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Mark Byington Impresses At Roanoke Valley Sports Club

A long-awaited appearance by Mark Byington before the Roanoke Valley Sports Club lived up to all expectations at the Salem Civic Center earlier this week.

In his second season as the James Madison men's basketball coach, Byington directed the Dukes to a 13-7 finish, including an 8-2 record in the Colonial Athletic Association, after which he was named CAA coach of the year.

The original agreement was for Byington to speak to the sports club last year, but a COVID-19 breakout put that meeting on hold. In the end, it probably was better to have him speak in 2021, when he was a finalist for mid-major national coach of the year.

Byington spoke to a crowd Monday night that included two honorees designated as local "legends," Paul Bernard and Charlie Morgan. Bernard coached basketball at William Byrd High School and Charlie Morgan at Salem.

Many of Byington's former coaches and players were there, including Richard Morgan, one of the most decorated players to come through the valley. Morgan and his brother Charlie sat with the Byington family.

It was not the first time Byington had spoken to the sports club. As a young graduate assistant at UVa, he was dispatched to Salem by then-head coach Pete Gillen. When he got to the sports club, he learned that he would be sharing the podium with legendary Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer.

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Dave Fulton

Grounds

Nice to see Shawn Moore back on Grounds.
Friday, 23 April 2021 11:47
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College Notebook: Virginia Schools Linked To NDSU

At some point, the paths of former Virginia Tech quarterback Quincy Patterson and would-be Virginia cornerback Josh "Hollywood" Hayes will cross if they haven't already.

Patterson is transferring from Tech to North Dakota State in Fargo, and Hayes is transferring to UVa from North Dakota State. Patterson is joining a Football Championship Subdivision team and Hayes is joining an FBS program, but in this case, there isn't a huge difference in level of play

North Dakota State won five straight FCS national championships from 2011 through 2015 and has 16 titles spread over a variety of college football levels.

"This isn't the last experience we've had with someone leaving or coming," North Dakota State coach Matt Entz told Inforum, the newspaper that services Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota.

Entz met with Hayes earlier this week, according to Inforum, and accepted Hayes' plans to return to his home in the Lakeland, Fla., area, where he has a daughter, according to an Entz interview with KVRR TV.

"He sees other guys in our league opting out right now and getting offers from power five ]schools]," Entz said. "I’ll tell you what, I think Josh is the best corner in the league, so you take it for what it’s worth."

On the flip side, Entz will be getting a quarterback with an FBS background in Patterson, who played in 10 games over two seasons at Virginia Tech. Patterson was rated the No. 13 dual-threat quarterback in the country when he signed with the Hokies in 2018.

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7-Footer Michael Durr Changes Mind, Reopens Recruitment

It was just last Thursday that I wrote this story about associate head coach Chester Frazier leaving Virginia Tech and returning to his alma mater, Illinois. In that story I noted how amicable the decision was, the great respect Frazier and head coach Mike Young had for each other, and how no one could begrudge him going back to the school he played at a decade earlier.

Despite all that, I did express some concern. “Why?” some people asked. I had two thoughts, but only answered with one. The first was when you lose a really good assistant, you have to replace them with someone just as good, and there’s no guarantee that will happen. In all my years in the corporate world, you were very good and very lucky if you just hit on 50 percent of the people hired that ended up being as good as expected. It’s just the nature of the hiring process.

What I didn’t say about what concerned me was this sentence in the story about Frazier: “His fingerprints are all over just about every one of the key recruits the Hokies have landed, and he’s liked by just about everyone.”

If you’ve had a hand in all the key recruits, that means just about all the key recruits expected you to be there when they arrived. If you were a deciding factor and you’re not there, there was a possibility that players could back out of their commitments, since whoever is the replacement isn’t going to know all the recruits.

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With Frazier Gone, Hokies Need To Make Another Big Hire

I’ve long since given up worrying about which player is arriving or which player is leaving when it comes to Virginia Tech athletics. I’ll wait until the particular sport starts its season, and then worry about who is on the field or court at that time.

But today, Virginia Tech’s basketball program lost associate head coach Chester Frazier to Illinois.

THAT, I'm worried about. 

The move makes a lot of sense for Frazier, and it is a very amicable parting. Frazier played at Illinois a decade or so ago, so he's getting a chance to go home. No one can begrudge that, and everyone associated with the program is happy for him.

But Frazier filled one huge void when Mike Young was hired as head coach, and he made the transition so seamless, you could make the case that Frazier has been as important as Young in turning the Hokie basketball program.

If you remember back when Young was hired, the biggest concern was recruiting. Could Young, an older coach, connect with younger recruits and get them to come to Blacksburg, people who look a lot like me wondered. Young almost immediately hired Frazier, and I remember being extremely impressed because the hire was not a fellow assistant he had a history with that would make Young more comfortable in his new surroundings.

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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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Four Hokies Hear Their Names Called In 2021 NFL Draft

Last year, much was made of the fact only one Hokie - in the third round - was selected in the NFL Draft.

That certainly won't be the case this year, as Virginia Tech had four players selected in the 2021 draft, including two picks back to back in the first round. Only 7 schools had two or more players chosen in the first round, putting the Hokies in some pretty elite company.

Cornerback Caleb Farley and left tackle Christian Darrisaw were the back-to-back picks in the first round, safety Divine Deablo was taken in the third, and running back Khalil Herbert heard his name called in the sixth round.

Incidentally, while they aren’t going to teams who scouted them at their Pro Day, all four of them find themselves going into great situations, as prototypical players for each team’s system.

Caleb Farley

The Titans, who are in the process of completely overhauling their cornerback room, took Farley with the No. 22 overall pick. As recently as two seasons ago, they boasted one of the deeper secondaries in the NFL, featuring Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson at cornerback and Kenny Vaccaro at strong safety. They’re all gone now.

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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 A Great Plan, But Now The Real Work Starts...

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last three years is that a plan without execution is just a dream. Dreams are fleeting and fragile.

You have to do the hard work necessary to make it a reality.

There’s a lot of hard work on the horizon for Virginia Tech, who announced an ambitious capital campaign that includes $400 million in fundraising over an eight-year period for various investments in the athletic department. The Reach for Excellence campaign outlines significant boosts to the football staffing budget, a massive renovation to Cassell Coliseum and numerous investments into other sports.

The end goals look good. Tech is shooting for a $30 million “football enhancement fund” that will aim to make it easier for the Hokies to hire better coaches and more lower-level assistants, among other things. Virginia Tech is also planning various investments into their non-revenue sports, helping with facility upgrades and enhanced nutritional support for athletes.

Don’t forget the headliner of it all — a $50 million renovation project that will modernize and revamp Cassell Coliseum into one of the nicest and most unique venues in college athletics.

Now none of these plans are necessarily brand-new — Virginia Tech has been talking about increasing the football program’s budget for years and the Cassell renovations have been in the works for just as long. But this is the first time it’s all been laid out and shared with the fanbase in a detailed way.

That’s cause for excitement.

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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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Recent Comments
Guest — Johnny Hurst

Hmm

Kinda like Steve Roccafort(?) Leaving VT for ECU. I think Buzz also gave Jamie credit for a lot of the great inbounds plays they r... Read More
Friday, 16 April 2021 16:50
Dave Scarangella

Those were two different scena...

In Steve Roccaforte's situation, I believe there was a difference of opinion on talent evaluation and Buzz invited Steve to check ... Read More
Friday, 16 April 2021 17:35
Guest — Johnny Hurst

Jeff

Meant to leave this trivia answer here. Where was Jeff Reynold's 1st head coaching job? Right here in Hillsville at Carroll County... Read More
Saturday, 17 April 2021 08:27
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What Happened 14 Years Ago Is Ingrained In All Of Us

I had a bad day yesterday.

I won’t get into the details — we all have our own issues that we deal with on a regular basis. Sometimes we handle it well. Sometimes we don’t. At 26 years old, I’ve been through my fair share of good times and bad, and yesterday wasn't a good one. So as I sat there on Thursday night, I threw back a strong cocktail and tried to make sense of it all.

Then I looked at the date — April 15.

April 16 holds a special place in my heart, as it does for anyone and everyone associated with Virginia Tech. I was just 13 years old when 32 Hokies were taken from us on that tragic day, but I knew well what was happening. As a kid who’d been raised a tried-and-true Hokie, it was pretty devastating.

I've spent 14 years now grieving for those 32 families as well as the others on campus who escaped unscathed.

But to be real, they were unscathed in name only. They will carry what happened on April 16, 2007 for the rest of their lives and will never be able to truly escape.

For 14 years now, the Virginia Tech community, and to an extent the Commonwealth and the country, have spent this day in mourning. The three years I was a student at Tech, I spent the few minutes before midnight on April 16 and the next hour or so afterwards standing outside huddled around the memorial in front of Burruss Hall with my Hokie brothers and sisters, all of us mourning the loss of those 32. Through the rain, the stinging wind that whips across the Drillfield on an April night in Blacksburg, we stood silently as each of the 32 names were read aloud. We walked through the memorial, spending time at each stone, trying to make sense of what had happened.

What happened on April 16 is now ingrained in who I am. It’s probably ingrained in who you are, too. It’s become a part of who we are. Even if you weren’t there on April 16, you feel like you were.

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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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