But coming off Virginia Tech’s worst season in 20 years (7-6), Thomas is more focused on how the entire team seemed to crumble at times. The solution he came up with was to morph into a meaner — and more leadership-oriented — version of himself.
“I really haven’t held my tongue much lately,” Thomas said. “Ya’ll probably see I’m not all smiles like I used to be.”
With time to reflect on the 2012 season, the consensus among the Hokies was that year’s team lacked discipline and “want to” on the practice field. They simply grew too content after reeling off 10-win seasons for eight-straight years, so Thomas and the rest of the seniors have made it a point to erase any such comfort.
Linebacker Jack Tyler (Oakton), the leader of this year’s defense, noted that playing two-time defending national champion Alabama to start the season helps in that regard. But there’s also been a conscious movement to shake up the status quo.
“Our offseason has to be tough. . . . We have to have energy, excitement, focus. I think we’ve gotten away from that a little bit the last few years,” Tyler said. “It’s kind of been a little bit more laid back because we got complacent. We got so used to winning 10 games every year, we just thought it would happen and we learned last year that it’s not just gonna roll out on a red carpet for us. We have to go get those 10 wins.”
Coach Frank Beamer’s decision to alter his offensive coaching staff this past winter may have initiated the cause. New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead brought a different outlook, and it has been a refreshing change of pace for the Hokies’ players.
“I think we needed the culture shock,” Tyler said. “It wasn’t really getting stale, but when you hear the same thing over and over from the same coaches, it does get kind of a little stale.”
But the expectations remain. Though some ACC teams would be happy to just make a bowl, Virginia Tech realizes another 7-6 campaign would rile up its fan base. Tyler believes the biggest difference from last year will be the result of not living up to the hype a year ago, that his teammates have a new fear after experiencing “what it’s like to be at the bottom.”
If that isn’t enough, they’ll still have to deal with their grumpy quarterback.
“We’re known for 10-win seasons, ACC championships and bowl games,” Thomas said. “That’s what we’re striving for and fighting for: Trying to show that last year was a fluke.”
Note: A Virginia Tech spokesman confirmed Sunday that wide receiver Kevin Asante will not be on the football team this season. Asante, a redshirt sophomore, caught just two passes for 18 yards last year but was in the mix for more playing time this fall following spring practice.