A football coach standing nose-to-nose with a defiant player is not an uncommon sideline scene. It starts when a player makes a costly mistake -- more commonly a mental error than a physical one -- and escalates from there. Tempers flare; then they fade. For better or worse, it doesn't shock anyone when the player is a linebacker or lineman, even a wide receiver.
But a kicker?
"I'm not like most kickers," said Virginia Tech senior Jimmy Kibble, a two-time, first-team all-Big East punter who also handles kickoffs. "When I'm on the field, I'm very aggressive. If someone tries to return a ball on me, I'm not a punter anymore, I'm a hitter. No one likes living with getting hit by the punter, so then they shouldn't come at me. I don't care what size the player is, I'm wearing the same pads they are."
Case in point: Virginia Tech's 36-32 loss to arch-rival Virginia last season in the teams' last regular season game. On a second-quarter kickoff, Virginia's Antwoine Womack caught the ball and burst through the coverage team, leaving him one-on-one with Kibble along the sideline. In what Kibble insists was not a late hit out of bounds but rather an aggressive play right on the sideline, the 5-10, 189-pound Kibble tackled Womack, pushing him into the Virginia Tech bench and through several large orange coolers of Gatorade.
What ensued in the next few seconds was a short-lived but heated brawl. Kibble, saying he took an elbow in the neck from Womack, came up swinging. The next thing he remembers -- and what everyone watching found so comical -- was Kibble's facemask firmly in the grasp of Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer as Beamer pulled Kibble away from Womack in an attempt to avoid a penalty.
"I was mad, more mad at myself for fighting than anything, but just at the whole situation," Kibble said. "But Coach Beamer, he really has a way of getting into people's heads. He straightened me out. I remember it like it was yesterday, everything he said, but I couldn't repeat a word of it."
Kibble said he will try to keep his aggressiveness under better control this year. He, after all, is one of the key members of the Hokies' daunting special teams. Virginia Tech is best known for its ability to block kicks, renown that, in a way, also is a tribute to the reliability of Kibble and place kicker Shayne Graham.
Only 30 of Kibble's past 102 punts were returned, and he has planted 40 of those kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line. He ranked eighth nationally in net punting average last season at 39.4 yards. Graham, a three-time, first-team all-Big East pick, is the Hokies' all-time leading scorer with 264 points. He has made 111 of 112 career extra point attempts and last season made 22 of 32 field goal tries, including a 50-yarder and 53-yarder.
"I think they are the best combination of kickers anywhere in the country," Beamer said. "And I'm not sure they couldn't stand by themselves as the best punter and best place kicker. As long as we have good kickers, we'll have a good kicking game. We can work out the other aspects."
Part of the reason Virginia Tech has been so successful on special teams is the emphasis Beamer puts on it -- personally. Beamer coaches the special teams, better known around Blacksburg as the Pride and Joy unit, which is the main reason Kibble said he chose Virginia Tech coming out of Osbourn Park High School in Manassas.
"On my recruiting trip, we sat down with Coach Beamer, and my dad asked what kind of emphasis was put on special teams here because we all know in high school there is none at all," Kibble said. "But when I learned that the head coach, of all people, is involved with it and felt it played as big of a role on the team as the offense and defense, I was hooked."
Success helped to hook him too. Kibble's first high school field goal attempt -- a 27-yarder from the left hash mark during his sophomore year against county-rival Gar-Field -- was good.
"It was a real rush of adrenaline," said Kibble, who serves as the Hokies' backup place kicker and has worked privately in recent years with many professional place kickers, including Steve Christie and Scott Norwood. "I decided right then I was going to put all of my focus into kicking. I came to Virginia Tech to be a part of the best special teams unit in the country. I think I've done that . . . and it's simply unbelievable."
East Carolina W38-3
at Clemson W37-0
at Miami W27-20 (OT)
at Boston CollegeW17-0
West Virginia W27-13
at Syracuse L28-26
vs. Alabama in Music City Bowl W38-7