- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer knew he had lost more than a few football games when his Hokies dropped five of seven to end the 2003 season.

He looked around the locker room and saw stars who were playing for an NFL future instead of the Hokies. After 17 seasons, Beamer knew something was missing.

As summer practice opened last year, the Tech coach wanted to recapture the blue-collar spirit that put his program in the national spotlight.

In an effort to foster a more egalitarian mentality among his players, Beamer made changes. Borrowing from the film, “Remember the Titans,” no longer would players choose their roommates on the road. They would be assigned a new one each trip. A uniform wardrobe meant players all wore the same duds to practice and had the same attire for team functions.

Taking a page from Lance Armstrong’s book, orange “Team United” bracelets were worn everywhere.

“It really gives the feeling that nobody is better than anybody else, that we’re all subject to the same rules and the same consequences,” said senior linebacker James Anderson, noting the change in team chemistry. “I really feel like it boosted team morale, because you don’t have any superstars.”

Associate athletic director of football operations John Ballein came up with the idea in a staff brainstorming session. Figuring the defense had its lunch pail and the offense its chain link, Ballein thought the team needed a uniting symbol.

Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s fist concept came to mind: fingers acting alone are more powerful acting in unison.

“That symbol demonstrated our team chemistry,” said Ballein, linking the theme to the team’s local charity and to the $33,000 the Hokies raised by selling the orange wristbands for the United Way.

But a 2-2 start last season left some wondering if the reform movement really was working.

“Guys at first looked at it kind of funny,” defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis said, “but as the season went on people kind of understood why Coach Beamer did those things.”

Critics were hard to find as the Hokies won the ACC title in their first season in the conference. Winning 13 of the last 14 games, No. 3 Virginia Tech (5-0) entertains Marshall (2-2) today at Lane Stadium.

“You really can’t think about the big picture,” Lewis said. “That’s how we [have] won close games.”

Senior offensive lineman Reggie Butler noted time management has been high on the team’s priority list. Players missing class and showing up late to practice can expect sprints at 6 a.m. Wednesdays.

“That’s another incentive to make you go to class,” Butler said.

Beamer also changed his approach to players committing foolish penalties, such as quarterback Marcus Vick’s personal foul in a 34-17 win at West Virginia on Saturday. On his way inbounds, Vick tossed the ball at West Virginia defensive back Dee McCann.

“We show all the fouls, all the penalties in a team meeting on Monday and then talk about it openly,” said Beamer, who used to make his players run but now prefers the weekly discussion. “I think that’s a better way to do it. Peer pressure sometimes is better.”

Vick’s obscene gesture to Mountaineers fans, caught on camera by ESPN, disappointed Beamer.

“I think as a football team we want to play the game the right way, respect the game,” he said. “Be proud of how we act, be proud of how we play and be proud of how we represent the university.”

Asked if he heard some of the same catcalls, a smiling Beamer said, “Yeah. I keep walking, I don’t listen.”

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