It is a new era for Virginia Tech football. A new coach. A new stadium. A new offense.

And, as the Gobblers prepare to make their debut under new Coach Bill Dooley - they will play host to Tulsa tomorrow - the talk is of the future, not the past.

But Mickey Fitzgerald, who will start at fullback tomorrow, remembers the past vividly.

"You just can't ever forget something like last year," he said yesterday. "I think we'd all like to completely forget it all, but you can't. We'll never forget."

Fitzgerald cannot forget Bob Vorhies, a freshman fullback, who collapsed and died last November after a punishment drill. He cannot forget his coach Jimmy Sharpe, who was fired two days after the 3-7-1 season had finally ended.

"I guess it was the Monday after the last game," Fitzgerald recalled. "Coach Sharpe came over to our dorm with his wife. When he walked in he had tears in his eyes. He said 'I'm no longer your coach.'"

"Everybody was quite emotional. Coach Sharpe asked if everyone could join hands in prayer one more time. When that was over, he left. That's the last any of us have seen of him."

Sharpe is gone but his shadow still looms over the Blacksburg campus. Outgoing, warm and friendly, Sharpe was defended through thick and thin by his players.

When he was fired they hung signs from their dorm demanding he be rehired and met with University President William Lavery, all to no avail.

Ironically, Sharpe went on to become an assistant coach at Mississippi State, Dooley's alma mater. Dooley, who took the job after 11 successful seasons at North Carolina - six Bowl games and three ACC titles - is in many ways the opposite of Sharpe: all work, little play.

"He's a real basics man," starting quarterback David Lamie said. "He believes in blocking, tackling, executing and not making mental mistakes. That'll get the job done. Coach Sharpe was more of a personal type of coach with the players."

Fitzgerald, a 6 foot-2, 242-pound junior, moved to fullback the last four games of last season and rushed for 502 yards from Sharpe's wishbone offense.

He told reporters at the end of the season that he would consider transfering if Sharpe was fired and concedes that there are still many players who think often about Sharpe.

"There are still strong feelings for Coach Sharpe, no matter how much we like Coach Dooley," he said. "I mean he taught me a lot of things outside of football and I miss him."

Fitzgerald also misses the wishbone, now replaced by Dooley's Power I. "I think I showed what kind of runner I am last year," he said. "I know I'm going to be more of a blocking back this year. If that's best for the team, well, then it's fine with me. But I think I know what's best for me."

Dooley is counting of Fitzgerald and Lamie to provide most of the Tech offense in a schedule which includes Alabama, Kentucky, Florida State and Auburn.

Lamie, a senior, hopes it will not take Dooley several years to rebuild the program. His hopes are high, despite the schedule and a team which clearly lacks depth.

"Well, one thing's for sure, we have to stay healthy," he said. "But every time I practice and I realize football is almost all over for me, I just want to make this year come out well, real bad. We all think we can win with the players we have."

Fitzgerald is more blunt. "I think I probably came here at the wrong time," he said. "I really love Tech, that's why I stayed. But I can see where things are going to get better in the future.

"The last week last season was just one sorry time for me. First there was Bob (Vorhies), then Coach Sharpe got fired, then I wrecked my car, broke up with my girl friend and messed up my exams.

"I thought about it all a lot and I still remember. I'm looking ahead now. I'm excited about starting the season. But I haven't forgotten."