But Frank Beamer knows one thing about playing the Yellow Jackets.
“I know it’s a big game, that’s for sure,” he said.
After a long offseason of preparation, the Hokies’ opener Monday night against the Yellow Jackets is only days away. The players know the stakes involved — the winner of this game has represented the Coastal Division all seven years the ACC championship game has been played.
“It doesn’t get any harder than this,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “This is a team that, if we don’t win, they win the division, so that shows how important this game is. The coaches have put that in our head, and we know this, so that’s all we can do is come out, prepare and be ready for this tough game.”
Motivation hasn’t been hard, especially not with how the Hokies finished last season, losing the ACC championship game to Clemson and the Sugar Bowl to Michigan.
“Somebody asked me earlier today does coming off the last two games make it harder to get ready for the first game,” quarterback Logan Thomas said. “I said absolutely not. It makes it that much easier. It makes us want to come out and work in the summer. It makes us want to get better in the spring. I think we’ve done so, and having Georgia Tech as the first game is awesome because we get to play a really meaningful game the first game of the season.”
Beamer’s goal was to get the team sufficiently ready for such a high-profile opener while not going past the point of making the players fret about having so much at stake right off the bat.
“I think that’s the reason a lot of these guys chose Virginia Tech is because they want to play in big ballgames,” Beamer said. “I don’t hide the fact that this is a big ballgame. Big for both teams. We’ve had to win a lot of big ballgames to get to big, big ballgames. There’s no question it’s important for us and them.”
- Beamer confirmed the special teams lineup the Hokies will have Monday. Demitri Knowles and J.C. Coleman will return kicks. Dyrell Roberts and Kyshoen Jarrett will return punts. A.J. Hughes is still in line to be the punter. Michael Branthover will handle kickoffs, while Cody Journell does field goals. And Joe St. Germain will be the long snapper.
- Roberts’ history of injuries on kick returns didn’t necessarily factor into Beamer’s decision as much as what Knowles and Coleman bring to the equation. “We like what those two guys do and we know Dyrell is available if we need him,” Beamer said. “These two guys have got some real quickness. We’ll see what they do.”
- Beamer touched on the new kickoff rules. Teams will kick off from the 35 but receiving teams get the ball at the 25 if there’s a touchback. How Tech handles it will probably depend on how confident the coaches are in their kicker. “I’d say if you felt like you could consistently kick it in the end zone, that’s probably what you would do,” Beamer said. “But I could also see trying to get the ball high, get it in the air, get it in certain positions on the field and set your coverages to that and see if you can get them stopped inside the 25. … I think it’s all what kind of kicker you’ve got.”
- One more special teams note, kind of. Third-string quarterback and holder Trey Gresh has been put on scholarship. The Blacksburg High product is entering his third year at Tech as a redshirt sophomore. His big highlight so far? Making a tackle on a blocked extra point at Marshall last year that saved the Hokies two points.
- Fuller will start at corner, but he said he’s open to playing some whip linebacker if needed. Fuller played whip against the Yellow Jackets last year and made four tackles.
- How is Logan different this year, Part 367, per Beamer: “The personality is still the same. Great kid. Great leader. Well-liked. Trusted by his teammates. That’s never changed. I do think that you see the experience out there. His control of the field and you never saw him get rattled last year. He’s always in control. But I think the experience and just knowing where he wants to go with the ball and getting you in and out of bad plays, good plays, I think you see that with experience too.”
- Thomas thinks he’s embraced the leadership role that’s been handed to him this year. “I might be a little more outspoken now than I was before just because that’s my role. I’ve got to be able to talk to the guys,” he said. “I’ve got to be able to make sure they’re focused every single point in time and getting ready for the game, and that’s probably the only place I’ve changed since last year other than understanding the whole football thing.”
- As for the hype surrounding him (he’s been mentioned as a sleeper Heisman candidate by some), Thomas doesn’t mind it. “I’ve never really had a problem with, I guess, the limelight,” he said. “I’m just trying not to pay attention when people say things about Heisman or national championship, we just want to take it a game at a time and if the accolades come, we welcome it, but if not, we’re just going to still play football for the same reasons we played when we were 5 or 6 years old.”
- Logan had a sore throwing arm last weekend but says he’s fine now. “It usually happens by day three of camp just going from being stagnant and not throwing a whole bunch of balls to throwing a whole bunch,” he said. “This summer I threw a lot, so it didn’t really hit me until day 18 or whatever it was. It’s fine. It just needed a day or two of rest.”
- This, by the way, is the uniform combination the Hokies will wear Monday. We’ll see if Georgia Tech counters with this honeycomb helmet or any special duds of its own.
- Lastly, it’s no secret that the soft-spoken Michael Holmes is a big change personality-wise from the outspoken David Wilson at running back. Thomas thinks they both come prepared, though. “I guess I don’t really see it as a difference,” he said. “David is just, you could always count on him to bring the energy every day. Mike brings it, but he doesn’t bring it with his mouth. I guess that’s the only difference.”