15 Yard Penalty? Not that Face Mask!
83 degrees and sunny with a few clouds in the sky. This was the forecast for August 31st, 2019, the day the Hokies began their campaign last year.
With the looming clash between Virginia Tech and Boston College this Saturday, there is a call to remember the last time that the Hokies squared off against the Eagles on the opening weekend of last year, providing the first tailgate and the ensuing game of that season. Needless to say, many Hokies have been feeling this year’s COVID-19-induced effects of social inactivity. The passing weekends have been filled with pictures flooding social media with captions to commemorate the “good old times” when Saturdays went hand-in-hand with raised red cups, raunchy cheering and relentless displays of Hokie spirit.
That day in history was not a victorious one for the Hokies as they fell short by a score of 28-35. The running game was unable to get going, amassing only 98 yards on 42 attempts, an average of 2.3 yards-per-carry. Senior transfer Ryan Willis took the snaps under center that day and turned the ball over four times in the form of three interceptions and a fumble, despite also tossing four touchdowns.
Despite their loss last weekend in a would-be comeback against the eighth-ranked Carolina Tar Heels, the Hokies find themselves in a much better spot than they did at the start of last year. Virginia Tech currently ranks 23rd in the AP poll and already has two quality conference wins against NC State and Duke. Running back Khalil Herbert has been huge, totaling five touchdowns and 449 yards on an astounding 10.4 yards-per-carry in just these three games.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the quarterback position. Braxton Burmeister was given the starting nod for the past three games but did not show any signs of being able to elevate a team absent of a tenacious defense and fierce running game. Hendon Hooker relieved Burmeister of his duties near the conclusion of the UNC game and showed the same flare he had demonstrated last year. Whereas Hooker was given a chance after last year's game against Duke, Justin Fuente has confirmed he will be leading the Hokies in their search for revenge this weekend from the opening snap.
Unfortunately for the college football community, Saturdays like last year's opening weekend feel like a lifetime ago as the coronavirus has introduced new restrictions and implications that do not allow for such social gatherings. Both the team and fans of Hokie football have been and will continue to feel these effects, as the upcoming games are scheduled to continue to take place with empty stands. Blacksburg itself has been especially affected by the virus, as the New York Times previously cited the town’s positive COVID-19 cases as the ninth fastest-growing number of positives in the United States.
The university’s administration has been feeling pressure to handle the virus correctly and has introduced a number of procedures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 and accurately track cases. This began with a majority of classes transitioning to online or hybrid settings, requiring immediate testing for on-campus students upon move-in, expanded testing availability, a dashboard to publicly display testing information, random testing of students, and a promise to respond swiftly to further developments. However, students returning to their college town would inevitably create some problems.
In spite of the precautions taken by students, faculty and security, cases have skyrocketed. This has raised questions from students and athletes alike and led to conflicting mindsets. While some are adhering to every possible safety measure, others wonder if the virus will infect them no matter what. Some voice dissatisfaction with the quality of online instruction juxtaposed with those who fear a return to the classroom will guarantee a positive test. These opposing viewpoints have created a cloud of uncertainty over Blacksburg that even the administration’s voices struggle to dispel.
Despite claiming earlier in the summer that on-campus activities would terminate should cases reach 100 positives at one time, and cases in Blacksburg have totaled almost 1300 positives, University President Tim Sands has told students and those at a town hall meeting that university staff continue to monitor case information closely and that the data is right in line with what they had expected, and that protocols are, indeed, working. According to Tech’s dashboard, only 3.2% of tests over the past seven days have been labelled as “positive”, a very low statistic. As a result, students are left wondering what campus life will look like in the future.
With the sense of angst that currently clouds student life, one must consider what is available on the horizon. Restaurants have opened downtown and encourage patrons to wear masks and socially distance, some having even created new outdoor seating to accommodate customers. The school gym at McComas Hall has been revamped with a spread-out design and requires time-specific sign-ups with one-hour cleaning breaks every weekday to prevent further transmission. Additionally, clubs have been creative with their meeting locations and utilization of online networking via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and other platforms.
Looking ahead, students are most excited by the prospect of a basketball season that is open to fans. Virginia Tech far exceeded expectations last year under head coach Mike Young, who led a team projected to finish at the bottom of the conference to a respectable 16-16 record. The Hokies will depend on the leadership and guard play of senior Wabissa Bede this year as they strive to climb the ladder in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
At this time, safety and recognition of the situation serve as the primary concerns for the Hokie community and Blacksburg residents. The world is not yet normal, but the constant discoveries about the virus encourage a gentle resumption of normalcy. It is incumbent upon all to adhere to proper protocols such as wearing a mask in public, maintaining a safe distance and, most of all, making smart decisions. Conversely, finding an activity to keep yourself engaged in the outside world is just as important to your physical and mental health. Socially distanced picnics, outdoor movies, trips to the river and jogging on trails provide opportunities to get out of the house (or dorm) without putting yourself or others at risk.
The Hokie community has fought through adversity many times before and found the light on the other side; the battle against COVID-19 will render the same result.
Here’s to being back at Lane Stadium as soon as possible!