Virginia Tech football will be making its first trip to the Hampton Roads area for the first time in 32 years.
It will be a welcome return home for a number of players on the roster, as the 757 has been a major recruiting ground for the Hokies over the years. There are 13 players on the current roster from the Tidewater region.
Senior defensive tackle Ricky Walker grew up in Hampton, where he played his high school ball at Bethel High School. He’s looking forward to the opportunity to return home to play in his final collegiate season.
“The more I sit back and think about it, the more excited I get to play,” Walker said. “I’m actually going home to play. It’s going to be cool, finally get to get some Tidewater air.”
Sophomore Hezekiah Grimsley, who played his high school ball at Lafayette in Williamsburg, shared the same sentiment.
“It’s always good to go back home with your friends and your family,” Grimsley said. “It’s a cool deal for everyone from the 7-5. It should be an exciting game, it’s sold out.”
Old Dominion’s Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium only holds 20,118 fans. The game was announced as a sellout, and a good amount of tickets are being sold on Stubhub for $100-plus. A ticket to the game is the hottest commodity in town this weekend, as Virginia Tech players are expecting the 757 Hokies to pack the stadium.
“Family is going to be there and I’m sure the whole stadium is pretty much going to be Hokies in there,” Walker said. “A couple teammates are excited to go that aren’t from there. They’ve been asking me is the food going to be good Friday night in the hotel. All that different stuff, so I’m just excited to get to work.”
Even with a sprained foot, a homecoming like this one isn’t a game that Walker would miss. The good news is that the unexpected bye week gave Walker extra time to heal his foot that he injured in the William & Mary game, and he’s a full-go for Saturday.
“It was very big, not just for me, but for the team,” Walker said. “I think we needed it as far as our growth as a team and me personally to get healthy. It came at the perfect time.”
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster noted that Walker’s presence extends further than just his play on the field. The bell cow challenges his teammates on the practice field and demands more, almost like a second coach out on the field. Having Walker back this week at practice has given the Hokies an extra boost.
“The bye week for us physically came at a good time as well, particularly for Ricky,” Foster said. “Ricky’s so important for us. Obviously, his plays on Saturday show up, but just his approach during the week, that’s where I’ve labeled him the bell cow because he’s the guy that comes to work every day. You know what you’re going to get from Ricky Walker. You know what he’s going to demand from his teammates because that’s what he’s going to do every day.
“You’re going to get dinged up a little bit and the other week he got clipped up on his ankle. That’s going to happen inside. You don’t want it to happen, but he practiced Sunday and he’s going to practice today. He looked sharp and he looked good and he looked quick. I know with him being a senior, he’s chomping at the bit to get out and play and go home and play in front of some family and friends.”
Virginia Tech players aren’t the only ones returning home this weekend. Running backs coach Zohn Burden not only grew up in Virginia Beach, but he’ll return to Old Dominion, where he began his collegiate coaching career in 2007 as the Monarch’s defensive backs coach under Bobby Wilder. Burden left for the University of Richmond in 2011 before coming back to Norfolk as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach from 2012-2014.
“Me and coach Wilder keep in contact,” Burden said. “Obviously he helped start my career in hiring me for my first college job at ODU. We have a great relationship.
“To go back to Norfolk is really exciting. For me as a coach, coaching there I never thought I would go back and be playing against those guys. It’s exciting and I can’t wait to get down there. It’s pretty big time for me.”
Kickoff is set for Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and the game can be seen on CBS Sports Network.