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Q&A With Jeff Holland
Note from HokieCentral: as most of you know, HC Columnist Jeff Holland was a defensive tackle for the Hokies from 1991-1995. Recently, we had HC readers email questions in for Jeff, and he took the time to write up his answers. In many cases, they provide an interesting inside look at Tech football.
Game Day Atmosphere
What was the most intimidating stadium you ever played in?
Ben Griffin Stadium home of the Florida Gators. Even though we played there in the 1994 Gator Bowl versus Tennessee, it felt like a Tennessee home game. That stadium is huge.
West Virginia and Syracuse are a very distant second.
Is there a particular home game that you feel the Hokie fans may have played a particularly crucial role? I'm thinking along the lines of maybe the Hokies may have been a little flat early in the game, but the crowd helped pick up the team? Or maybe the opponent was firing on all cylinders but a hostile Hokie crowd helped get them out of synch?
None that come to mind. However, the home crowd did help our defense when it came to making noise and disrupting the opponentís offense.
In my opinion, the home crowds from last year was the loudest I have ever heard, especially at the Miami and Syracuse games.
As an ex-MV, I've always wondered, can you guys really hear us playing? What was the general feel towards the bands? Positive? Negative? Ambivalence? What did y'all like/dislike? Anything you would have liked us to play/ not play?
Yes, we can hear you playing. I can only speak for myself, but I loved the fact that we had 2 bands. I also loved the fact that the bands sat behind the visiting team. I also liked hearing our bands play and heckle the other team. Too bad that the rules have changed and students canít sit that close to the fieldÖ
I heard that Virginia Tech is one of only two schools in the nation that has 2 bands. I donít know which school is the other one.
I loved the Darth Vader Imperial March theme. That song kind of lost its uniqueness when other schools began to play it. I also liked the "Jungle Boogie" and another dance/up-beat theme (itís too hard to describe in words). "Girls" by the Beastie Boys was also pretty cool, but I only heard the band play that once, as they walked up the street towards Lane Stadium.
Coaching and Strategy Questions
What does Coach Beamer really do, coaching wise, (a) day-to-day in practice, (b) in preparing game strategy, and (c) during the game?
(a) Coach Beamer and his staff set up practice by dividing the 2 hour (or however long we practiced) session into 9, 10, 11, etc. minute periods. The structure and length of the practice differed depending on which day of the week it was, so Iíll try to describe the "typical" practice.
Mondays werenít that bad because it was only about an hour and a half. Usually, Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the hardest and most physical. On Thursdays, we would usually just wear helmets (and sometimes shoulder pads). Friday before home games we did a "walk through" in the stadium in which the coaches just go over the game plan, special teams, etc. Friday before away games we would travel and sometimes do the walk-through practice at the opponentsí stadium.
Usually, we would stretch before practice, then have a quick meeting with Coach Beamer on the field. Then 1st period would start. Each period is different. A horn blows when its time to go on to the next period. Usually, the first couple of periods we would break up into our different positions (i.e., I would go with the other defensive lineman with Coach Todd Grantham, the offensive lineman would go with Coach J.B. Grimes, etc.). We would work on drills that helped us get better depending on which position we played (i.e., work on pass rushing skills, hit the sled, agility drills, etc.).
Somewhere around period #6 or #7, the defensive lineman and offensive lineman would do a pass rushing drill. Itís called "Loverís Lane" in which the offensive and defensive lineman would go full speed one-on-one. Then the next period would be "The Middle Drill", in which itís 7-on-7, tackle to the ground. It would be the 5 offensive lineman, tight end and 2 running backs versus the defensive lineman and linebackers. The offense would only do running plays.
Then there would be a special teams period(s). Then the last several periods are called "Team" in which the 1st team offense and defense would go against the scout team and also the first team offense and defense would go against each other. When the 1st team went against the scout team, the scout team would be running the upcoming opponentsí plays. The 1st team offense and defense would go against each other in order to keep the 1st teams sharp.
Finally, we would do conditioningÖusually "gassers". I think I probably ran a couple of thousand gassers in my lifetime.
(b - preparing game strategy) I canít answer that. You would have to ask Coach Beamer and his staff. (c - during the game) Same as (b).
What is Frank Beamer's coaching style really like? More like a Lombardi, or a laid-back Rick Neuheisel style??
I would say he is somewhere in between. Heís not a yeller or an-in-your-face type of coach, like some coaches are. He will yell at you only if you screw up REALLY bad or get into trouble. I think he did that to me once when I was a freshman. I wasnít paying attention during a team meeting. He took me outside and "let me have it". Itís safe to say that was the last time I didnít pay attention during a team meeting.
He is very fair and very good to play for if you work your ass off, do good in school, stay out of trouble, and "do whatís right". He is a very good judge of character. You canít BS him. He is also a tremendous competitor, but I guess thatís no secret.
Tech has historically been a good second-half team. What are the half time talks like and their demeanor?
The halftime is pretty calm. During my career, I can remember only two halftimes that coaches and/or players were yelling or upset (Boston College 1993 and Pittsburgh 1995). Usually, the defensive coaches would go over things the other team was doing to us, etc. I would usually drink a Coke and use the restrooms (if needed).
Describe the recruiting practices and styles of the different schools which offered you and why you picked VT.
The schools that "recruited" (I use that term loosely) me the most were: Richmond, William & Mary, JMU, Virginia Tech, Virginia, ETSU, and Liberty. N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Clemson showed some interest. Wake Forest and Clemson just sent me letters and I had a few telephone conversations with them, but I could tell they werenít that interested in me. N.C. State was recruiting me, but out of nowhere they suddenly said they didnít have a scholarship for me. Liberty and ETSU just werenít for me. The way UVa recruited me was not to my liking. Originally, UVa was the place I wanted to go (I know. I canít believe it, either!).
It basically came down to Richmond, William & Mary, JMU and Virginia Tech. Richmond was the first school to offer me a scholarship. But, I really wanted to play Division I-A football. I had scheduled official visits to all 4 schools. VT was the first in January 1991.
I had a great time on my recruiting trip. Former offensive lineman Sean Jennings was my host. I also hung out with Stephan Holloway, Andy Miller, the Swarm brothers (Joe and Billy), and a couple of other recruits who I had just met (George DelRicco, JC Price, Joel Chapman, and Mike Bianchin).
I really enjoyed the whole experience, from taking my first plane ride to being fed like a king. I really enjoyed the campus, the people, the coaches, and the other players. I was 100% sure of where I wanted to go. Coach Larry Creekmore (who isn't with VT anymore) told me he was pretty confident that Coach Beamer was going to offer me a scholarship.
When I met with Coach Beamer the day I was leaving, he offered me a scholarship, but said I would have to accept it right then because the scholarship might not be available in the future. I accepted immediately. I didnít even go to my other 3 recruiting trips to Richmond, William & Mary and JMU, which may have upset the coaches at those schools, but I was a Hokie. And the rest is historyÖ
Describe Bud Foster's defensive scheme for the novice who doesn't understand it.
Please refer to my previous article, From 2-8-1 to Sugar Bowl Champs, Part 1.
Was there any particular coach that you respected more than the others, and why?
I liked and respected all of the coaches. Since I played defense, I was a little more closer to the defensive coaches. Coach Beamer, Gentry, Foster, Elmassian, Grantham, Hite, Bustle, Sharpless, Stinespring, Creekmore, and Ballein are my favorites.
Before the season, I know that Gentry keeps you guys busting butt. But...during the season, did you guys do much conditioning work? Run hills? Laps? Stationary bikes? Do the guys put on much weight during the season? Do the coaches get on you for that?
YES! We ran after practice every day. We would usually run "gassers" or sprints. If you were injured and couldnít practice, you had to wear a green jersey which meant Coach Gentry made you do a lot of tough drills, exercises, etc. during practice. Put it this way, I think I wore a green jersey once.
We lifted 2-3 times a week during the season. I tended to gradually gain weight as the season went along. Each Friday before the game, we would have a steak dinner. We would get snacks (usually a pizza or 2 Big Macs and a liter of Coke) Friday night. Saturday, we would eat our usual pre-game meal 4 hours before kickoff. The Monday after the game, we would have a steak dinner after practice. So you can see why I gradually gained weight throughout the season. When the offensive and defensive lineman would gain a little bit too much weight, the coaches would put us under the supervision of Coach Gentry so that we would lose the weight.
How do players get so big so fast?
Thatís easy. Mike Gentryís speed and strength program. Best in the nation!
How do you increase speed?
When I played football in high school I lost a lot of weight throughout the season. How do guys keep it up?
Was football on the collegiate level what you thought it would be?
My first year, I was overwhelmed by how strong everyone was. Once I got bigger and stronger, I got used to the level and skill of the players. Some players are just strong as on ox. But, that didnít guarantee that the player was good. I played against guys who were much stronger than me, but they couldnít pay football worth a darn. You had to have a balanced combination between skill, strength, speed, and intelligence to play at this level.
What happens to old football jerseys? Do the players get to keep them if they want to? What about helmets?
We get to keep them. All of the jerseys and my helmet are currently in my room. I have 5 jerseys: 1993 Independence Bowl, 1994 Gator Bowl, 1995 Sugar Bowl, Maroon, and White. One of these days, Iím gonna get frames for all of my jerseys.
When you were a freshman, did the upperclassmen do anything to you and the other freshmen? I think I heard about shaving heads. Did they do anything like take y'all aside and make you do monkey drills until you passed out? Anything you CAN discuss in public?
I believe the last year that the freshmens' heads were shaved involuntarily was in 1990, the year before I got there. I believe the coaches put an end to that ritual. Nobody really messed with me as a freshman. I was 6í4" 240. However, some players in the freshman class of 1991 were messed with. Should I mention their namesÖnahÖnothing illegal or inhumane happenedÖjust funny pranksÖ
What were road trips like? Did you have much free time, or did the coaches keep you pretty well tied down? How was the food on the road? Any groupies??
Most road trips constituted of the team driving to the Roanoke Airport the Friday before the game. We would fly to the city where we were playing, and then either go to the hotel and drop our luggage off or go straight to the opponentsí field and do our usual "walk-through" Friday practice. Friday night, we would have meetings for a few hours to go over the game plan, etc. We would then eat dinner, get a movie in our rooms, get a late night snack, and then bedtime.
Free time on Saturday (game day) depended what time the game started. I personally liked 1:00 PM games, because we didnít have to sit around in the hotel and wait like we would for games that started at 7:00 PM.
We would have to get up pretty early regardless of the game time. There would be chapel service for those players who wanted to go. Then we would eat breakfast or the pre-game meal depending on when the game time was. We would then have more meetings. A couple of hours before the kickoff, we would leave from the hotel. As you can pretty much tell, we didnít have any free time.
The food was usually pretty good. We ate at the hotel that we stayed at. The hotels that had great food that I remember were Pittsburgh 1993, Miami 1993 and 1994.
As for groupies...on road tripsÖyah, I wish!
After graduating, do you get recognized much as a former VT ballplayer? Has it been any help (or any harm) in getting jobs in the "real world"?
I get recognized from time to time. It doesnít happen that much any more, which is fine with me. Sometimes, I get weird looks or stares from people, which I hate. My 1995 Sugar Bowl/Big East Championship ring, which I wear 24-7, is a real good conversation starter.
I donít know if it helped me land my current job. I think my Master and Bachelors Degrees had more to do with that than anything else. Plus, people in Virginia love to talk about Virginia and Virginia Tech football, so it didnít hurt. I had to be careful about proclaiming, "Hey, Iím a former VT Football player!", because some people really love football players while some people really dislike football players.
A good example is some of the professors I had at Virginia Tech. Some of them knew who I was and loved VT football; some of them didnít care one bit about VT football; and there were some that once they found out who I was, treated me totally different. I tended to sit in the back of the classroom and not wear bright orange and maroon VT gear.
Who talked the most trash on ours and other teams we played and what kind of things did they say?
Please refer to my previous article, Life in the Trenches.
What was the meanest, nastiest thing you ever did to an opposing player during a game?
Please refer to my previous article, Life in the Trenches.
Was there ever a time when you were really afraid on the field? What caused it?
October 29, 1994 Ė Miami, Florida. I severely sprained my lower back during the game versus the Hurricanes. I was temporarily paralyzed for a few seconds. I thought to myself, "Well, thatís it. My playing days are over." Fortunately, I regained feeling in my legs. The doctors and trainers took me in the Miami locker room in which they had a very old x-ray machine. They tried to stand me up, but I couldnít do that. They took some very crude x-rays and said nothing was broken which was a good sign, but they werenít 100% sure until they got me to a hospital.
No one hardly spoke English at the hospital they took me to. The doctor who was taking the x-rays asked me what happened. I explained to her I got hurt in a football game versus the Miami Hurricanes. She had never heard of the Miami Hurricanes!! If it wasnít for Paul Dee, the Miami Athletic Director, who stayed at the hospital to make sure things were taken care of expeditiously, I would have laid on a bed in that Miami hospital for a long time.
November 19, 1994 Ė Blacksburg, Virginia. Only 3 weeks after the Miami game. I got blocked by a Virginia offensive lineman. I got hit with my head down. I felt a shiver down my spine. I immediately dropped to the ground, face first. After a few seconds without being able to feel my body move, I got back up and went on to the next play.
April 1995 Ė Blacksburg, Virginia. I tore a ligament in my left knee during the spring game. I thought my senior season was over before it started. I didnít tear my ACL, the ligament that takes a year to recover from. One good thing is that I didnít need surgery. I just stayed in Blacksburg for the entire summer and rehabbed my knee for the next 4 months. Before practice began in August, it finally healed up to about 90-95%.
If you could have played any position on the field, what would it have been and why?
In our defense, if I had the speed, it would have to be defensive end or whip linebacker. In our defense, you can make a lot of plays at those positions.
How come some guys never get drafted or are a really late pick and make it in the NFL when others get drafted in the first or second round and don't? The same for high school players trying to make it in college.
Good question. I canít really answer that. I guess, some high school players just donít have what it takes to make it in college. As for the NFL, coaches want a certain height, weight, speed, and strength at certain positions. People ask me why I didnít try to go pro, and I tell them the odds of me making it were VERY slim. I watched teammates of mine not make it, get cut, get injured, etc. and I know I made the right decision. Furthermore, I donít think my body could take any more punishment/abuse/etc.
On the Tech teams you played on, who was your best friend? Who did you hang out the most with, get along with, etc.?
Usually the other players in your recruiting class become your best friends. I didnít really hang out a lot with other players. You must remember that all us football players lift, run, practice, eat, etc. together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So I needed to get away from football from time to time. I had a separate group of friends who had nothing to do with football. Donít get me wrong, some of my best friends are football players. The players on defense from 1995 will always be special and life-long friends of mine, especially the guys on the defensive line (JC, Waverly, Cornell, Hank, Law Lew, Jim, Rafael, etc.).
Do you miss playing?
Always. As I get older, the desire to play isnít as great as it once was. I really wanted to play in 1996. I was still in graduate school and watching the team go to the Orange Bowl and play Nebraska was really tough. I believe if we had the defense from 1995 combined with the offense from 1996, we could have easily beaten Nebraska. But I digressÖ
Jeff Holland was a defensive tackle for the Hokie football team from 1991-1995. He played a key role in the rise of the Virginia Tech defense and on the Hokie bowl teams from 1993-1995. Jeff graduated from Virginia Tech with a B.A. in Urban Affairs and Planning and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning. He is currently the Town Planner in Smithfield, VA.
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