By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 26 -- Coach Frank Beamer vowed this offseason to rid Virginia Tech of its emerging image as a renegade football program. The gratuitous personal fouls, the off-field legal issues, the skipped classes would all cease. A new system of discipline would be enacted.
The school made quarterback Marcus Vick, who likely would have been the Hokies' best returning player, an example of its image overhaul. Virginia Tech expelled Vick after a two-year rash of arrests and an ugly incident in which Vick stomped on an opposing player's leg during what turned out to be his final collegiate game.
Besides getting rid of Vick, Beamer instituted a series of penalties for those who violate rules. Players who commit personal fouls must endure punitive running sessions the Wednesday morning after the game, and they are docked $100 from the check players are awarded for bowl games. Offenders who missed class would receive a similar punishment.
A message had been sent that bad behavior would not be tolerated. The results so far?
"Well," Beamer said, "I think we're a work in progress."
Beamer has kept his word, disciplining players as he said he would, but he has been busy. The No. 11 Hokies are the most-penalized team in the ACC and rank among the 20 most-penalized teams in the country. They have committed five personal fouls in four games, including three by safety Aaron Rouse, whom Beamer took out of Saturday's game for two possessions after a personal foul.
"I wasn't okay with that," said Rouse, who has made himself a vocal leader of the team. "But, you know, everything happens for a reason. . . . I don't want any penalties like that. I just think now, being a spokesperson for Virginia Tech, everybody knows your name."
On Monday, Beamer suspended wide receiver Josh Morgan and defensive end Chris Ellis for Saturday's game against No. 24 Georgia Tech, the toughest opponent Virginia Tech has faced this season. The pair were arrested early Sunday morning and charged with obstructing a police officer.
Blacksburg Police responded to a call about a large group that included Morgan and Ellis that appeared on the brink of erupting into a fight outside a row of bars off campus. Morgan acted disorderly and was pepper-sprayed and then arrested. Police arrested Ellis when he tried to help Morgan. While not absolving them, Beamer defended those players Tuesday and shed new light on the incident.
"Well, this thing the other night, it happened quickly," Beamer said. "I think Josh was almost hit by a car. That's never been said. I think after that, he reacted wrong, and I think Chris tried to come to his defense, and he reacted wrong. That's kind of the bottom line."
Beamer or the athletic department has disciplined all the players who have had legal trouble since 2004, but that's been a turbulent span. In January 2004, Vick, running back Mike Imoh and linebacker Brenden Hill, who is still on the team, were suspended three games after pleading guilty to charges of corrupting a minor. Vick would incur several other run-ins with the law and eventually be suspended for the entire 2004 season before returning in 2005. Backup quarterback Ike Whitaker was held out of most of this spring practice after being charged with possession of alcohol. Including last weekend, six Virginia Tech players have run into trouble with the law since 2004.
Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver said that did not amount to a serious problem, and he applauded Beamer for his diligence in handling the situations and for being proactive.
"If I thought there was a major problem, I'd deal with it," Weaver said. "I don't think there's a major problem with the people in our football program. Nor I do I think there's a problem with the way Coach Beamer is handling them."
Weaver said it would be unfair to lump the personal fouls committed by Virginia Tech players on the field with the legal troubles stirred up off it. He called them "independent, separate issues" and "apples and oranges." However, when the school expelled Vick, it did so for "a cumulative effect of legal infractions and unsportsmanlike play."
Weaver lauded Beamer for the way he has handled the arrests.
"They were thinking more of themselves than about the team," Weaver said. "Frank can't babysit them. The players have to take the responsibility and realize what's right and what's wrong."
Players agreed. They said the same strangers who cheer for them Saturday afternoons often provoke them on Saturday nights.
"We're athletes," Tech cornerback Brandon Flowers said. "We're in everybody's eye downtown and everything. Some people are going to come at you. I don't even go out anymore. You can't get in trouble if you don't go out."