Virginia Tech seniors such as fullback Sam Rogers expected more when they came to Blacksburg to play for Frank Beamer, but they have finished their college football careers with at least this year’s ACC Coastal title.
Rogers, the inspirational leader of the team as a walk-on who became a starter and four-year letterman, never expressed disappointment publicly, but deep down the older players had to be disappointed that they were a mediocre football team and anomalies to a coaching legend’s career known as “Beamer Ball.”
“It means a lot, seeing what myself and the other guys that I came in with went through as a senior class,” Rogers said in a teleconference call. “We’re trying to convey to the younger guys that opportunities like this don’t come around often. This is special, so we’ve got to take advantage of it. We’re not just excited to be here, we’re excited to compete and go have a chance to win.”
Virginia Tech (9-3) is ranked No. 23 and plays No. 3 Clemson (11-1), the ACC Atlantic champion and contender for a College Football Playoff semifinal berth, for the ACC championship on Saturday in Orlando, Fla.
When the Hokies’ seniors were growing up and first dreaming of playing college football, Virginia Tech was an annual ACC contender and Top-25 program. Beamer’s career record was 280-143-4 and 238-12-1 in 28 seasons at Virginia Tech, his alma mater. His teams won three Big East titles, four ACC championships and five ACC Coastal titles.
In the seniors’ formative years, Virginia Tech won three out of four ACC Coastal crowns, in 2007, 2008 and 2010. The 2008 and 2010 groups won the ACC Conference championship and played in the Orange Bowl.
The 2011 roster settled for second place in the ACC Coastal, but the 11-3 record was the Hokies’ eighth straight double-digit-victory season.
In 2012 Beamer started to lose his touch. From that year through 2015, the Hokies never finished higher than tied for fourth in the ACC Coastal with an 8-5 mark in 2013. They were 7-6 in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
When Rogers dreamed of playing for the Hokies growing up in Mechansville, Va., he wasn’t thinking 7-6 and the Independence Bowl against Tulsa in Shreveport, La. The Hokies had to beat the Golden Hurricane 55-52 last season to avoid a losing record.
Not only did the table turn in time for their senior year with a 2016 ACC Coastal title, but new head coach Justin Fuente did it without having to distance himself from Beamer. Normally, new coaches feel a need to start from scratch. That means explaining why they are doing things a new way, and that the old ways won’t work.
But Fuente was cognizant of this point: He realized the players he inherited viewed Beamer as a legend despite their so-so records under him. They might have resisted if Fuente hadn’t embraced the past. That allowed for a smooth transition.
After all, the old coach’s legacy is ever-present on campus. The drive to the Virginia Tech athletic facilities is down a road renamed “Beamer Way” in 2015.
“I think it just speaks to the kind of people that Coach Beamer and Coach Fuente are,” Rogers said.
“I told people before, it’s not like we were going for two drastically different types of people. You go from a blue collar coach in Coach Beamer to another blue collar coach in Coach Fuente. You have the same foundation there, so it makes the transition easier.”
For the most part, Beamer, who still works for the school as a special assistant to the athletic director, has provided Fuente with distance to establish himself. He wanted it that way.
However, when the Hokies played Virginia in the regular-season finale to wrap up the ACC Coastal, Fuente invited Beamer to speak to the team. The Hokies routed their rival at Lane Stadium, 52-10.
“I didn’t think there was anybody on the planet that knew more about beating Virginia than he did, so I felt like we needed all the resources possible.” Fuente said. “I felt like the kids would enjoy it. You know, they miss him, and they have a tremendous amount of respect for him, as I do. When he walked in the room and they all gave him a standing ovation. I got a little glimpse of the respect they have for him.”
The seniors, along with their younger teammates, celebrated a title under Beamer, after all.
Follow Tom Shanahan of FanRagSports.com on Twitter @shanny4055.