BLACKSBURG, Va. — The long shadows of a troubled spring may not be entirely eradicated from the Virginia Tech campus, but they don’t hold up under the blazing August afternoon sun of fall practice.
Hokies senior Duane Brown, who recently switched from right tackle to left, stood sweating in full pads on Worsham Field yesterday afternoon at preseason media day. Outlined in the hard edges of lineman’s body armor, the 6-foot-5, 308-pound Brown looked the part that USA Today’s preseason No. 9 team needs him to play.
Brown will be crucial to the Hokies as they come back from the campus shooting that killed 32 people and injured 29 and canceled spring practice. His new assignment is to protect right-handed quarterback Sean Glennon’s blind side as Glennon and the rest of the Virginia Tech team try to protect their new role as the most sympathetic figures in college football.
“It’s bad that tragedy would bring this much attention to us, but it’s good that people are behind us and recognize us and are really rooting for us,” Brown said. “We like having that responsibility and the added fans — it’s kind of hard to say this is good, because it came from a tragic event, but we don’t mind it. … We know the lights are going to be on us and we’re going to have a lot of media attention.”
A junior entering his second season as the starter, Glennon is the default spokesman for the team. He has willingly and articulately answered thousands of questions about the events of April 16.
“We know we’re playing for more than wins and losses this season,” he said. “We’re playing for a community and for 32 families.
“So I think — I really think everyone’s embraced that. I don’t think anyone’s overlooking that.”
And then he has patiently answered the questions about his own performance the last time anyone saw him play, a Chick-fil-A Bowl meltdown in which he committed four fourth-quarter turnovers.
“Taking care of the ball and decision making when I was under duress, those were my two [weakest] areas,” Glennon said. “Most of the turnovers came when I was scrambling or under heavy pressure, so we made the quarterbacks live this spring to help me with that and I think I got a lot better.”
He believes those desperate mistakes are behind him, aged out, educated out by a spring practice, however abbreviated, in which he was exposed to live hits from his own top-notch defense.
“I was kind of licking my chops,” Adibi joked. “Just the thought that I could come out here and have a good chance to hit Sean Glennon? … Oh, yeah. I would take it quick. No — he made it through the season, so he’ll be all right.”
With the usually intense, reserved Adibi loose and laughing, with cornerback Macho Harris sporting significantly larger hair that he has vowed not to cut until the Hokies win “the whole thing” and an older, more substantial offensive line anchored by the towering Brown, the atmosphere was fully fall football. And the late summer heat, the sunny-tempered team, even the sincere confidence in Brown’s enormous presence, combined to drive away any remaining chill.
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