What it's been like to play for legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer—a privilege and an honor
I grew up in Texas, where football reigns above all. In our state, everything revolves around the sport—family gatherings, holidays, school. Football was constantly on TV, and as kids we played in the front yard every day. Almost all my memories involve football in some form. My grandfather, dad and uncle played for the Longhorns, and my great uncle played at Texas Tech. From a young age, I was educated on the coaching greats: Darrell Royal, Mack Brown, Spike Dykes.
I lived more than 1,200 miles from Blacksburg, Va., but every now and then I'd hear the name Frank Beamer. When I was a kid, I knew that Virginia Tech and the Hokies represented "Beamer Ball," which stood for tough kids who were sharp on special teams. But I never would have thought I'd wind up at Virginia Tech playing for a legendary coach.
Chad Morris likes to take credit for me winding up with the Hokies, and he probably should. It's interesting how the whole thing worked out. I planned to graduate from Texas Tech and use the graduate transfer rule to get my Masters and play somewhere new. I figured I'd go somewhere near Austin, maybe in the Dallas or Houston area, Fort Worth, wherever. But then Texas Tech restricted me from any other Big 12 school, any team in the state of Texas or anyone from a future schedule. Morris, who I played for in high school and now is the coach at SMU, had a conversation that off-season with Virginia Tech assistant Shane Beamer at the Senior Bowl. He told him, "I've got your next quarterback." Next thing I know, I got a call from Virginia Tech.
Every time I'm out in Blackburg, people come up and ask me what it's like to play for Coach Beamer, and if he's really as good a man as advertised. The answer is always yes—and then some. On my visit, I remember he sat down next to me at breakfast and talked about tons of stuff, very little of it football. He asked how I was doing through the transfer process and about my siblings. People say Coach Beamer implements a family atmosphere in his program and in that chat I knew it was real. I was blown away the first time I heard that 25 sets of brothers had played for him. After getting to know him, I'm not surprised that whole families would buy in.
I committed on my visit because the more I thought about it, the more I realized an opportunity to play for someone like Coach Beamer doesn't come around very often. When I told him, he shot right out of his chair—I didn't know he could move like that!—came around his desk and gave me a big hug. It was like we had known each other for years. That's when I knew I made the right decision.
There are so many things about him burned into my brain: The way he dances in the locker room after wins, how he comments on my cowboy boots every time we pass each other in the hall, him bouncing around at practice, full of energy and cracking jokes. When I got here in 2014, he walked by me in the hall and said, "Hey, palsy." I thought it was weird at first, but everyone told me it's a term of endearment from him. I don't even know if that's an actual word, but now I enjoy being called "palsy."
The biggest lesson I'll take away from him, though, is that being good to people is a choice. No matter if you know them or not, no matter the circumstance, no matter if they know who you are or have no clue, being kind is a gesture you can always extend. Sam Rogers, a junior fullback, always tells a story about his older brother, Ben. Ben and his friends were in a house fire years ago near Richmond, Va. Coach Beamer had no clue who they were—this was before Sam played for us—but he heard about what happened, got the kids' numbers and called all of them to tell him he was thinking about them and praying for them. You hear stories like that (and it doesn't come from Coach Beamer) and it's no wonder he's received such a warm response from the fan base. People are so grateful for him, and how he's represented our school.
I was a freshman in high school during the Virginia Tech shootings and I've heard plenty of stories about how Coach Beamer became a rallying point for the community, how he brought everyone together and tried to be a light during a horrible tragedy. I'm not surprised he tried to use football to support a cause much bigger than himself. That's truly who he is—and it's so genuine.
If you want proof about how much he's adored, just look at his retirement announcement. He walked in the room and he received a standing ovation. He commands respect. He's had an emotional run the last few weeks, but he doesn't want it to be about him. This weekend, for his last home game, we're wearing new jerseys and our helmets have "25" on them, for the number he wore when he played here from 1966-68. When we unveiled them this week, he had all the seniors stand up and told everyone, "This is who we should be playing for." Well, obviously we don't think that, but that's who Coach Beamer is; always deflecting attention from himself and helping other people shine.
We don't harp on it too much in the locker room, but people know how important it is to send Coach Beamer out the right way this weekend. A lot of times, when things haven't gone well for teams, they fade out toward the end. Not us. Everybody's hit a second gear because we know what it would mean to him and for him to win his last home game. We're playing for bowl eligibility, yeah. But it's more than that. Coach Beamer has spent his whole career uniting this community. Now we've got to unite for him.
At most college football programs, fans fawn over players. There are only a handful of places like Virginia Tech, where a school's identity is wrapped up in its coach. Everyone here makes it about Coach Beamer and in turn, he tries to make it all about the players. It's disappointing that the way he acts is rare, but it's also what makes being a part of his last team so special. Sometimes I think if I had a son, who would I want him to play for? Well, 10 times out of 10, I'd say go play for Coach Beamer, someone who preaches hard work and morals and kindness, then stands by it every day. He demands it of himself, his coaches and his players. I'm so grateful that he took a chance on a kid from Texas. He's changed my life.
College football grows in popularity every year, and each season we hear about "up-and-coming" coaches, hotshots we need to pay attention to. I don't know all those names, but I do know this: We need more men like Coach Beamer. College football is losing one of the good guys. It's been a privilege to play for him.
Michael Brewer, a redshirt senior, is Virginia Tech's starting quarterback.