Virginia Tech held its final full practice in Orlando, practicing for almost 90 minutes inside the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium Wednesday afternoon. The practice was a normal Thursday for the squad as the Hokies went through a fast-paced practice, going over the game plan and making any last-minute tweaks for the game with Rutgers Friday night (5:35 PM, ESPN).
The day marked the first taste of Florida weather as a rain and wind storm whipped through town right before practice, but based on the pictures of snow and ice on Twitter from back home, 79 degrees and a brief rain shower doesn't seem too bad.
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The day got off to a special start as the team members met up with the Rutgers team at Give Kids The World Village. The village is a 70-acre, nonprofit "storybook" resort located near the attractions of Central Florida where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families are treated to week-long, cost-free fantasy vacations. Currently, there are 133 families housed at the resort, which was founded in 1986 and it takes 1,500 volunteers per week to make the place run.
The players were a little hesitant at first, but after breaking into groups to go to different stations like putt-putt, corn hole, ice cream stands, hula hoops and more, they really got into it. With a DJ blaring the music, the teams eventually competed in a dance-off to several songs like the Cha Cha Slide, but sadly no Chicken Dance. Junior linebacker Tariq Edwards and senior running back Martin Scales were definitely the MVPs from Tech as surprisingly, Scales knows every move to the Macarena.
Virginia Tech sophomore offensive guard Brent Benedict caught up with his high school teammate and Rutgers starting tailback Jawan Jamison while senior linebacker Bruce Taylor handed out fake tattoos, junior quarterback Logan Thomas manned the chicken toss game and the Hopkins Brothers took control of the motorized boats. One of the workers told several of the guys that Tech's players were better than the Rutgers players because they danced with the kids more. In the end, the players took a lot away from the event, realizing how blessed they are to be where they are today.
Freshman cornerback Donovan Riley summed up a lot of players' feelings on the bus afterwards saying "I'm not going to lie, this was more fun than Disney and Universal. It feels good to give back."
When the players came back, organized chaos ensued as they each got their Russell Athletic Bowl watch and found a person to help them properly fit the gift by adding or taking out links. With lunch out of the way, the team went to meetings and then off to the Citrus Bowl for their final full practice.
A lot of people have asked about the helmets Tech is wearing this week in practice. The matte helmets are a new touch, but the logo is what makes them special, honoring the victims of the tragedies at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School. Each dress squad member has a ribbon with orange (Tech) and green (Sandy Hook) intertwined with the number "58" and the word "Prevail" over the ribbon. For game day, a smaller version of the logo will be on the back of the helmet and a top-secret logo will be on the side. The helmets will be auctioned off after the bowl and a portion of the proceeds will be given to a fund set up for the Newtown victims.
Tomorrow, the team will hold its "Friday" practice in the morning at the stadium for its final walk-thru. Afterwards, the team come back for a bowl luncheon which both teams will attend and will go into lock-down mode with final preparations, but won't change hotels like it has the past few years. Coach Frank Beamer will be a busy man, participating in a press conference and making appearances at a Hokie Club reception, as well as the President's reception with Dr. Steger. The scout team will also get to go to Sea World, possibly as a reward for having to bus down to Orlando while the dress squad go to fly.
Before the Give Kids the World visit, a few players met with the media. Below are some quotes from the players and head coach Frank Beamer.
On trying to get a win in his last college game:
"It means a lot. It's my last time out with everybody on the team. We want to get that 'W' bad. Even if this wasn't my last game, we'd want to go that 'W' regardless so it's just working as hard as you can with everyone on the team to meet that goal."
On coming to GKTW Village:
"It's a huge honor for us. It kind of shows that there's life outside of football and school, I guess, and people, that's all they see of us is football and school. And it's nice to give back and show that we care."
On coming to GKTW Village:
"I like being around kids anyway, so it was just a good opportunity to give back to these guys, let them know that the disease and stuff they're going through, they're not alone in fighting it. They've got guys like us that are behind them supporting them."
On the team's mind set the rest of the week:
"I think from here on out, we're all in a business mind set. Go beat Rutgers. I think that's what's on everybody's mind."
On coming to GKTW Village:
"We've been to a lot of bowl games and we've been to a lot of places, but I think this is going to be the most special that we've ever been to. I feel like the kids are going to get something out of this, but I think our players are probably going to get more out of it. It makes you appreciate what you have and appreciate what you can give other people."
On this trip helping players mature:
"Sometimes you go through life, you don't understand what else is going on out there. I think it gives everybody a great appreciation for what they've got and what they can give to other people; making them happy for a day."
On how practices have gone:
"I think they've gone very well. This is a normal Thursday for us and I think so far our attention to detail has been good. We've separated when it's time to work and when it's time to enjoy Disney World."