BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech place kicker Cody Journell answered his cellphone twice early Friday morning, his curiosity piqued by the blocked number calling him just hours after the Hokies returned to campus on a late-night flight from Georgia Tech.
The first time, Journell couldn’t understand the voice on the other end and hung up. After his phone rang again, he wondered if someone needed his help.
Once he answered, though, curiosity turned to fear.
“I’m not really going to go into what the person actually said, other than it did kind of freak me out a little,” Journell said Tuesday in his first public comments since threats were made to his cellphone and Twitter account following Virginia Tech’s 17-10 win over the Yellow Jackets on Thursday. “It was more the person finding my number that kind of freaked me out more than anything.”
Journell immediately notified Virginia Tech’s director of football operations, John Ballein, who reported the incident to the Blacksburg Police Department and campus police. Though Journell said Tuesday he did not receive a death threat, he has since changed his phone number and police have dispatched extra detail in the area around his house.
The calls were related to Journell’s on-field struggles this season, and came in the immediate aftermath of the 25-yard field goal he missed against Georgia Tech. After connecting on 36 of his first 44 field goal attempts the past three years, Journell has missed five of his past nine kicks.
Journell, a fifth-year senior, was also suspended for the Hokies’ win over Marshall on Sept. 21 after violating team rules. Before the 2012 season, Journell needed to be reinstated to the program by Athletic Director Jim Weaver after being charged with felony breaking and entering and pleading guilty to misdemeanor trespassing.
But Coach Frank Beamer has continued to back Journell, and he expressed frustration over “the wacky people” that created this latest situation. Beamer said he had never before had a player threatened in this manner.
“It’s something that you just don’t think about or should think about at the college level, pro level, high school level, whatever,” he said. “Guys are out there doing their best, playing as hard as they can play. There’s no room for that as far as I’m concerned. . . .
“That wasn’t a good Hokie fan. That was somebody else that wants to try to give your program a bad name. The Hokies fans I know, that wasn’t them.”
Journell is trying to put the incident behind him ahead of Saturday’s homecoming game against North Carolina, noting that “if you let it bother you too much, then they accomplished what they want.” But the ordeal still worries his family, and Journell equated his mother to “a lion with her cub” this week.
Nonetheless, the Ripplemead, Va., native has tried to instead focus on correcting the minor issues that have affected his accuracy in recent weeks. With the Hokies off last weekend, he worked with his personal kicking coach, Doug Blevins, and has recently consulted with former Hokies place kickers Shayne Graham and Chris Hazley.
Journell believes his problems are more mental than anything, although he conceded the failed chip shot Thursday night — he had never before missed a kick of 30 yards or less in college — was the result of a sharp angle from the hash mark and his own faulty follow-through.
“I just need to trust my foot,” he said.
Despite the struggles, the football field has once again turned into a sanctuary for Journell given the off-field problems he had to sort through in recent days. If anything, he’ll be more at ease at Lane Stadium after a Friday morning he won’t soon forget.
“I think it motivates me more than anything. I honestly feel more comfortable on the field than I do being out in public or whatever,” Journell said. “It’s kind of like my release place.”