Scattershooting around the ACC Football Kickoff, while chuckling at Virginia coach Mike London’s sense of humor …
All Wahoo fans know that London builds a strong personal relationship with his players and that has already started with this incoming freshman class. London invited them over to his place for a cookout recently and eventually wound up on his backyard basketball court where he took on none other than his top-rated recruit, running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell from Virginia Beach’s Bayside High.
It seems that somehow, London beat Mizzell in that game (we haven’t heard the recruit’s side of the story … yet). After beating Mizzell in the one-on-one hoops game, London did a little trash talking.
“Taquan has a new nickname now,” London smiled. “It’s not ‘Smoke,’ any more, it’s ‘Mist.’”
I have a feeling we will get a response from Smoke or Mist when practice opens up next week.
And Frank, too
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, starting his 26th year in Blacksburg, was asked his opinion during the Kickoff about this year’s media guide cover which is a collage of photographs from his career with the Hokies from his playing days to present.
“Do I like it?” Frank pondered. “Ahhh, ask Dave Smith if he likes it.”
Smith is the longtime sports media relations director at Tech. In the upper right hand corner is a photo of Beamer racing past an opponent, ball in hand, headed toward the end zone. Turns out it was a Beamer interception of a pass by former Richmond QB Buster O’Brien from the 1960s.
“Buster was probably the slowest quarterback,” Beamer grinned. “I intercepted a ball and [O’Brien] wasn’t fast, but daggone if he didn’t almost catch me before I got to the goal line. I scored and threw the ball up in the end zone. They said to act like you’ve been there before, but I had never been there before.”
And back to the main shot of Beamer on the cover, wearing a head set, focused on a recent game …
“I look like I spent a hard day at the office … my hair’s all messed up,” Beamer deadpanned.
Miami head coach Al Golden drew quite a crowd at the Kickoff for the second straight year, but for a different reason. Last year it was because of the Hurricanes’ NCAA woes and because one website had pointed the finger at him, which he staunchly defended himself and denied any of the charges (that subsequently proved he was correct).
This year, media was around Golden because the ‘Canes are supposed to be good, being picked to win the ACC’s Coastal Division over Virginia Tech.
For a while though, Golden was talking about his connections to present Virginia’s Tom O’Brien, the program’s new associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach. Golden had two stints with O’Brien, one as a grad assistant at UVa and another as an assistant coach for OB’s Boston College team.
“I cut my teeth on college football on that Virginia staff with Tom O’Brien, Rick Lantz and George Welsh,” Golden said. “When Tom went to Boston College, he gave me my first job in college football. We’ve remained close ever since. He taught me a lot.”
So, what did Golden think when O’Brien was fired at N.C. State but decided to come back to Virginia and help the Cavaliers turn their football fortunes around?
“I’m excited for Tom,” Golden said. “That run he had at BC was the best they’ve ever had. I’m not at that age of Tom or Coach [Al] Groh, but I’ll be faced with that same situation some point in the future, do I want to keep coaching at that age.”
O’Brien flirted with retirement but was convinced to help London and UVa. Groh, who hired Golden to Virginia, was later faced with that situation after he was fired at UVa and took over the defense at Georgia Tech for a little more than a season. Groh, by the way, has moved back to Charlottesville (had lunch with him several weeks ago).
“I guess you don’t know until you’re in that situation,” Golden said. “If it makes Tom happy and makes his wife happy, I know they enjoy Charlottesville, and I know Virginia has itself a heck of a football coach. I know that Tom thinks the world of Mike London as well.”
The additions of Syracuse and Pittsburgh were big topics of discussion at the Kickoff this season as both will be competing in the league in all sports this coming season.
Pitt senior wide receiver Devin Street said the Panthers are excited to be part of the ACC, even if their opener is at home against Florida State on Sept. 2 (ESPN).
“We’re honored that the ACC put that in front of us, the most prestigious team in the conference, defending ACC champs,” Street said. “But football is football.”
It was interesting listening to the Pittsburgh and Syracuse players talking about the biggest transition from the now-defunct Big East to the expanded ACC will be speed and talent.
“The speed is definitely going to be different in the ACC,” Street said. “We will be seeing a little bit more of that in the ACC.”
Still, the move is one he’s looking forward to.
“It’s a little different but to be honest it’s exciting that we get to go to different venues, see different teams,” Street said. “We have to be more detailed in our film work, knowing our opponent, getting acclimated to new stadiums. We can’t come in and say we’re going to win the ACC. We have to prove it. We just have to be impervious when adversity strikes and be more detailed and more disciplined and I think we have to make more plays.”
While Pitt and Syracuse players were excited about coming into the ACC, there seemed to be mixed emotions from the Maryland players, who are playing their final season in the league before jumping to the Big Ten.
In fact, the Terps’ players weren’t sure how they’d be received by the rest of the ACC players at last week’s Kickoff event in Greensboro, N.C.
“So far, the guys have been friendly to us,” said Maryland QB C.J. Brown after the first day at the Grandover resort site. “There’s nothing we can do as athletes about [the move]. It’s out of our hands. I think the other players understand that. It’s bigger than football, a university decision.”
Still, there was a little razzing going on, a hint of what may become more harsh as the year progresses.
“We haven’t caught too much grief other than a few jokes here and there,” Brown said. “Like, ‘Oh, wow, we didn’t know you guys were showing up today,’ or ‘we’re surprised you have an ACC patch on your jersey.’”
Brown said his initial reaction that Maryland was leaving the league was one of shock. In fact, he made phone calls to make sure it wasn’t a sick joke.
“It just came out of nowhere, no rumors stirring in the media or anything,” Brown said. “We sat down and our coach explained what was going on in a team meeting.”
So, how weird is it knowing this is the Terps’ final go round in the ACC?
“I don’t think it will hit us until after the season,” Brown said of the football team. “We’re still in the ACC now. I don’t think we’ll realize the finality of it until after we’re gone.”
To run or not to run
That’s been a question that Clemson’s Tajh Boyd has dealt with en route to leading the Tigers back to glory.
The quarterback, who should be a legitimate Heisman candidate this season, is a product of Virginia’s heralded “757,” and believes a running QB has a distinct advantage over a defense.
“It adds an element to where you’re really unpredictable,” Boyd said. “That opens up a lot of things that wouldn’t be there if you couldn’t. It strains the defense. They’re dropping back in coverage and you take off. I think it helps out a lot of different things.”
Boyd has rushed for 765 yards and 16 TDs in his career, but he believes those numbers have helped open it up for him to pass for 8,053 yards and 73 TDs.
“At one point I wasn’t running enough, then at one point I felt like I was running too much,” Boyd said. “You’ve got to find that balance. The older you get, the more you can put on your back.”
Boyd believes growing up in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area made him more of a competitor.
“That’s a highly competitive area,” the Tigers QB said. “You grow up wanting to be one of the guys, the Vicks, the Iversons, the Aaron Brooks’, the Alonzo Mournings. The list goes on with E.J. Manuel, Tyrod Taylor. You want to be the next one. It drives you and molds you. Either you’re a competitor or you’re not.”