Virginia Tech held its first practice in Orlando, practicing for almost two hours at Thunder Field adjacent to the Florida Citrus Bowl Monday morning. It was a normal Tuesday for the squad as the Hokies went through their most-physical practice of the game-week, one that featured a middle drill session and a full team period of the 1s vs. the 1s.
After practice, the entire squad went to Best Buy to participate in the shopping event set up by the bowl. iPad minis, DVDs, Blu-Rays and other gadgets were popular items for the team members, but several Hokies were in true holiday spirit. Junior cornerback Antone Exum gave his entire gift card to three children from the Bahamas who he met at the store and several players gave the remaining balance on their cards to families trying to finish up some last-minute shopping.
Senior safety Jeron Gouveia-Winslow did not practice because of a sprained right ankle he sustained Saturday in the final practice in Blacksburg. The senior is questionable for Friday's game.
The team will have dinner tonight and then the players will be on their own the rest of the evening before curfew. Tomorrow, the team will hold its "Wednesday" practice in the early afternoon at the same field and then will go to Disney World before gathering for Christmas dinner back at the hotel.
Final grades were posted and the academic advisors report that senior running back Martin Scales, junior quarterback Logan Thomas and junior running back Tony Gregory graduated, bringing Tech's graduate count for the bowl up to a nation-leading 18. Additionally, senior tight end George George picked up a second degree and former Hokie football players Bo Gentry and Wiley Brown graduated. Brown will graduate once his transfer credits from this term are applied.
Before the practice, members of the offense met with the media. Below are quotes from Thomas and coach Frank Beamer.
On the media calling this a defensive contest:
"I'm not really offended by it. We take pride in what we do, just like everyone else does, and we're excited to go play ball and hopefully we can show that it won't just be a defensive game."
On the offense this year:
"We've had times when we've been unstoppable where we've had series where whatever we did worked. And there have been some times we've been bad, just inconsistent."
On if the team prepares differently for this bowl as opposed to a BCS bowl:
"No, we don't prepare any differently. It's still the same days of work. It's basically the same time frame. We go as hard as we always have, if not harder because we feel like we have something to prove. You have to treat every day the same day and prepare the same way every time."
On if there's an advantage to having Coach Beamer's bowl experience:
"He knows what he's doing. He's been here 20 straight times now and that's a testament to him. He understands what's going to happen when we step on the field on Friday. He's had all week to prepare now, 20 times. So it's nice to have his experience on our side."
On what makes Orlando a special place for a bowl:
"It's just a nice place and a nice area. It's pretty relaxing and obviously the nice weather makes it that much better. It's better than being some place cold like we're used. It's definitely nice to be in a warm climate, especially in a place that's so inviting to guests."
On the rumors of offensive coaching staff changes:
"Obviously you hear it, but you don't even think about it, for real. You've got to deal with what's here now. I wouldn't trade these guys for the world. I love them all. They're the ones who made me come here, made me want to come here."
On wearing the ribbon honoring the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook victims:
"It's just one of those things. We've been through what those people up in Sandy Hook are going through. We've got 58 on the helmet there, the number of guys between us and them that were needlessly killed. We prevailed in Blacksburg. If anything, it brought us closer and more determined. The same thing is happening there, where the community is just coming together. It's a terrible thing to happen. But we've got to prevail. We can't let one person define Blacksburg or Virginia Tech. They can't let one person define them."
On the game being called a defensive contest:
"We're playing a great defense. They don't give you anything; you have to earn it. If we're going to be successful, we're going have a great week of preparation and great execution in the game."
On the importance of running game going:
"I think it's very important. It's just a fact that when you can mix up your run and your pass, mix of them better, it's makes everything better. We're working hard to get that cranked up."
On how big this game is:
"The difference for us is in having a winning season or a non-winning season. I think these games are a great step for next year if you can be successful and play well. I think our football team understands that."