For everyone else, the excitement was on the field at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium Nov. 13 when the No. 2 Hokies whipped Miami. Coaches and players raised their arms in triumph, running, hugging and celebrating at midfield. But for assistant head coach and running backs coach Billy Hite what mattered more was who was in the stands: He searched the packed rows behind his team's bench and--for the first time this season--located his wife.
Anne Hite had not been to a game since leaving early during the Sept. 4 season opener against James Madison after falling ill. Two weeks later, surgeons removed a softball-size abscess from her abdomen.
Anne's absence from games has made this season--despite the success of the 10-0 Hokies--a difficult one for Billy Hite, a two-time All-Met tailback and a starter on the baseball and basketball teams at DeMatha High (1969 graduate). Anne will see her second full game of the season when the Hokies host Boston College Friday. A win would give Virginia Tech its first 11-win season and likely send the team to the Sugar Bowl to play Florida State for the national championship.
"I told everyone last year that we were one year away from having a great football team," said Hite, 48. "And that's what we have this year. But I can't tell you what it means having Anne back at the games--it just wasn't the same without her."
Anne underwent surgery two days before Virginia Tech's Sept. 23 game against Clemson. The Hokies won, 31-11, and coaches awarded the game ball to all-American defensive end Corey Moore. Moore turned and handed the ball to Hite.
"We all knew what he was going through, you could just see the stress on his face," junior tailback Shryone Stith said. "He was so tired all the time. We just tried to make it as easy on him as we could at practice."
In addition to the 90-plus hours Virginia Tech's coaches spend in the office each week, Hite also was caring for the couple's three children--Kirsten, 13, Bryn, 11, and Griffin, 7. Family members and friends came from Hite's home town of Hyattsville to help, as did area neighbors. They fixed dinners and put the children to bed on nights Hite worked late. When he got home--usually between 9 and 10 p.m.--there was laundry to do, lunches to pack and carpooling to arrange.
"His idea of doing laundry and mine aren't the same," Anne Hite joked. "He just put it all together and washed it on cold."
But, she admits, she couldn't help but be impressed when she came home from the hospital to find her husband had waxed the hardwood floors in their kitchen.
Those who know Billy Hite best--from his infectious smile to his tall tales and ever-present cup of coffee--were not at all surprised that he found a way to keep going. Since his days at DeMatha, Hite always has gone nonstop.
"They don't come any better," said Benny Bonanni, Billy's best friend and former football teammate at DeMatha. "I always tell people that if you ever meet anybody who doesn't like Billy Hite to get away from them because you're not in good company."
Hite played for Coach Bill Dooley at North Carolina from 1970 to '74, starting two seasons at tailback. Though he lacked tremendous speed, Hite was productive as a multi-purpose running back.
"Bill Dooley wanted someone who could block and catch the ball and who could run," Hite said. "Every one of my guys is going to be a complete player, too, or he's not going to be on the field."
Hite joined UNC's staff in 1974 as the team's running backs coach and followed Dooley to Virginia Tech in 1978. He stayed through the transition from Dooley to Frank Beamer in 1987 and was promoted to assistant head coach the following year.
"When we came to Blacksburg, I told Anne that I was only going to be here for one or two years, so don't get to know anybody, don't get too close to people," said Hite, who has seen 17 running backs in his 21 years at Virginia Tech sign with NFL teams. "But we've been here ever since."
The Hokies have averaged nearly 200 yards rushing per game under Hite, and this season rank eighth nationally at 245.9 yards per game. Stith rushed for 75 yards last week in Virginia Tech's 62-7 win over Temple to bring his season total to 1,022 yards, making him the seventh player in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Hite coached six of the running backs on that list.
Atlanta Falcons running back Ken Oxendine (1994-97), who stands fifth among the Hokies' all-time rushing leaders with 2,645 yards, recalls Hite as "one of my mentors in life. . . . Coach Hite taught me a whole lot about being myself as a runner. He's like a father to me."
Hite said he would never leave Virginia Tech for another assistant coaches' job, but would consider leaving for a head coaching position. He has twice been on the short-list for the head job at James Madison, but both times withdrew his name.
"I just didn't think the timing was right," he said.
Anne, who needs more surgery, said the timing isn't right for her either: She has decided to postpone a second operation until after the Hokies' bowl game.
"I just can't stand to miss any more," she said.