Wide receiver Eric Kumah, shown scoring against Marshall, is one of 16 players on the Hokies roster from the DMV area. (Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)
For many on the Virginia Tech football team, the buildup to Monday’s Military Bowl against Cincinnati in Annapolis, Md., has less of a feel of a team trip than of a parents’ or alumni weekend.
The Hokies held workouts at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Va., some 270 miles from campus and a much closer commute for the families of the 16 members of the roster from either Northern Virginia, the District or close-in Maryland suburbs.
Practices at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes have been especially memorable for one Hokies player, Ishmiel Seisay. The redshirt junior defensive back played in high school for the Saints and even watched the Hokies practice at his school in 2014, when Virginia Tech also worked out there in preparation for the Military Bowl.
“It’s cool. It’s awesome,” Seisay said following a soggy practice Friday afternoon. “Five years ago I was like watching the practice, and now I’m actually in it. It’s dope.”
Significant contributors with local ties include redshirt junior safety Reggie Floyd (Stonewall Jackson High in Manassas, Va.), redshirt sophomore place kicker Brian Johnson (Gonzaga in the District) and junior wide receiver Eric Kumah (Forest Park in Woodbridge, Va.).
“I have a lot of my family coming actually,” Floyd said, “so it’s going to be a great show.”
There’s also an estimated 55,000 Virginia Tech alumni in the national capital region, thousands of whom are expected to make the trip to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to support the Hokies (6-6) in their 26th consecutive bowl appearance, the longest active streak in country.
When the Hokies last played in the Military Bowl, also coincidentally against Cincinnati, there was an announced crowd of 34,277, a sellout, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Virginia Tech won, 33-17.
“This is a big area for us, not just recruiting-wise, but we have a lot of Hokies in this area,” Coach Justin Fuente said. “Getting a chance to come and play in front of them, and then also having some of our kids get to come home and play in front of family and friends, make it a little bit easier so maybe a few more of them can come to the game, I think is a good thing.”
That Virginia Tech even would earn a bowl berth remained in serious doubt a little more than a month ago following a fourth consecutive loss that dropped the Hokies to 4-6.
At the time, the Hokies had one regular season game remaining, against instate rival Virginia. Athletic department officials, however, were able to arrange a 12th and final regular season game Dec. 1 against Marshall — at a cost of $300,000 — if Virginia Tech beat its instate rival.
The Hokies recovered a fumble in the end zone with 1:51 to play in the fourth quarter to tie and got Johnson’s 42-yard field goal in overtime to outlast Virginia, 34-31, at Lane Stadium, triggering the playing of the makeup game the next weekend.
Virginia Tech had its originally scheduled Sept. 15 home game against East Carolina canceled when Pirates officials decided not to travel because of potential complications from Hurricane Florence, thus leaving room on the schedule to face Marshall.
In that game, quarterback Ryan Willis passed for 312 yards and four touchdowns, one short of the school record, to lead the Hokies to a 41-20 victory. The redshirt junior transfer took over as the starter when Josh Jackson broke his left fibula Sept. 22 in a 49-35 loss to Old Dominion.
The injury to Johnson, who, according to Fuente, isn’t expected to be healed enough play against Bearcats (10-2), was one of many throughout the roster the Hokies dealt with this season. There also were players who elected to transfer and others dismissed for violating team rules.
“We didn’t win nine or 10 or 11 football games this year, but this might be a year that may be one of your more rewarding ones because of what you’ve had to overcome,” longtime Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “The hard work you had to put in and to lead and to fight and just keep coming to work every day when people were doubting you, that’s not always an easy thing to do.
“I thought our kids did a great job responding.”
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