill those positions.
"Be football players," Beamer says. "If they can block you in the open field, I got to get somebody else out here." He twists his head around to look behind him and speak to junior rover James Griffin. "James, if you get out here," Beamer says, pointing with his laser, you got a chance to get down there. They'll be talking about you in Memphis!" Memphis is Griffin's hometown.
3:45 p.m. -- "Pride and Joy! Let's go!" assistant coach Danny Pearman yells down the hall. It's the punt-block team's turn.
"Trust me, trust me," Beamer says. "This will make a difference in the ballgame ... . Justin Hamilton."
Hamilton, a sophomore split end, plays in the middle of the punt-block line. Beamer lasers the Aggie who stands between the snapper and the punter. "Always check to make sure that's 32," Beamer says, referring to Oschlor Flemming. "He's a fullback. If that's not 32, if it's a quarterback, you let everybody know. If they want to run an option, another number will be back there."
Toward the end of the meeting, the team is watching practice video, scout team punters vs. Pride & Joy. A scout teamer is running down the middle of the field. He is the responsibility of Tech defensive end Nathaniel Adibi, who will make the 36th start of his career Thursday night.
"Adibi," Beamer asks, "is this the guy you said couldn't run?"
"He grabbed my face mask," Adibi explained.
The excuse-making gets a loud, skeptical response from his teammates.
"How many people believe that?" Beamer said.
When the meeting concludes, Beamer turns the back of the room and says, "Bruce!"
Administrative assistant Bruce Garnes reads a list of eight rules, and the Hokies yell each one right back at him.
"Do not be offside!"
"Do not rough the kicker!"
"Do not block below the waist!"
"Do not clip!"
"Do not let the ball hit the ground!"
"Do not field a punt inside the 10 yard line!"
"Do not allow a fake kick."
"Do not allow bouncing ball to hit you!"
When a kick goes unfielded, the players are instructed to yell a euphemism for a rather private part of their anatomy, one that they shouldn't touch.
4 p.m. -- Beamer walks out of the meeting room and runs into Sonny Merryman, for whom the Merryman Center, the six-year-old athletic center is named. Merryman and his son Floyd are showing a friend around the building. Merryman asks Beamer about the arrival of Hurricane Isabel, and recalls how well the Hokies played in cold, wet weather when they beat Virginia 21-9 last season.
"Can I go show these guys the weight room?" Merryman asks.
"Sure," Beamer says.
The visitors turn and walk through the door. And why not?
"He paid for it," Beamer says, with a sly grin. "I like that they asked. That shows you what kind of fans we have."
And the weather?
"It's supposed to hit right around game time," Beamer says. "I try not to make too much of it. Don't put it in their head. We can't do nothing about it."
4:10 p.m. -- The players have exchanged shower shoes for cleats, and walk outside to the tunnel that leads to Lane Stadium. The tunnel has concrete block walls for a cement floor. The clatter of the cleats and the laughter of the players is magnified to boombox proportions. As they walk onto the field, they sneak glances just outside the 11-yard-line, where Kirk Herbstreit is taping his Extra Points for SportsCenter.
"Despite sitting at 1-2," Herbstreit says, "N.C. State finds its season on the line this week when they host Texas Tech."
Producer Tom Archer says, "One more time."
Herbstreit readies himself again. He is wearing a dark blazer, white shirt, red tie, white shorts, ankle socks, and tennis shoes.
It's television, folks.
4:20 p.m. -- The kick teams begin their runthroughs on the field. On the sideline, defensive end Cols Colas walks toward the bench and smiles and waves at a towhead standing nearby. Camden Wise will turn four years old next month. His dad, Chris, works in the recreation department on campus. Colas is Camden's favorite player. Camden wears Colas' No. 99 jersey all the time, even though it reaches his ankles.
Colas and Camden talk for more than five minutes, as intent a conversation as a three-year-old can have.
"Do you have any kids?" Colas asks.
"No," Camden says.
"Why not?" Colas asks.
4:55 p.m. -- The walkthrough is over, and quarterback coach Kevin Rogers is raving about the job that junior Bryan Randall, the non-Vick, is doing in leading the offense. "I've never been around a kid who came as far, a quarterback who has turned himself into a good one," Rogers says.
5:10 p.m. -- The offense and defense are meeting in rooms separated by a divider. The booming voices of Foster and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring compete with one another.
Foster is showing his players video of the Arkansas State defenders against the pass. "They're doing a nice job here," Foster says. "Everybody sprints to the football. Arkansas State wants to be like you! Tomorrow night, every ball that's on the ground, that's in the air, that's ours. I want that to be our attitude."
As each Texas A&M offensive play in the video comes up defensive line coach Charlie Wise calls out the down and distance and the offensive formation. The Hokies respond with the proper defensive call.
When they see one wrinkle, Foster tells them, "Call it out. I don't care. I want them to know we know what they're doing."
They see Aggie quarterback Reggie McNeal keep the ball. Franchione's quarterbacks often serve as a third ball-carrier in the backfield, which can help keep the defense honest.
"When this guy is running the ball," Foster says, he's got to pay the price. If he wants to be a running back, treat him like one."
5:30 p.m. -- Stinespring has the classic coach's rasp. He is congenitally upbeat.
"I know what we are going out to do battle with," he says. "Focus on the battle that is about to take place. Tomorrow is a long day. The farther your mind gets away from the battle, the farther you've got to come back to be ready at 7:30 p.m. Get ready to play with spirit, enthusiasm and excitement about what we do and we'll be fine."
The meeting breaks up, and Stinespring pulls out the Thursday itinerary. "The more you hang around, the longer it gets," he said. There is dinner tonight at the Farmhouse, a nearby restaurant, breakfast at their hotel, the Best Western in Radford, Va., a morning chapel, a walkthrough, a walk, a pregame meal at 3:45 p.m., and then they will return to campus.
The game -- and the storm -- await.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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