This Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies will travel to the 757 to take on Old Dominion at Foreman Field in Norfolk. Some fans have expressed confusion as to why the Hokies would play a road game at a 20,118 seat stadium, yet both the coaches and players understand the significance of the two-hundred eighty mile journey to the east coast of the state.
“I’m actually going home to play. Finally get some Tidewater air,” said Hokies standout defensive tackle Ricky Walker at Tuesday’s press conference. The smile across his face said even more than the words themselves. In Wednesday’s ACC Teleconference, Justin Fuente echoed Walker’s excitement.
“I think it’s great,” Fuente said when asked about playing other teams from Virginia such as Old Dominion.
“I enjoy it. I think it’s great for our state. We’ve got great football and great schools in Virginia, and I think kind of keeping things close, it’s good for both fan bases, that they can travel to and from either home or away games and get a chance to see their teams. I’m for continuing that when we have the opportunity down the road.”
The last time Virginia Tech played in the 757 region was over thirty years ago. On November 8, 1986, the Hokies lost 29-13 to Temple in Norfolk. A lot has changed since then, but Tech’s connection to the Tidewater area has remained constant.
Ricky Walker is certainly not the only player on the Hokies’ roster that hails from The 757. Defensive end Trevon Hill, wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsley, running back Deshawn McClease, defensive back Devon Hunter, and wide receiver Phil Patterson are just a few of the prominent 757 natives on the Hokies’ two-deep, showing how the 757 has been a priority on the recruiting trail for the Hokies under Frank Beamer and Justin Fuente.
One staff member who has a personal connection to Old Dominion is Virginia Tech running backs’ coach Zohn Burden. Burden served under current Monarchs’ head coach Bobby Wilder from 2007 – 2010 as a defensive backs coach. Then, after a brief stint at Richmond, Burden returned to ODU from 2012 – 2015 as a receivers coach.
“To go back to Norfolk is really exciting. For me as a coach, coaching there, I never thought I would go back and be playing against those guys,” Burden said.
Meanwhile, Bobby Wilder is definitely not taking this momentous occasion for granted.
“Regardless of either team’s record right now, this is an historic football game,” Wilder said earlier this week. “When our program was started a few short years ago, we never ever could have imagined this.”
Perhaps most importantly, the fans in the Tidewater region get to see Hokies football without the long trip to Blacksburg. Justin Fuente has downplayed the recruiting aspect of this trip. However, he has been emphasizing the focus on the Hokies’ fans and alumni in The 757.
On Monday, Fuente was asked about those potential recruiting benefits of playing in the 757, but Fuente deflected it back to the impact on the fans.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever sat in front of a kid and he’s said ‘I’m coming there because you have one game scheduled three years from now in my backyard.’ I just don’t know that that’s ever been the straw that put the kid over the top. But I do think it’s good. I think it’s great for our fan base. To me, that’s a primary beneficiary, is that we get to prove that we do want to be a program that reaches out and says thank you to our fan base,” said Fuente.
Justin Fuente also presented another gesture that shows the importance of this game to the players.
— Justin Fuente (@CoachFuente) September 20, 2018
Fuente announced Thursday via his Twitter account that junior defensive back Jovonn Quillen will get the honor this week. Quillen is another 757 native being from Hampton, VA.
So yes, the Hokies are playing a football game this weekend, and the main focus is to get a win. After all, they have not played in fourteen days. The team is surely chomping at the bit to get back out there. Still, it will be worthwhile for the Hokies to take an extra second or two, take a deep breath of that salty Tidewater air, and take in an atmosphere unlike any they have experienced in the past thirty years.