- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer knew things had to change. The lasting images of the 2005 season for the Hokies should have been playing for the ACC championship for the second time in as many seasons and beating Louisville in the Gator Bowl. Instead, the indelible memories were former quarterback Marcus Vick stomping the leg of Cardinals defensive end Elvis Dumervil and other Hokies committing flagrant fouls.
After spending nearly two decades building his alma mater into one of college football's best programs, Beamer saw his team unraveling and playing out of control. After winning their first eight games to climb into the national championship race, only to then lose to Miami 27-7 in Blacksburg, Va., the Hokies lost their cool down the stretch. They finished with an 11-2 record after losing to Florida State 27-22 in the ACC championship game, then winning the bowl game.
"We had some unfortunate situations," Beamer said. "We had a terrific year. We went up to West Virginia and gave them their only loss. We had some terrific plays and terrific wins. I told every alumni group I spoke to that we try to make them proud by the number of games we win and how we conduct ourselves on the field and off the field.
"We put so much into the year and some of our players played so hard and so well for so much of the year. It wasn't us. It's not the way we do it. There were some situations we had at the end of the year that weren't us."
Vick, the younger brother of former Virginia Tech All-American and current Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, couldn't behave on or off the field, so Beamer dismissed him from the team four days after the Hokies' 35-24 win over Louisville. Without Vick back for his senior season, the Hokies will start sophomore Sean Glennon, who redshirted last season, in Saturday's opener against Division I-AA Northeastern at Lane Stadium.
Beamer took other measures in trying to get his team to clean up its act. Sophomore Brandon Ore, who will start at tailback this season, left the team and didn't enroll in classes during the winter semester. Virginia Tech said Ore was recovering from shoulder surgery at the time, but the coaching staff also wanted him to rehab his attitude. Ore worked at a 7-Eleven convenience store during his exile and gained some valuable perspective, Beamer said.
"I think he's much more appreciative of where he is," Beamer said. "I think he's much more responsible. I think he has a much more realistic and serious outlook to life right now, on the field and off the field. I think he understands that he has a great opportunity here to be one of the best tailbacks Virginia Tech has had and an opportunity to get a degree from Virginia Tech."
Beamer had meetings with other players, telling them they had to behave on the field or face stiff consequences. Former Hokies cornerback Jimmy Williams, who was ejected from the Gator Bowl in the first half for grabbing an official's arm, said he had little contact with the coaching staff after that game. Williams, a second-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in this year's NFL draft, had other behavior problems at Tech. Williams said he felt as if he had been ostracized by the coaches because they didn't want him around younger players.
For the first time, Beamer also has devised a demerit system to address on-field penalties and off-field transgressions. Players will receive demerits for missing class, study hall, tutor sessions, team breakfasts, or if a teacher or tutor reports a player was disruptive in class or study hall. There are lesser demerits for being late to class or study hall, not having books in class or using cell phones or headphones in class. Punishment includes 6 a.m. running sessions, losing complimentary football tickets and suspensions.
There also are monetary fines, taken from players' per diems for road games and a possible bowl game, for wearing improper equipment. Players will have to run 100 yards for each yard of fouls committed in a game, along with a $100 fine for each personal foul or flagrant infraction.
"You had a team last year that had an 11-2 record and won a bowl game and the only thing people remembered were the bad things," safety Aaron Rouse said. "The players didn't get the rewards for a great season."
Rouse, who nearly joined Williams in the NFL draft, decided to return for his senior season.
Rouse wanted to help Beamer restore the Hokies' image and lay a foundation for younger players. At last month's ACC preseason news conferences in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Rouse and Virginia Tech offensive lineman Danny McGrath were the only players wearing shirt and ties. Rouse suggested the attire. "Be professional," Rouse told McGrath. "People are counting on you."
"Coach Beamer had a big task at hand and I think he tackled it very well," Rouse said. "He really stressed that you're going to be accountable for your actions. I couldn't leave Virginia Tech with the things that happened with Marcus Vick and Jimmy Williams. I thought Virginia Tech needed a savior. I thought Virginia Tech needed someone to show the young guys how to do things the right way. I wanted to leave a legacy here and be a leader. It's something I'm proud of."
On (and off) the Mark
Off the Mark
The final weekend before college football season begins is always one of the most anxious times for coaches around the country. It is the last weekend they don't know the whereabouts of their players, many of whom are hitting the local watering holes for the last time. As police blotters have shown us throughout the summer, football players and alcohol usually aren't a good mix.
Exhibit A: Marshall wide receiver Hiram Moore.
Moore, the Thundering Herd's leading receiver last season, has been suspended from playing in Saturday's highly anticipated game at No. 5 West Virginia, only the sixth meeting between the in-state schools. The senior was arrested Friday night for DUI and other misdemeanor charges. According to Lt. Hank Dial of the Huntington (W.Va.) Police Department, Moore was driving a 2002 Mercedes E-Class sedan when he struck an unmarked cruiser parked in front of police headquarters.
Moore then tried to flee the scene, and was arrested a couple of blocks later when his car became stuck on a curb.
Moore, who had 53 catches for 630 yards and four touchdowns last season, had a blood-alcohol level of .129, more than the state's limit of .08. Dial said Moore was charged with misdemeanor DUI, leaving the scene of an accident and obstructing a police officer. He was released Saturday on $9,100 bond.
On the Mark
Reggie Ball has been a lightning rod during his three seasons as Georgia Tech's starting quarterback. When Ball is playing well, he is very good. When Ball isn't playing well, he is, well, really bad. Ball has been criticized more than any other Yellow Jackets player in recent memory, more so by the team's fickle fan base than the media. So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that Ball hasn't spoken to reporters during preseason camp as the buildup surrounding Georgia Tech's opener against No. 2 Notre Dame on Saturday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) has engulfed his team.
Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey said he supports the quarterback's silence.
"When you've been the starting quarterback for three years, you've seen all the good and all the bad," Gailey said Monday. "You know what you have to do to get ready for a game. You don't want to have to worry about what you're going to say when you come off the practice field every day. I respect a decision like that. He could be on TV every day if he wanted to. But he's a guy that's more interested in winning a football game than being on TV."
Gailey said he has been pleased with Ball's preparations for the Fighting Irish. Ball, a senior from Stone Mountain, Ga., has started 36 games for the Yellow Jackets and ranks third in school history in passing yards (6,308) and total offense (7,405). But Ball has never had a season in which he threw more touchdowns than interceptions (he had 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2005).
"I think he's been sharp," in preseason camp, Gailey said. "The thing I've seen him to do is take charge a little more than he has in times past. The game has become so fast that we've put more pressure on that one position than what should be true in a team sport. You may not like it, but that's the way it is. If you play that position, you have to accept the good and the bad that comes with it."
Off the Mark
Didn't Florida coach Urban Meyer learn his lesson about overbearing parents? Last season, freshman quarterback Josh Portis was more of a distraction than an asset for the Gators. His mother, Patricia Portis, regularly attended the team's practices and publicly complained about her son's lack of playing time. In December, Portis transferred to Maryland, where he and his mother will become Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen's headache beginning in 2007.
Last month, Curtis Leak, the father of Gators quarterback Chris Leak, told a columnist that he believed a portion of the Gators fan base doesn't like his son because they didn't want an African-American quarterback breaking all of Danny Wuerffel's school passing records. Never mind that Chris Leak has fallen considerably short of the enormous expectations that preceded him to Florida. Most importantly, he has failed to lead the Gators to an SEC championship, after Wueffel led them to four conference titles and the 1996 national championship.
Now, another parent is reportedly a frequent visitor to the No. 7 Gators' practices. Bob Tebow, the father of highly touted freshman quarterback Tim Tebow, is around his son and Meyer so much that Florida's student newspaper, The Alligator, suggested in an editorial last week that "you'd think he was a member of the UF coaching staff." Bob Tebow is a pastor and maintains an international mission and orphanage in the Philippines.
"The Gators kick off the 2006 season in eight days and no one seems to be in the ear of Meyer or Tebow more than Bob, and that can't be a good thing," columnist Antonio Gonzalez wrote in The Alligator. "This is so plain and simple, I'll just say it: Bob Tebow needs to go home."
On the Mark
Thumbs up to Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who is sticking to his principles in suspending linebackers Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon from the No. 4 Tigers' first few games. I reported earlier this month that the suspensions would last three games, which would include the highly anticipated home game against No. 8 LSU on Sept. 16. During a conversation with Tuberville in Auburn, Ala., about two weeks ago, the coach wouldn't confirm or deny the three-game suspension, only saying each player would be sidelined for "several games." Tuberville added the suspensions could be reduced or extended depending on the players' behavior off the field and work in the classroom.
Without Sears and Blackmon, the Tigers will have a very thin and inexperienced linebacker corps. Safety Will Herring has moved to strongside linebacker, senior Karibi Dede returns at middle linebacker and sophomore Merrill Johnson takes over at weakside linebacker. Freshman Craig Stevens is the top backup, and Chris Evans and Patrick Trahan played sparingly last season.
Off the Mark
At least Tuberville has been more forthcoming -- and apparently stricter -- than Mike Shula, coach at rival Alabama. Crimson Tide linebacker Juwan Simpson was arrested May 20 on charges of possessing a stolen handgun, carrying a handgun without a license and possession of marijuana (the handgun charges were dropped for lack of evidence, and Simpson entered a program to resolve the drug charge). But Shula has yet to announce a suspension, and Simpson is slated to start the Crimson Tide's opener against Hawaii on Saturday.
On the Mark
That's the only way to describe Texas redshirt freshman Colt McCoy, who Monday was named the defending national champion's starting quarterback. McCoy, from tiny Tuscola in central Texas, didn't throw an interception in three preseason scrimmages. McCoy beat out highly regarded freshman Jevan Snead to win the starting job vacated by Vince Young.
Off the Mark
Tennessee might be on the verge of losing its eighth freshmen if the NCAA Clearinghouse doesn't certify the standardized test scores of offensive lineman Cody Pope. Pope, from Julian, Calif., was pulled out of the Volunteers' practices last week after the Clearinghouse questioned the validity of his test scores. He is the eighth Tennessee freshman -- from a recruiting class of 22 signees -- to be declared academically ineligible, dismissed from the team or who is still awaiting approval from the Clearinghouse.
Research by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed only eight NCAA Division I-A schools -- Boston College, Florida, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State, Stanford and Texas -- had all of their football signees academically qualify and enroll for school this semester. Kentucky had 10 of its 34 signees fail to enroll, and Virginia coach Al Groh lost eight of his team's 22 freshmen.
On the Mark
California coach Jeff Tedford hopes his quarterbacks are more on the mark than a year ago, when the Bears ranked an uncharacteristic 90th in the Division I-A in pass offense. Tedford is expected to announce this week that sophomore Nate Longshore will start at quarterback in Saturday's opener at No. 23 Tennessee (ESPN, 5:30 p.m. ET). Longshore started the 2004 opener against Division I-AA Sacramento State, but broke his ankle midway through the second quarter and missed the rest of the season. Junior-college transfer Joe Ayoob and Steve Levy struggled mightily in his absence, as Bears quarterbacks completed only 52 percent of their passes with 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions a year ago. The No. 9 Bears will be without Levy for the Tennessee game as the senior serves a one-game suspension.
Off the Mark
The first installment of "On (and off) the Mark" wouldn't be complete without an unabashed shot at the NCAA, which never seems to get anything right. While NCAA President Myles Brand is earning close to $750,000 annually, the governing body of college sports might prevent Clemson cornerback Ray Ray McElrathbey from receiving donations earmarked to aid he and his brother.
McElrathbey received temporary custody of his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr, earlier this month. Their mother lives in Atlanta and has struggled with a drug habit for years, and their father has battled a gambling problem and lives in Las Vegas.
After the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier published a story about McElrathbey last week, Clemson received dozens of phone calls from its alumni and fans, as well as those from other schools, offering financial assistance. But NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from receiving extra benefits from boosters. NCAA rules also prohibit Clemson's coaches from giving McElrathbey's younger brother rides to school.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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