Virginia Tech held its second practice in Orlando, practicing for almost two hours inside the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium Tuesday afternoon. The location was a little different as the staff decided to give Tech a chance to get used to the turf it will be playing on Friday night when it takes on Rutgers (5:35 PM, ESPN). The practice was a normal Wednesday for the squad as the Hokies went through another full-pads practice while finishing up game prep before scaling back for the final two days of work.
Everyone managed to get a good night's sleep and no one missed curfew once again, despite the anticipation of the day. Chaplain Johnny Shelton held a Christmas Eve candlelight service at the hotel that was heavily attended by the players, staff and families. Santa Claus managed to find all of the players, as well as the children on the trip, as he delivered sweatshirts and other gifts at some point in the evening to the Hilton Orlando, alleviating some fears from the young ones that their location wouldn't be known to the jolly man.
The team gathered for another wonderful breakfast provided by the hotel. The omelet bar was a hidden gem yesterday that wasn't discovered by many, but today wasn't the case as the line for the tasty treat was considerably longer. After position meetings with video review of yesterday's practice, as well as Rutgers video, the teams boarded the buses and headed downtown for practice.
The big topic of the day was the first chance for the media to talk to junior cornerback Antone Exum since he became a social media star last night. He gave away his $470 gift card to Best Buy to a pair of brothers and a cousin from the Bahamas whom he met at the store. Senior wide receiver Marcus Davis and junior linebacker Tariq Edwards chipped in some money to buy stuff too, but after Exum tweeted a picture of the family, it went viral. It was retweeted over 400 times on the VT Football account and several hundred times by his followers as well and ESPN, Yahoo! and Deadspin all picked it up, spreading the true meaning of Christmas.
"I feel like that may give them a Christmas that they won't forget," Exum explained. "I was blessed to have a lot of fortunate Christmases when I was a kid. Every kid deserves to have those perfect Christmases." Exum tried to respond to every person who tweeted at him, but after 100 responses, he got put in "Twitter jail" for exceeding the limit in a certain amount of time.
Following practice, squad and staff members who signed up in advance then went to Disney World to fight the lines and crowds in hopes of seeing that magical mouse and ride some of the rides and enjoy the day at the parks. But not Coach Frank Beamer, who elected not to take his granddaughter's to the park. "I can't keep up with them," he joked. Instead, he will stay back and watch film on Rutgers in preparation for Friday's big game. Sutton and Olivia are doing okay though. Word has it their parents, Shane and Emily, took them have tea with the Disney princesses yesterday morning at the Grand Floridian Resort.
Upon return from the Magic Kingdom, the team will gather for a special Christmas dinner this evening. The last time Tech was on the road in the middle of game-week practice during Christmas was in 2003 for the Insight Bowl in Arizona and the staff went out of their way to make it a great day, even though all of the players were away from their families.
After dinner, the players will be on their own for the rest of the evening before curfew. With Orlando being such a tourist spot, most places around the hotel are open, but curfew is slowly being reeled back in as the game gets closer and the players are getting more focussed on the game. Tonight's curfew is midnight.
Tomorrow, the team will hold its "Thursday" practice in the early afternoon at the stadium, but will participate in a very special bowl activity beforehand. Both teams will head to the Give Kids the World Village in the morning for a few hours to try and brighten the faces of sick children. It's always a special event and we hope to have some video and pictures online after it.
Before today's practice, members of the defense met with the media. Below are some quotes from senior linebacker Bruce Taylor and head coach Frank Beamer.
On Rutgers' offense and how important it is to stop the running game:
"They're good. They have a really good running back. Their receivers are long striders and have pretty good hands and catch the ball well. They kind of run that pro-style offense and have a good offensive line to do it. The running back is not the fastest guy, but does a good job running behind his pads and getting positive yards. Anybody we play, we try to stop the run first. We know if you can make a team one-dimensional, it makes it a little easier for the coaches to game plan for. Always, if you can stop the run and force them to pass the ball, it gives us more chances for big plays."
On what he got at Best Buy:
"I got some headphones. And I got an iPod. That was my gift. Best bowl gifts, by far, of any bowl game I've been to."
On practicing on Christmas:
"It don't feel like Christmas to be honest. It feels like a normal Wednesday practice, which is what we're about to have. I talked to all of my family this morning and wished them a Merry Christmas and stuff. It doesn't really feel like Christmas, especially since we're practicing, Maybe I'll have a little Christmas dinner or something later with the team."
On thinking the game could be a defensive game:
"I go into every week thinking we're going to shut them out and play great D. That's what you want to do; that's what you want to strive for. Every week it doesn't work out that way, but that's what you strive for. You shoot high and you have to land somewhere up there."
On what he'll miss at Virginia Tech:
"Just playing football. That's what I came here for and that's what I love to do. The next level is not promised to anyone so just being out there on the field is what I'm going to miss the most. I talk to people who aren't playing anymore and they miss and I know I'm going to miss it too."
On the time and weather in Orlando so far:
"It was cold in Blacksburg when we left. It's been nice. The people have been nice. The bowl people have been great. It's been a great bowl experience so far."
On Exum giving away his Best Buy gift card:
"Our message last night was giving. Our chaplain, Johnny Shelton, had a little message there and it kind of fit perfectly. Rather than receive, when you're giving and you feel good about that, that's what life is all about. I was proud of him. He made someone else's Christmas better, and I think he felt good about it."
On what he tells his players about Rutgers:
"Oh they know Rutgers is a really good football team. Defensively, they're up there in all the stats. Offensively, they can really throw the football and they protect the quarterback well. They're really good in the kicking game. You can tell they emphasize it. They have good people doing the kicking game. They're for real. They're a really good football team. We used to play them in the Big East and I've told people this isn't the same Rutgers team we used to play back in the Big East. They're a much more talented team and they've done a great job of getting talent in there and coaching them up. This is a good football team."