BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) -First came the massacre on campus, leaving 33 dead and a nation horrified. Then came federal dogfighting charges against Michael Vick, Virginia Tech's favorite son.
As Virginia Tech and the Blacksburg community try to put the disturbing offseason in the past, opening day of the football season can't come soon enough for this engineering school in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia.
``I do believe that this school will come back tighter, stronger, more together, more caring, more respectful of each other than ever before,'' coach Frank Beamer said. ``And there's probably not a greater place to show it than in a stadium where, if you're there - the alumni, the students, the fans, whatever - you're all going in the same direction.
``People just want something to rally around.''
The ninth-ranked Hokies certainly offer that. They have eight starters back from a defense that was No. 1 in the nation last season, a quarterback who guided them to 10 wins last season and no shortage of stars.
``That's the one thing I want to make sure that we're focused on, and that's that we can be pretty special now if everything falls into place,'' defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. ``Obviously, you have to stay healthy. There's a lot of things - breaks that you have to make for yourself - and there's going to be some adversity and how you fight through those things. Those are all things that characterize a great season.''
Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi might be the best pair of linebackers in the country and lead the disruptive defense that frequently scores more points than it allows. Branden Ore ran for 1,137 yards, scored 17 touchdowns and missed two games.
There are question marks on the offensive line and in the kicking game, where Brandon Pace has moved on and Jud Dunlevy is still unproven.
Quarterback Sean Glennon is also considered a wild card after an up-and-down first season as the starter, which ended with four second-half turnovers in the 31-24 loss to Georgia in the Chick-fil-a Bowl.
``I'd love to be the guy that people are unsure about and come out and play well,'' he said. ``Obviously, it takes a whole unit to be good. I'm only one-eleventh of that, but I'm confident in the guys around me getting it done and confident in myself, too.''
In the offseason, between visits to a speed coach to help with his mobility and workouts with his teammates, Glennon repeatedly watched the tape of the bowl game.
``I kind of used that to fuel my fire,'' he said.
Not that all the mistakes were his fault.
He fumbled once when he was hit on his blind side, had a tipped pass intercepted and only started trying to force things after Georgia's second-half comeback had reached full throttle.
``I feel like our quarterback situation is in good shape,'' Beamer said.
So does assistant coach Mike O'Cain, who helped restore Glennon's confidence in the offseason by breaking down the bowl tape and showing Glennon that overall he played pretty well.
``He's gotten so much scrutiny from that bowl game that wasn't his fault. He made one bad play,'' O'Cain said.
Glennon's now a veteran, has a more experienced and healthy line and gets to practice against a dominating defense.
``We're probably not going to see much better than we see in practice,'' he said.
But they will see something close, and soon. After what figures to be an emotional home opener against East Carolina on Sept. 1, the Hokies travel to Baton Rouge, La., to play No. 2 LSU.
Getting off to a good start, especially on offense, is critical.
``It's just a matter of us getting in the groove of things, and that's what the spring and summer is for,'' said Justin Harper, part of a deep group of talented receivers. ``We're going to ride this until the wheels fall off. ... We know the defense is going to carry its load, so it's all about us.''
Although Vick is the player most synonymous with Virginia Tech's rise to prominence over the last 15 years - in 1999 he led the Hokies to the national title game - the foundation of the program's success under Beamer has been defense.
``The freshmen, if they don't know it by the time they get here, they see it when they get here,'' Ellis said. ``It's not going to be a lackadaisical thing, it's not 'We're just on defense' or 'I just play corner.' You're part of the No. 1 defense.''
``This year, it's no holes barred,'' he said. ``Let everything go.''

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