Hangin' with the Hokies
Editors Note: ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel is in Blacksburg, Va., for tonight's game between Texas A&M and Virginia Tech and will be filing running updates throughout the night.
RADFORD, Va., Best Western Radford Inn
3:30 p.m. -- As a steady drizzle fell in the parking lot, a group of Hokies stood, hands jammed in pockets, listening to Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. He held notes in his right hand. From beneath the overhang at the front door of the hotel, coordinators Bryan Stinespring and Bud Foster watched.
"Punt block team," Foster says. The second teamers and returner DeAngelo Hall stood beneath the overhang as well. Discussing the weather is more than polite chatter. Though everyone has been watching the Weather Channel all day, there are no answers.
Think of the longest religious service you ever sat through as a kid, and it went twice as fast as the day of a night game. Stinespring worked out, took a nap, and called recruits. "They're all at home," he says. "School's cancelled."
Most of the state has hunkered down, but not the Hokies. Beamer finishes the walkthough and the players go inside for the pregame meal. Beamer, standing in the lobby, said he didn't stage the drill outside to send a message. The room he would have used is where the Hokies will eat. "Wednesday and Thursday games are tough because there are no games to watch," Beamer says. "I've never watched soap operas, and I'm not about to start. Regis and Kelly aren't bad. Even though Katie Couric is a Virginia grad, she's not bad. I watched Law & Order reruns. I really like that show."
3:45 p.m. -- The pregame meal is a carbfest. Twelve tables are set up, with buffet lines on opposite walls. The players are served French toast and bacon. The buffet has pasta, red sauce and bowls of fruits. Trainer Jim Goforth says that's the menu because that's been the menu since before he arrived at Tech six years ago.
"They'll have nutrition bars waiting for them when they get to the locker room," Goforth says. "They'll have energy bars at halftime. We start hydrating the day before the game. They each get a gallon of water or Gatorade. They're not allowed in the meeting rooms without water or Gatorade." Goforth smiles. "We believe in preventing cramps, not treating them."
4:00 p.m. -- Right guard Jim Miller leaves half a plate of pasta. His French toast and bacon are untouched. He grabs three bananas and a Gatorade and lumbers out of the room. Redshirt freshman Brandon Gore, Miller's backup, has the breakfast food passed to him. He devours it. That's what teammates do.
4:05 p.m. -- The room is nearly empty.
4:15 p.m. - The drizzle has turned into a full-blown rain.
4:45 p.m. -- Your correspondent ducks into a deserted Target near campus to find a hat. The wind has picked up. Question: would women's panty hose help keep legs dry? Hmmm&
5:05 p.m. -- The players reassemble in the lobby for the bus ride to Lane Stadium.
5:15 p.m. -- The rain at Lane Stadium is beginning to come in at a 45-degree angle. There are actually a couple of tents set up in the parking lot. They'll come down soon, voluntarily or not.
7 p.m. -- Ran into former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum and his wife Nell. The Slocums are guests of the Beamer's and will watch the game from their suite above the pressbox.
"Frank's an old friend of mine" said Slocum. "You know defensive coaches. Then we had coaching conventions, Nike trips. He's a straight shooter, a no-frills guy.
Slocum is spending his Saturdays in the Fox Southwest studios. He didn't want to be home on Saturdays.
"I'm not going to let it be awkward," said Slocum. "I recruited a lot of these guys. I'm not someone who is going to be bitter. I have too much to be thankful for. I'm just going to head on down the road."
With that he turned and headed into the suite.
7:30 -- Also ran into the Hokie mascot, senior Tim Howlett, with his head off in the tunnel. Howlett is in his third year as the Hokie. Like everyone else, he was waiting for team to come out.
Majoring in Bird?
"No, marketing," he said. It's the same thing."
Anything you won't do because of the water?
"No probably do more. I'll fall whether I want to or not. The costume will get heavy with rain. Feels like a maroon shag rug."
Howlett said he has only worked one other game in rain -- a loss to Syracuse two years ago.
As I walked away, he was putting on a straw hat and carrying a lasso.
"You know, Texas."
8:10 -- Standing behind the Virginia Tech bench, I saw Hokies DE Cols Colas run off the field shaking his right hand after the facemask play. He ran to bench, calling for trainer, while bending over and grimacing.
The trainer took a look and left for some of the tools of his trade. Armed with with scissors, a blue pad and gloves, he taped the pad over glove.
The Hokies defense sat with Colas after Texas A&M ended the drive with a FG. Defensive line coach Charlie Wiles also came over and offered support. "Way to step it up," he said.
Colas was still grimacing, though.
8:15 -- Jerry Punch told me Dennis Francione was upset on the last drive because his headset wouldn't work.
8:25 -- Virginia Tech punter Vinnie Burns was practicing taking snaps from No. 62 Travis Conway, but people kept walking back and forth, forcing him to wait. By the time the traffic cleared the Hokies were on the move. He stopped and kicker Carter Warley took over.
8:30 -- When Virginia Tech came over after scoring its second touchdown, running backs coach Billy Hite came over to fullback Doug Easlick and said: "Just don't say anything out there, they (the officials) are looking for anything tonight." Virginia Tech had been penalized for an unsportsmanlike penalty.
8:45 -- On the last field goal attempt, Tech defensive back Eric Green took his time getting off the field --all the coaches and players were yelling at him to hurry up. He made it, saving the Hokies from a penalty.
When the defense came of the field after the Aggies' second field goal, Va. Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster kneeled in front of LB and DBs. After a few minutes of discussion, Foster raised decibal level saying the Hokies were playing well, "but Making too many mistakes." After drawing up some adjustments on the board, Foster stared at the group and said: "You guys are better than that."
Defensive line coach Charley Wise stopped by. "You're playing your asses off," he said.
9:05 -- Wiles pulled the Hokies defense together after Texas A&M scored to make it 14-12 and asked them to sit close. "I thought we reached and grabbed on that possession," he said. "Are we getting tired? We gotta stop the run," Wiles screamed.
He walked away. Stopped and repeated his earlier mantra: "You're playing your asses off."
Knock 'em down, and build 'em back up.
9:45 -- Right before A&M's third-down play, Va. Tech RB Kevin Jones stood on the bench waving a white towel, pleading with the crowd to make some noise. They fully complied.
9:55 -- Two things on that last fouled-up punt by the Aggies. Beamer told the punt block team yesterday that if the center had to block to his right, he was not as accurate with this snap. He was right. The snap was bad on that play.
Vincent Fuller, who was in on the tackle, is the same player who downed a punt inside the five in the first half.
10:00 -- After a TD pass in the first half, QB coach Kevin Rogers came over to Bryan Randall as soon as he came off the field, put his arm around him and talked for a while. Well, he did the same after the interception. Ernest Wilford, Chris Clifton and Marcus Vick also stopped by to offer encouragement.
10:15 -- As soon as A&M scored, Bud Foster looked out at his guys and pushed his hands out, telling his defenders to settle down. Unlike in the first half when Foster got after his squad, he offered encouragement. "We played well there," he said. "Their guys just made some catches."
10:20 -- Jerry Punch says something is up with Hokies free safety Jimmy Williams. Looks like Vincent Fuller might go in for him in the next series.
10:25 -- Looks like Williams just got the breath knocked out of him and it's nothing serious.
10:30 -- Right before that last series, the tackles coach Danny Pearman told his guys they would need more points. "We're gonna need another one," he screamed. "The sam and will are trying to force it inside," he continued. Virginia Tech then went out and got the blocks on the corner to spring Randall for the last touchdown.
10:40 -- After Garnell Wilds made his pick and rolled into the Virgina Tech sideline, he was mobbed by his fellow defensive backs. DeAngelo Hall pulled him aside and gave him a big hug. The group then posed for the ESPN cameras.
10:45 -- Kevin Jones walked all the way over to the defense's part of the sideline to congratulate the secondary.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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