By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
When J.C. Price stands on the opposing sideline at Lane Stadium/Worsham Field on Saturday, it won’t be the first time.
The former Virginia Tech defensive tackle, who now coaches that position at Marshall, was an assistant at James Madison — coached by former Marshall assistant Mickey Mathews — when the Dukes upset the Hokies in Blacksburg on the second week of the 2010 season.
He’ll be there again Saturday, when the Thundering Herd visits his alma mater for a noon kickoff on ESPNU.
Price’s experience three years ago will help him fight off any emotion this weekend.
“I’ve already been through it, so I know what it will be like,” Price said in a phone interview late Wednesday. “It was the first time I had a chance to go back. It’s great to go back and see some of the people you don’t often get to cross paths with.”
Price was a third-team Associated Press All-American in 1995, helping lead the Hokies to a win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl. That following spring, he was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the third round of the NFL Draft.
Despite walking onto the grass of his former stomping grounds, Price will be focused on getting the D-line prepared to face a Virginia Tech offense led by senior quarterback Logan Thomas, who, if things work out the way they are intended, will be battling the Herd defense with his arm more than his legs.
“They have a big, physical offensive line,” Price said. “We have to do our best to make them one-dimensional, and that starts with us stopping the run.”
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Going back to Blacksburg is also a fun time for me. My first college football beat with The Register-Herald was covering Virginia Tech for two seasons in 1997 and 1998.
I had a great time covering what has been one of the top college football programs under coach Frank Beamer. I was new and very shy, but a number of people made things easy for me and treated me as though I had been on the beat for years, for which I will always be appreciative.
Sports information director Dave Smith still serves in that capacity and is a credit not only to the sports information office, but the entire athletic program at Virginia Tech. Gary Wheat was the football contact during the two seasons I covered the Hokies and always made me feel comfortable. Secretary Donna Smith was always helpful when I would call with questions. And there was Bryan Messerly, who is now the men’s basketball contact at WVU.
I have plenty of memories of those two seasons, but two stand out in particular. The first was on a cool October evening in Morgantown in 1997. The Hokies had blasted Donovan McNabb and Syracuse the second week of the season and I, being young and stupid, proclaimed them undefeated Big East champions.
The Mountaineers had other ideas. Amos Zereoue, Marc Bulger and Co. destroyed Tech 30-17.
As the Hokies were making their way back to the locker room, they were heckled by several WVU fans. “It’s gonna be warm in Florida!” one man mocked, an obvious reference to a warmer bowl destination than what he thought awaited the Hokies.
Virginia Tech offensive lineman Gennaro DiNapoli stood there and shook his head, muttering an insult only audible to those standing near him, including me and former Register-Herald sports editor Dave Morrison.
DiNapoli, a fourth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 1998, looked up at the fan and shouted in his deep New York accent, “Yeah. Have fun at the ’Cuse!”
The Mountaineers were hammered 40-10 by Syracuse the following week.
Both Tech and WVU went to Florida bowl games, and both lost — the Mountaineers to Georgia Tech in the Carquest Bowl and the Hokies to North Carolina in the Gator Bowl.
The second memory came a year later. Temple was one of the worst teams in the country and was soon to be excommunicated from the Big East. But the Owls somehow went into Lane Stadium and escaped with a 28-24 win.
I remember looking to my left and seeing one of the other beat writers hanging his head, as if the sun would not be rising the next day.
In the postgame press conference, Tech linebacker Corey Moore, who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the third round in 2000, told a group of reporters, “This is embarrassing,” only it was not that clean. Realizing there was a lady present, Moore apologized for his language.
In 1999, I took over the Marshall beat. I missed Michael Vick, but had the privilege of covering Chad Pennington’s senior season. He and Vick were both Heisman Trophy finalists that year, and the Herd finished the year undefeated and ranked 10th in the country.
Not a bad tradeoff.
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Marshall and Virginia Tech are connected by the tragic plane crash that killed the entire Marshall football team in 1970.
Rick Tolley was the head coach at Marshall and Frank Loria the defensive backs coach that year, and both were former Virginia Tech players. Loria played in the defensive secondary with Beamer, while Tolley, who was born in Mullens, was both a center and linebacker from 1958-61.
— E-mail: gfauber