A few hours before kickoff, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will take a detour to a cemetery in Huntington, W.Va., where he’ll pay his respects at a memorial for the 75 Marshall players, coaches and others killed in a 1970 plane crash, the worst disaster in U.S. sports history.
There, he’ll place a stone bearing the same words that appear above the tunnel leading to Worsham Field at Virginia Tech.
The inscription reads, “For those who have passed, For those to come … REACH FOR EXCELLENCE.”
Two of Marshall’s coaches on that plane were former Virginia Tech players, including one of Beamer’s teammates. Players for 13th-ranked Virginia Tech (3-0) will wear helmet stickers with the initials of Frank Loria and Rick Tolley and the No. 75 when the Hokies play at Marshall (1-2) on Saturday.
Tolley, a native of Mullens, W.Va., played at Virginia Tech from 1958-61, becoming Marshall’s coach in 1969. The Thundering Herd were 3-6 in his second season when they prepared to play East Carolina in Greenville, N.C.
Thirty-six football players and 39 coaches, administrators, community leaders, fans and crew never made it home on Nov. 14, 1970. Beamer still has vivid memories of the crash of Marshall’s chartered jet on a hillside near the Huntington airport in rain and fog.
He recalled sitting in the living room of his girlfriend _ and now wife _ Cheryl _ in Richmond, Va., when the news flashed across the television screen.
“He was a couple of years ahead of me, but he was a guy that you really looked up to,” Beamer said this week. “He was a guy that just had a great way about him. He was smart in his books, but he was smart on the football field, too. He was a great punt returner.”
Loria returned three punts for scores in 1966. A native of Clarksburg, W.Va., his No. 10 is one of four numbers retired at Virginia Tech and he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
On Saturday, Frank Loria Jr., born one month after his father’s death, will handle the coin toss.
The game marks the fourth straight non-marquee opponent for Virginia Tech, which is looking for its first quality road win of the season before opening Atlantic Coast Conference play next week at home against Clemson. The Hokies squeaked past East Carolina 17-10 two weeks ago and faces a Marshall team that wants to show it can hang with the Hokies.
“East Carolina was definitely a hostile environment,” Beamer said. “We all had a few butterflies. We had so many self-inflicted mistakes that we understand what we’re going to get this week and we’re going to work on improving and not killing ourselves with self-inflicted mistakes.”
It’s just one of five home games for Marshall this season and starts a stretch that includes games at Louisville next week and at Central Florida the week after.