By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 17 -- After suffering two consecutive losses and being criticized on national television for its actions on and off the field, the Virginia Tech football team finds itself looking for a fresh start to a season that began with four straight victories. Players vowed Tuesday they would redeem themselves, even as Coach Frank Beamer announced that defensive end William Wall was being thrown off the team for his behavior.
During last Thursday's broadcast of the Hokies' 22-3 loss to Boston College, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit sharply criticized the Virginia Tech football team, calling it selfish and more focused on getting to the NFL than winning games. His comments came as cameras showed linebacker Brenden Hill dancing on the sideline during the game's waning moments with Virginia Tech trailing 20-3. The broadcast also included shots of bickering between safety Aaron Rouse and linebacker Vince Hall near the Virginia Tech bench.
Hill met with Beamer on Monday and apologized to the coaches and players. Hill said yesterday he didn't want Boston College to know how much losing hurt, so he was dancing to hide his dejection. He said he also felt he could alleviate the tension on the Virginia Tech bench by keeping his teammates loose.
"It kind of hurt me," Hill said of the ESPN analyst's criticism. "It's something that I'm ready to move on from and put behind me. The way it came off was definitely not how I meant it. It was kind of disappointing to see it come off like that."
Rouse and Hall were not made available for comment, at the request of Beamer.
"I think there was lot of frustration there, a lot of disappointment there," Beamer said of Rouse and Hall on Monday. "I think there's better ways to handle it than screaming at each other."
"I've seen it before. It's never been caught on TV like that before," wide receiver David Clowney said. "Some guys were frustrated. We've all been through it. You got to put stuff like that behind you."
While Hill apologized, his teammates defended him and shot back at Herbstreit, whose opinions carry significant weight around college football.
"Bottom line is, some guy out there had six minutes to fill in a one-sided game," center Danny McGrath said. "If that comes down to looking at a guy dancing and saying this isn't team play, after he doesn't know the guy and hasn't watched him practice for the last five years, it doesn't make much sense. It's disrespectful because he doesn't know us as people.
"People around the program were starting to get upset. We know we're out there playing. If a guy is dancing during a TV timeout so ESPN can make more money off of us than they already do, then they catch the guy dancing. That's what the tape does to you, it makes you bitter. We looked pretty bad, but then two days later Miami took the thug title right from us. As soon as we earn it outright, they come back and do something to take it from us."
McGrath was referring to a bench-clearing brawl during a game Saturday night between the University of Miami and Florida International teams that resulted in multiple suspensions of players at both schools.
Beamer called a team meeting Monday at which he showed the ESPN footage from Thursday's loss that included Herbstreit's acidic criticism. The room fell quiet afterward, players said.
James Miller and Cornell Brown, former Virginia Tech players acting as graduate assistants, spoke. Beamer addressed the team. Several team leaders, Noland Burchette and Rouse among them, also spoke, according to players who attended the meeting. Players said Tuesday that they realized the team had fractured in its frustration at losing -- it has dropped out of the national rankings for the first time in 33 weeks -- and needed to come back together.
"It gave a point to start over again," Hill said. "A new breath, a new life."
Three players -- Chris Ellis, Josh Morgan and Josh Hyman -- have been arrested this season, each suspended one game. On Monday night, Beamer announced on his weekly radio show that he had kicked Wall, a redshirt freshman who leads the Hokies with three sacks, off the team for a series of transgressions. Wall had been suspended for an earlier game after an outburst he made toward defensive line coach Charlie Wiles.
Beamer vowed to clean up Virginia Tech's image this offseason. He wouldn't elaborate on his preseason comments Tuesday but repeated his oft-used statement that his players must "represent Virginia Tech well on the field and represent Virginia Tech well off the field."
Asked whether Beamer's appeal was reaching the players, McGrath said: "When you look at the model, I guess not. What Coach Beamer has done now as opposed to a couple years ago is, now it's serious. Maybe it was, 'I'm going to do this,' and it never happened. Coach Beamer has been throwing people off the team left and right this year."
Beamer said repeatedly Tuesday that the team was moving on and that he would only talk about Saturday night's opponent, Southern Mississippi.
"As a team, we've taken a step forward and we've gotten closer," Hill said. "Coach Beamer did a great job, not just with him speaking but the way he approached our team meeting yesterday and getting us to refocus. You'll see a different Virginia Tech football team."