Hokies begin long road back to normalcy

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The reminders are everywhere on campus.

Memorials. Tributes. Questions.

But for two hours on a blistering Thursday afternoon, Virginia Tech football players were able to do something they hadn't since the tragedy of April 16.

Practice. And escape.

"I think it's a relief," Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon said. "We've been asked so many questions. There's been so much media attention. 'When are you going to get back out there?' Now it's good to have all these questions behind us. Just to be back out here and to be with my teammates. It feels good to be out here throwing the football around. I missed it."

There were many messages delivered by Coach Frank Beamer in a Wednesday evening team meeting. And in a group huddle on the practice field 15 minutes into Thursday's practice.

• Embrace and live up to high expectations.

• Play not just for yourself, but for others.

• Be leaders for the university.

• Be stronger than ever.

In the middle of the practice field, attached high on a coaching tower, hung a sign that read: "VT: Team United. Strength In Unity." Above that sign was a flag with the school-endorsed logo honoring the 32 people who lost their lives at the hands of an on-campus shooter.

"People look up to us and expect us to bring the university back together," backup quarterback Ike Whitaker said. "As a family we want to move forward but at the same time bring them with us."

Beamer does not want his players to forget those who died or were injured.

"All of us have to work hard to give this school, give this community, give the alumni something to be proud of," Beamer said. "And that means getting out here and getting a little bit better every day."

Glennon, who once attended high school with the student who killed Virginia Tech classmates and professors, said he believes the football program can have the same type of impact on the Blacksburg community as LSU and the Yankees once had for post-Hurricane Katrina and post-9/11. He also believes the motivation of honoring those who died will be a factor this season.

Football is just a game. And to be practicing again is great. But there is not going to be anything better for the Blacksburg community than a Virginia Tech football game.

VT QB Sean Glennon

"Today there was emotion," Glennon said. "There is no doubt we had extra pep in our step. And that's a good thing."

Said wide receiver Eddie Royal: "When I am tired, I want to push so I can give people something to cheer about. To have a full practice today meant a lot. You can come out here in the summer and run around, but it's not the same. The tempo was up. The coaches were out here. It was fun to be in an organized environment."

As opposed to chaotic, which it has seemed so often for the players since April 16.

Beamer has prepared his players for the inevitable questions prior to every game this season about the tragedy by exposing them to media consultants. Glennon said the most normal place for him to be is on a football field and that normalcy will truly return on Sept. 1, when a raucous crowd watches the Hokies kickoff the season against East Carolina (ESPN, noon ET).

"Football is just a game," Glennon said. "And to be practicing again is great. But there is not going to be anything better for the Blacksburg community than a Virginia Tech football game."

Joe Schad is ESPN TV's national college football reporter.