Using the Atlantic Coast Conference’s largest media event of the year as his platform, Cam Phillips displayed a large portion of his personality Friday, showing up at the two-day ACC Football Kickoff event in an outfit that media members widely proclaimed as the best among the players from both the league’s Atlantic and Coastal Divisions.
The Virginia Tech wide receiver answered numerous questions from media members, and nearly all wanted to know about his outfit – one that included a velvet, double-breasted, bronze-colored jacket, black shirt, pants and shoes, and a unique style of glasses that he said Chicago Bulls star Dwyane Wade popularized.
“I just like to have fun with stuff like this,” Phillips said. “I think it’s a way to show my personality, show fans, other players how kind of a laid-back and fun, cool guy I am. I’m having a great time at this event.”
The outfit added some levity to the festivities, as media members from an array of outlets all over the nation spent the day asking Phillips, fellow teammate Andrew Motuapuaka and head coach Justin Fuente about the Hokies and their prospects for the upcoming season.
The event serves as a way to flip the proverbial football calendar, recapping the 2016 season, while also turning the talk to the 2017 campaign. The Hokie contingent got questions about both, particularly Fuente, who enjoyed a fantastic debut season as the Hokies’ head coach.
Tech went 10-4 under Fuente, who was the league’s consensus Coach of the Year. The Hokies won the Coastal Division, pushed eventual national champion Clemson to the brink in the ACC Championship Game and then rallied to beat Arkansas in the Belk Bowl.
“There’s some teams out there that are so talented they cannot play their best and still win, and sometimes win comfortably,” Fuente said. “For us, that wasn’t the case. We had a very thin margin for error, and if we were just off a little bit, it showed dramatically, and when we were right on, it gave us a chance.
“But the thing I thought – the most endearing quality of our guys I thought was – the thing that we could learn was they were battlers. They were never down, never out. The ACC Championship game … everybody talks about the comeback victories. We were down 17 twice to Notre Dame. We were down 24 at half to Arkansas. But Clemson was poised to blow our doors off, too, about halfway through, whatever that was, the first quarter or whatever, and our guys buckled down and battled and scrapped, and ultimately we had a chance at the end.”
The 2016 season certainly served as a transition year for the football program. Fuente took over for legendary head coach Frank Beamer, who retired following the 2015 campaign. Beamer guided the Hokies to 23 bowl straight bowl games and seven conference titles – four in the ACC – during his illustrious career.
Fuente and his staff were able to extend the bowl streak with a majority of Beamer players. Now, most view the program as his, as he enters his second year in charge.
Is this now an opportunity for him to put his brand on the program? Don’t ask him that.
“I don’t want to do that,” he said. “I don’t get into that – whose is it and all that sort of stuff. The way I look at things is, if I’m going to preach daily that our team sacrifice and be unselfish and not worry about who gets credit and who doesn’t get credit or whose called what, I’d better live it, too.
“I don’t get really get caught up in that. I really don’t. I know how I want our guys to go about things on a daily basis. I want us to do the right thing and continue to work hard and push the program forward.”
The Hokies are focused completely on the 2017 season, with hopes of repeating their Coastal Division championship ways and returning to the ACC title game. They want to finish that game this season and earn a trip to a major bowl.
Yet to do so will require some re-tooling, particularly on offense, where Tech lost its quarterback, two terrific receivers, an extremely versatile running back and two offensive linemen. It also means breaking in a new punter and hoping the traditionally strong defense remains that way.
Tech starts practice on August 1, which earlier than in previous seasons. Fuente planned to start practice around August 6, but an NCAA rule change allowed programs to start earlier.
–Jimmy Robertson, VT Athletics