Maybe it was Virginia Tech's No. 13 ranking -- its highest ever -- or maybe it was the lone first-place vote the Hokies' garnered in the Associated Press preseason poll. They were, after all, the only team not ranked in the top five to get a first-place nod. Or perhaps it is the hype surrounding redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick that has left fans unable to wait for the season opener to get their first look at this year's squad.

Whatever the cause, the effect has been unusually large -- and unwanted -- crowds at the Hokies' preseason football practices. In an effort to "avoid distraction," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer yesterday declared the rest of the team's practices closed to the general public.

"The coaches certainly appreciate the support and the interest in the program, and they know the fans wouldn't want to do anything to keep them from getting ready," said Dave Smith, Virginia Tech's sports information director. "They just feel that there were more people than normal out and they feared that if that number continued to grow it was going to become a distraction."

Smith said some fans came just to watch and others showed up with cameras. He said the coaches were not worried about being scouted, but just wanted the players to maintain focus over the final two weeks of preseason preparation. Virginia Tech will open with James Madison on Sept. 4.