With the Hokies enjoying a bye week – meaning there’s no pending game to complain about – I have found the conversations I’ve been having with old Hokie friends the last few days interesting.
There is no talk involving the play of the quarterback, the performance of the new head coach, or much of anything football related. Instead, there is conversation – and concern – about the one question every recruit asks and every coaching staff must answer.
“Why should I come to Virginia Tech?”
It’s not nearly as negative a question as you may initially think. It’s something every student asks whether it involves education, social life, class size, having fun, etc. And as it relates to football, there’s always been a good answer to it for as long as I can remember.
Go back to when I was a freshman in 1974 (I really liked the guy on Twitter who referred to our ilk as Metamucil-swilling dinosaurs who are in bed by 11 PM every night) and the answer was opportunity. Back then the scholarship limits were different, so a good player go either go be the fifth QB at Ohio State or come play and possibly start at Virginia Tech.
I can even remember when part of the pitch was we were going to be the next Penn State, so come to Blacksburg and be part of it.
By 1993, Frank Beamer had gotten the Hokies into a bowl, so being on TV and going to a post-season game became part of the answer. Jim Druckenmiller took the team to back-to-back big games with a win in the Sugar Bowl and a close battle for a half with Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The comment “but you’ll never play in the traditional New Year’s Day games” was no longer relevant and that became a part of all replies.
Then Michael Vick came to the Hokies and the answer included “you can accomplish everything all those athletes at all the big-name schools can, but you can do it close to home so your Mom and Dad can see you play” became a resounding part of the recruiting pitch. The team became the darlings of ESPN, and the statement “every game you play will be on TV” joined the fray, as back then, there was not wall-to-wall coverage via television of every game being played.
It's why someone like Kevin Jones – ranked among the very top prospects in the country in every recruiting service imaginable – came to Blacksburg. Same with DeAngelo Hall and a host of others who wouldn’t even think about Virginia Tech in the 70s and 80s.
As Frank’s years came to a close, Hokie staff still had a strong answer, getting players on offense like Tyrod Taylor, Logan Thomas and others. If you were a defensive player, you wanted to come here to be part of Bud Foster’s defense because that increased your likelihood of making it to the NFL.
The answer to that question these days is much more challenging. The final years of Justin Fuente – and some would argue it included one year too many – saw players leaving and clear signs of discontent. There was still talent, so you could pitch a player on being part of a competitive program, but with each year until the end, that talent level got lower and lower.
These days, I would think it’s a very tough question to answer. The program has lost four in a row for the second time in three years. It’s well on its way to its third straight season with a losing record and there will be no bowl game. The offense is far from imaginative, and the defense known as “DBU” can’t seem to stop anybody the last few weeks.
Plus with the success of Hendon Hooker and Tennessee, there’s going to be a non-stop storyline being heard about what kind of program does Virginia Tech have that it makes it so uncomfortable for a player that is going to end up winning the Heisman Trophy, he decides it would be better for him to hit the transfer portal and go somewhere else?
For those of us who love the Hokies, we have good answers. But as the poster on Twitter pointed out, we’re Metamucil-swilling dinosaurs who are in bed by 11 PM every night. To a young player, our thoughts don’t matter.
Prospects want to go where they can win, be on TV, learn new things and be in highlights shown non-stop on ESPN. Right now, the Hokies aren’t doing any of those things, and while it’s absolutely correct that everyone needs to be patient and give Brent Pry and his staff time, the truth is young athletes don’t have to.
They want what they want now, not in 2 or 3 years.
So when you look at the remainder of the season, Pry and company have their work cut out for them. It’s not necessarily about winning or losing games. It’s about showing that potential for exciting offense, stifling defense and the possibility of being part of a great program in a few years. Pry seems to be a very caring person that left one-on-one with a recruit’s parents, can probably entice many a commitment because of it. He's the kind of person I'd want my son to play for.
But it's ultimately the athlete's decision, and he has to make the invitation before Pry can work his magic and the question about why he should want to come to Virginia Tech is even asked.
Much of that may depend on how the Hokies look on the field these final five games.