Tuesday, July 24, 2007

BEAMER AMBASSADOR FOR TECH FOLLOWING APRIL TRAGEDY

By Adam Kilgore, Washington Post, Tuesday, July 24, 2007
PINEHURST, N.C., July 23 -- As Virginia Tech's football program has grown over the past 20 years, Coach Frank Beamer's role has expanded, too. The Hokies have gone from a regional obsession to a top 25 fixture, and Beamer has become a spokesman of sorts for the engineering school tucked in the mountains of southwest Virginia.

So Beamer understands as well as anyone what the coming season portends in the wake of the campus shootings in April. "There's never been more people in the country paying attention to what Virginia Tech does," he said.

On Monday, Beamer addressed the media for the first time since the day following the tragedy, in which a student killed 32 students and faculty members before committing suicide. A swarm of reporters, more than twice the size any other coach faced at ACC media day, huddled around Beamer, a certain preview of what's to come.

Beamer understands that the spotlight is on him -- "I deal in reality," he said -- and he accepts his role, a football coach turned campus ambassador.

"He takes it on," tackle Duane Brown said. "He's been there for a long time [20 years]. When people think of Virginia Tech, they think about Coach Beamer. I don't think he minds it at all."

On Monday, Beamer talked about how close the campus and the team has become, how Blacksburg is still the safest place he knows and one "very sick individual" won't change that. He stayed on message like a politician, every answer returning to how strong the Virginia Tech community is.

The video clip of Beamer dabbing at a tear in his eye after the shootings on April 16 has been shown hundreds of times. In the hours after the shootings, Beamer frantically tried to contact his players while his wife, Cheryl, watched the news "too much," she said. For Beamer now, the sadness mixes with anger.

"With me, it's painful," he said. "The kids that were shot, the victim's families. The hurt and the pain were there. I told those people we're never going to forget you. But after that, it kind of upsets me."

"I think it's affected Frank," said Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, a close friend of Beamer's. "We haven't talked a lot about it, just some. What do you do? How will your life ever be the same?"

Beamer on Monday also fielded questions about his program's most famous product -- Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons. Vick, who quarterbacked the Hokies to the 1999 national championship game, was indicted last week on federal conspiracy charges related to alleged involvement in a dogfighting operation.

Beamer said he last spoke with Vick at the NFL draft in New York in April. On Monday, Beamer said he was unaware of any involvement Vick might have had in dogfighting while he was at Virginia Tech.

"I know Michael Vick as a very caring, a very concerned, a very good person," Beamer said. "I'm going to wait until this is all said and done to change any of my thoughts or to make any other observations. Because I know how I feel about Michael."

Beamer glad-handed and hugged old friends as he walked through the Pinehurst Resort. During the news conference, a reporter asked what a national championship would mean for his coaching résumé. "I think there's a good bonus in my contract," he said, slowly cracking a wide smile. "My wife is pulling for it."

Players will report for preseason camp on Aug. 1 and start practice the next day, another deluge of reporters waiting. Because spring practice was canceled in the aftermath of the shootings, Aug. 1 will be the first time the team meets since the tragedy. Beamer's first message, he said, will be stressing "how many people want to see what Virginia Tech does."

"He tries not to talk too much about the incident," Brown said. "But it's hard to ignore it."

"You had 32 people shot on your campus, and that's what people are going to remember," Beamer said. "But I say, people are going to remember that we had a terrible, terrible tragedy on our campus, but I think we're going to be remembered about how we reacted to the situation. And I could not be more proud of Virginia Tech right now."

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