Pivotal team meeting changed Hokies' season

By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2010

BLACKSBURG, VA. - It officially started with a victory over East Carolina, picked up momentum two weeks later following Virginia Tech's biggest comeback ever under Coach Frank Beamer and finally hit its stride when the Hokies emerged from their bye week to score crucial wins over three bowl-bound division rivals in November.

But the 10-game winning streak No. 12 Virginia Tech will put on the line Saturday against No. 20 Florida State in the ACC championship game in Charlotte truly began in the immediate aftermath of perhaps the worst loss in program history, a time Beamer described as "a crisis."

The Hokies' loss to division I-AA James Madison on Sept. 11 had been over for barely 30 minutes, but a players-only meeting already was in the works. Senior cornerback Rashad Carmichael suggested the idea to senior defensive tackle John Graves in the locker room immediately after the 21-16 defeat, prompting Graves to give quarterback Tyrod Taylor a call the next day to see what he thought.

Taylor had been talking with teammates individually, but quickly decided "we needed to get everyone together." By Monday morning, Graves made the announcement: There would be a "senior meeting" on Friday, the day before the team took the field to face East Carolina.

Tensions had been building in Blacksburg throughout the preseason and after the loss to Boise State to begin the year. A divide emerged over practice habits between the Hokies' veterans and their talented underclassmen. The seniors felt their younger counterparts just weren't taking things seriously enough.

As defensive coordinator Bud Foster said at the time: "We're just so young right now. . . . They think they're going hard or working hard, but they're not there yet."

It only got worse during the week between the James Madison and East Carolina games when sophomore running back David Wilson complained to reporters that he was unhappy with his role in the offense and regretted not redshirting this season. With the sting of two losses in six days still present, everybody was on edge.

"Oh man, it got real testy," senior defensive back Davon Morgan said. "A lot of tempers were flaring, a lot of guys were upset because a lot of guys hate to lose."

By the time the team got together at Virginia Tech's auditorium-style meeting room on the Friday before the East Carolina game, the emotions were raw. The seniors' preseason rhetoric was all about winning the school's first national championship; now they just felt embarrassed.

So players such as Graves, Taylor and Morgan stood in front of the group and let loose with how they felt about the situation.

"It wasn't anything I planned," Taylor recalled. "It was just that losing is nothing to get used to at Virginia Tech."

Added Graves, "I just spoke from the heart."

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