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Upon Further Review, NFL Draft A Positive Step For Hokies

If you’re a “glass half full” kind of person and looking for something to be positive about regarding Virginia Tech football, take a closer look at the recently completed NFL Draft.

I come at this from the perspective of someone who has spent a lot of time in sales, which recruiting basically is. To be successful, I learned over a few decades, you need to have a story. Something simple that you can tell quickly, is easy to understand, and makes potential buyers feel like “OK, tell me more.”

Want to do a quick test on whether a product has a chance to be successful? Ask the person selling it. He or she will quickly either say “I can sell that,” or if you’ve come up with something that might be a borderline lemon, you could hear “that’s a stretch. They’re not going to believe that.”

Which brings us to Virginia Tech football.

If you go back into even the most ancient of Hokie archives, there has always been one recurring topic recruits want to hear confirmation of. While my younger friends will tell you it’s the money spent on salaries or the crystal cathedral facilities you have, I’ve found that while they can be important, the burning question almost everyone wants to hear a good answer to is “if I play at your school, will it help me make it to the next level?”

It was the biggest question for Michael Vick and his family when he was debating between the Hokies and Syracuse in the 1990s. Could he play in Blacksburg and still be seen on television enough to attract the attention of the pros, the advertisers seeking celebrity endorsers, and the movers and shakers of the world? 

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A Fitting Ending To A Long-Deserved State Championship

I have to admit, there was something very satisfying about the way Stone Bridge’s state championship game with Highland Springs ended today.

Yeah, a title was awarded, but if you've followed Stone Bridge football for a long time like I have, it felt more like a journey had finally ended. A trophy was not only awarded, but a debt from the past had been settled. The curse had been broken. The slate was clean.

Let me first confess before explaining what I'm talking about that when it comes to the original three Ashburn high schools, I’m a shameless homer. Since I live about one mile from Broad Run and about a mile and a half from Stone Bridge, I’m even more of a homer. And since my daughter graduated from Stone Bridge, I’m even worse with the Bulldogs.

You might as well say “Doh” and call me Mr. Simpson.

So when people talk about how long it’s been since the Bulldogs have won a state championship in football, I remember all of it clearly. I’ve watched just about every title game that Stone Bridge has been in, and I remember the blowouts as well as the close ones. My daughter’s senior year, the Bulldogs even ended up playing my high school – Lake Taylor in Norfolk – in Charlottesville and Stone Bridge had the ball and momentum on its side in the final moment.

But only a few yards shy of what would have been the winning touchdown, the Bulldogs fumbled. Which began a string of "what could have been" memories when it came to Stone Bridge.

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Your Greatest Source Of History May Be On Old Devices

I think when we all started becoming aware of the internet in the late 1990s, there were three things we believed: It was a safe place to go surfing (it wasn’t), when we deleted something it was gone (it wasn't, as the internet is in pen, not pencil) and that researching stuff that happened in the past was going to be a lot easier.

Search engines, we believed, would find everything ever posted on the internet. As I used to tell my friends, the answer to all of life is on the internet. The hard part was figuring out how to phrase the question.

Two weeks ago I realized even that’s not true. I’m not talking about censorship or anything similar (although in the future, that’s probably going to be an issue too). But while writing about the anniversary of the tragedy at Virginia Tech back in 2007, I mentioned on social media that a lot of college football teams wore Virginia Tech decals on their helmets for their spring games.

To illustrate this, I posted pics from Ohio State and Penn State’s spring games, and got several comments from people saying “I never knew that.” My reaction was that there were many more who did similar things, so I went to Google to find examples.

My search to do so failed.

After trying all sorts of phrases, the only two I came up with were the two I had posted myself on social media. Those same two were also in a story Virginia Tech did concerning the April 16 anniversary, and they showed up as well. But the rest that I distinctively remembered couldn’t be found.

Some of that made sense because in the early days of the internet, there were millions of items to be indexed, but now over 20 years later, that number was probably hundreds of billions. To search that many – despite how much Wizard of Oz gibberish the Einsteins of Silicon Valley utter about algorithms and magic potions –  would probably still mean the farther you go back, the longer it’s going to take. Which means the search engines are going to return more recent data rather than let you sit there for 10 minutes waiting for results.

It then dawned on me that the next best source for such history was sitting in my own house.

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It’s Early, But It's Feeling Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

You may have to get down on your knees and put your ear to the ground to hear it.

But it’s there. A slight, gentle tremor among Washington Nationals fans. A buzz of concern about manager Davey Martinez.

It’s not said aloud because it’s early. Plus he was the manager during the miraculous run to the World Series in 2019. To speak ill of his managing skills would be disrespectful of that.

But it’s there.

Martinez is a loveable guy that everyone would like as a friend and a neighbor. In 2018 he went 82-80, and many of us scratched our heads at times as to how a team that went 97-65 the previous year barely had a winning record with essentially the same amount of talent. The roster changed as it does every year, but you swapped Jayson Werth for Juan Soto, and the team still had Bryce Harper.

Then 2019 came and the same baffling bullpen decisions caused the team to start off 19-31 in the first 50 games. The rumbling about Davey grew louder until the team rallied around him and they somehow made the playoffs. He used starters out of the bullpen at key moments and everyone from superstars to role players came up with timely hits at the right moment. It was one of Washington Sports’ greatest moments as they brought home a World Series.

Last year was an asterisk. The team got off to a slow start, missed the playoffs, and with the COVID pandemic, how could you possibly evaluate the season fairly? If it were a round of golf, it was a mulligan. The 2021 season would be a more reasonable opportunity to tell.

After yesterday’s loss to Arizona, the team is now 5-8. The last two years the team started 19-31. For you math scholars out there, 19 out of 50 is a winning percentage of .38. Winning 5 out of 13 calculates to a winning percentage of .384615. Take that percentage, multiply it times 50 games and round it to the nearest whole number and you get….19-31.

As Yogi Berra once said, it’s looking like Déjà vu all over again.

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This Homer Will Go Down In Washington Nationals History

I normally don’t make a big deal out of only one hit, but the one hit Kyle Schwarber recorded Friday night to walk off the game and give the Washington Nationals a 1-0 win is going to end up somewhere in Nationals folklore as the longest distance a baseball has ever travelled in the most powerful city in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, that ball was smashed. It looked like the scene from the movie Bull Durham, where Nuke LaLoosh tells Crash Davis "he hit that like he knew it was coming" and Crash tells him "he did. I told him." When Bob Uecker in the movie Major League talked about a ball being crushed toward South America, he was talking about the ball Schwarber hit.

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Something's Happening Here, What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear

Have you noticed what’s going on at Texas A&M these days?

Before we go any further, this is not a story to bash former Hokie Coach Buzz Williams. It’s also not a story to suggest any of these players mentioned are coming to Blacksburg.

But a few things have happened that seem interesting. At least to me they are. 

One is Jamie McNeilly reportedly leaving the Texas A&M staff to take a similar position under new head coach Ben Johnson at Minnesota. McNeilly was with the Hokies as an assistant under Williams for five years in Blacksburg, and was the backbone of Williams’ Canada connection. He was the key assistant in getting future NBA player  Nickeil Alexander-Walker to come to Virginia Tech.

McNeilly then went with Williams to Texas A&M and has continued that connection to top Canadian players. All told, McNeilly was with Buzz for 13 years including his time on Williams’ staff at Marquette.  But now after all that time together, he’s making a lateral move to Minnesota.

I’d have thought when they broke up the band between them, McNeilly would be leaving for a head coaching job.

At roughly the same time, the two players on the Aggies’ roster who are from Canada – Emmanuel Miller and Cashius McNeilly – both entered the transfer portal. Both have slight ties to Virginia Tech as Miller – who was Texas A&M’s leading scorer last season – signed with Virginia Tech while Williams was still the coach in Blacksburg. He asked for and was granted his release, then he followed Williams to the Lone Star State.

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Hokies Add Size, Depth With Signing Of 6-8 Jalen Haynes

You have to hand it to Mike Young and the Hokies: They sure are good at keeping their interest in a player close to the vest.

Virginia Tech sort of surprised everyone late this afternoon when they announced the signing of incoming freshman Jalen Haynes. He’s 6-8, 215 pounds, from Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, FL and comes to the Hokies after playing a post-scholastic year at Montverde Academy last season. He’s been reclassified as a class of 2021 recruit, so he will be a freshman this fall.

"Jalen possesses the type of skill and size we are looking for in our program," Young said in a press release. "He reminds me of a lot of good players I have had the privilege of coaching in the past and we are excited to bring him to Virginia Tech. Jalen comes from a very good high school program and he has a great understanding of the game of basketball. We are excited for his future as a Hokie."

The signing continues Young’s remarkable string of signing players that seem to be exactly what the Hokies need to take the next step. Needing more scoring at the point, Young got Storm Murphy to transfer from Wofford and provide just that; needing a true center, the Hokies also picked up 7-foot transfer Michael Durr.

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I'd Be OK If They Removed April 16 From The Calendar

Tomorrow is April 16, and for me, if anyone wanted to start a campaign to remove the date from the calendar, I’d be all for it. Every April 16, I wake up and hear the same two phrases and can't get them out of my mind.

The first involves two words I heard on a police scanner on the morning of April 16, 2007: “31 Black.”

It was a Monday, and I was the general manager of a local radio station called WAGE in Leesburg. Immediately that morning, phone calls started coming in from parents who had children at Virginia Tech, asking “what is going on in Blacksburg?”

We were clueless. There was nothing on the news yet, but the frequency of the calls and the nervousness in the voices indicated something big was going on. We all started making calls and soon word came out that there had been a shooting at the Ambler-Johnston dorm. One dead, shooter on the loose.

Thanks to a suggestion from friends in Blacksburg, we soon figured out how to listen in on police band transmissions at Virginia Tech. I connected with it on one computer and turned the sound up as loud as it would go. I then grabbed another computer and was able to pick up streaming video from a Roanoke television station so we might be able to hear or see things as they were happening.

While monitoring these, I selectively listened to each for a few moments at a time. I’d walk back and forth between there and the studio to see if they heard anything, and just as I came back to my desk, I heard the end of a transmission with a voice saying “31 black.” Nobody at the station knew what it meant. All we knew was police were only reporting one fatality.

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This Would Seem To Indicate Bede Isn't Coming Back

It’s never really been said specifically if Virginia Tech guard Wabissa Bede is coming back for the extra year the NCAA is allowing all players due to the COVID pandemic.

But this graphic Virginia Tech Men's Basketball sent out about Storm Davis today would seem to confirm he is not.

Storm coming to Virginia Tech is old news, and I wrote about it several weeks ago. But look closely at the jersey he’s wearing in the graphic. It’s No. 3. Bede’s number.

Now I suppose Bede could still come back and wear a different number. But there’s an old rule of thumb in sports: when they give your number to someone else, it’s a strong hint that you may not be a priority in the team’s plans for next season.

I think Bede still has a lot to offer and would be an excellent graduate assistant on the sidelines next season. He knows the offense, knows the player, and seems to still have a fire inside him for the game.

But as for suiting up and playing? When they give your number away, you’re probably not.

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ACC Getting Closer To Telling Us What We Already Know

I’m not sure what the ACC is trying to accomplish, but they sure seem to be leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in regards to when Virginia Tech is going to play its season opener against North Carolina.

A month ago, the schedules were released for all the ACC Schools, but the time and date for the UNC-VT game was left intentionally vague. It was going to be either on Thursday September 2 or Friday September 3, and there was no time or what channel it would be televised on.

“It’s going to be a Friday game, probably at 8 PM on one of the ESPNs, probably the main one,” I thought.

Today the league confirmed at least the game would be played on Friday, Sept. 3, but still no word of a time or who is televising it. They did at least say it would be in prime time, again, something obvious. You don’t play a game at 1 PM in late-summer heat on a day people have to go to work.

I say it will probably be on one of the ESPNs because the only other option would be the ACC Network, which would mean ESPN – which owns the ACC Network – would be competing with itself. Plus the only other games scheduled for Sept. 3 are Old Dominion at Wake Forest, St. Francis at Eastern Michigan, and Northern Colorado at Colorado.

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Basketball's Plan I Understand; Football? Not So Much

I was talking to a friend the other day, and he mentioned I sure seemed more interested in Virginia Tech basketball these days than football.

I hadn't really thought about it that way, but I guess I am.

It’s certainly not a matter of disliking a coach, players or anything like that. Upon reflection, I'd say I've just gotten to a point where with basketball, I understand what’s going on. I can watch a game, see what Mike Young is trying to do, understand that it’s not just 5 guys out on the floor freelancing, and they are running sets, motion and plays specifically designed to counter the strength of the other team.

It doesn’t always work, and sometimes it blows up in Virginia Tech’s face, but I at least see the plan. More importantly, when I see something that doesn’t work, I tend to see in the next game a strategy designed at making sure that doesn’t happen again. No coach is ever going to have all the answers, and for every great win, there’s going to probably be a bad loss somewhere in there.

But after those bad losses, I look to see if the coach pushes buttons to address that. If the buttons he pushes work, it shows a control of his team and a respect from player to coach that both trust each other.

I also see in the basketball team a strategy that calls for certain types of players, and each year, it seems I can understand what Young thinks he needs. This offseason it looks like he needs a point guard who can score. BOOM. He gets one. He needs a legitimate center to free his talented forwards playing out of position in the lane and BOOM. He gets one.

It’s not a matter of me liking or not liking the moves, either. But the understanding of where the team is going, seeing the progress toward the strategy that seems apparent, and watching the entire group buy into this gives me confidence. And thus makes me more and more interested in every detail.

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