When Texas A&M University-Commerce opens the season on September 7 at home against Selección Nuevo León, there will be a distinct Blacksburg vibe in the Lonestar State.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions have come to embrace a “lunch pail mentality” ever since their new defensive coordinator was hired this past December. That coach would be Xavier Adibi, the former Virginia Tech linebacker who wreaked havoc on opposing offenses from 2004-2007.
If someone wants to learn the ins and outs of what it takes to be a defensive coordinator, Bud Foster is a pretty good place to start. Foster is entering his 33rd season as an assistant at Virginia Tech, where he’s been a defensive coordinator since 1995. Adibi called Foster his mentor and noted that much of Foster’s philosophy as a defensive coordinator will soon be instituted in Commerce, Texas, where Texas A&M University-Commerce plays in the Lonestar Conference of Division II.
“I find myself saying a lot of the stuff that coach Foster said,” Adibi said. “I know what he used to always preach to us about having respect for the game of football, which basically just means coming to work every day with that lunch pail mentality. If you don’t respect the game, you’re not going to get everything you’re trying to get from the game.
“I always find myself saying some of the things that he used to say to us. He really molded me into the type of man and coach that I am today. I wouldn’t be anywhere without coach Foster.”
When Foster announced on August 1 that he would be retiring earlier this month, it offered Adibi some time to think back on the impact that Foster has had since the beginning.
Adibi’s older brother Nathaniel played for the Hokies from 1999-2003, so the younger brother was already familiar with the program in Blacksburg under Frank Beamer. From the beginning, Adibi sensed something different about Foster and knew he needed to find a home in southwest Virginia just like his brother.
“Once the recruitment started, [Foster] really just made me feel at home,” Adibi said. “It really was the whole program between him and coach Beamer and [Jim] Cavanaugh, who was the recruiting coach. It was just the relationships.
“I knew [Foster] was a coach who was always going to get the best out of his players. He was an excellent teacher and extremely passionate about football.”
The Phoebus High School product landed on campus in 2003 and took a redshirt season. A year later, Adibi played in his first collegiate action against No. 1 USC to begin the 2004 season.
However, disaster struck when Adibi tore a tendon and his biceps muscle became detached in the second quarter of the 24-13 loss. It was a gruesome injury that put Adibi’s season in jeopardy. Adibi underwent surgery to reattach the bicep and somewhat miraculously played seven weeks later against Georgia Tech, a game in which the linebacker collected two sacks and forced a fumble en route to the Hokies scoring 25 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win 34-20.
“All I know is I was at home thinking I was going to be out for the season,” Adibi said. “I came in one day to the training room and coach Goforth said I have a chance, I can come back if that was something I’d be interested in. It wasn’t even a question for me. As soon as he said that, I just started getting back to work with my treatment and trying to stay in shape just running around.”
From there on, Adibi became a constant force on defense for Foster and Co. He looks back on his time in Blacksburg with fond memories. He’ll never forget the “unbelievable feeling” of coming out to Enter Sandman for the first time or seeing how Hokie Nation responded to the April 16 shooting.
Despite the loss to USC, he reminisces on that game a lot as well as the 34-17 triumph at West Virginia in 2005, the last meeting between the two rivals before they played again at FedExField in 2017.
The two games that stick out the most for Adibi, though, occurred during his senior season and both came against Boston College.
The first one was the stunning 14-10 loss to the Eagles. The Hokies had No. 2 Boston College on the ropes, but Matt Ryan engineered a two touchdown drives in the final 2:11, capped off with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Andre Callender.
“That first loss was just heartbreaking,” Adibi said. “That last touchdown pass that Matt Ryan threw in the corner of the end zone, that stadium just went silent. In the locker room after that I’m looking at coach Beamer’s face and seeing him how he was just speechless.”
Before the harrowing silence consumed Lane Stadium, there was an electric environment that Adibi says was unmatched in his Virginia Tech career.
“It was probably the loudest I ever heard Lane Stadium that game,” Adibi said. “Mark Herzlich, the linebacker, he made a quote saying you could see the vibrations because it was raining that game. You could see the vibrations from the crowd and everybody making the water shake off guys’ helmets. It was an amazing, amazing atmosphere.”
Once the shock of the loss wore off, Adibi and Co. let the result serve as motivation for the rest of the season. Sure enough, the Hokies met Boston College in the ACC Championship Game five weeks later after four straight victories.
This time, Virginia Tech played a complete game from start to finish and defeated the Eagles 30-16 to clinch the ACC title. Adibi sealed the deal when he picked off Ryan and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown with 11 seconds left to cease another dramatic comeback attempt.
“All the leaders on the team, we all rallied together,” Adibi said. “We knew as long as we took care of our business and took care of the little things just like coach Beamer used to preach to us every day, we knew we were going to see them again and we did. We made sure that we came out of that game with a victory.”
Adibi concluded his career in Blacksburg with 291 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, eight interceptions, and two touchdowns while being named First Team All-ACC at the backer position as a senior. He did it alongside fellow 757 mate Vince Hall, who finished his career with 404 tackles, to form an iconic duo at linebacker over their four years together.
“We always competed with each other,” Adibi said. “Just friendly competition in a way on the field as far as who can make the most tackles or the most tackles for loss and things like that.
“We always pushed each other to work hard on the field. You never would have thought what our legacy would be. Anytime you mention Vince Hall, my name is mentioned and vice versa. That’s always been something that’s kind of special to me.”
The Houston Texans selected Adibi in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. After spending a few years with the Texans, Adibi bounced around with the Vikings, Bears, and Titans before his NFL career ended in 2012.
He then spent some time in scouting, where he was giving reports to Andy Reid, Doug Pederson, and Matt Nagy. During this time where he was surrounded by great football minds, Adibi developed an itch for coaching.
“That started to give me goosebumps when I could see Coach Pederson take my advice on a certain play and utilize it in a game,” Adibi said. “That’s when something kind of clicked with me saying, ‘Man, I want to get involved with football.’ That’s when I just started to want to coach.”
Adibi started at Rice University under head coach David Bailiff. He spent some time as a linebackers coach at Garden City CC before he landed at Arkansas University in 2018 as a defensive analyst.
The former linebacker reconnected with Bailiff, who took the head coaching job at Texas A&M University-Commerce this past offseason, eventually bringing Adibi on board as his defensive coordinator.
With the season beginning in just under two weeks, Adibi has constantly heeded advice from Foster and his expertise over the past 33 years. Foster has always been the teacher to Adibi, first as a player and now as a coach.
“I’ve reached out to him a lot, I’ll tell you that,” Adibi said. “I reach out to him a lot, and he’s always welcomed my questions and he’s always guided me. I couldn’t ask for anyone better to learn from, and just being able to pick his brain on his experiences and the types of offenses we go against nowadays. I couldn’t ask for a better person to talk to about football.”
When Adibi guides the Lions’ defense this season, there will always be an extra inspiration in the back of his mind. Adibi’s wife, Brooke, and his son, Elijah, are in Houston for Elijah’s schooling as he’s on the autistic spectrum. Not being together during the season is hard, but Adibi FaceTimes his wife and son whenever he has some time off the field to let them know that they’re always on his mind.
“My son is what pushes me,” Adibi said. “Every time I sit back and think about him being on the spectrum and him just working his butt off whether in tutoring or class to try to learn better ways to communicate, that’s motivation to me. That kid means the world to me.
“Knowing what my wife goes through on a day-to-day basis with someone on the spectrum. That’s something else that I always keep on my mind when I’m getting up at 5 o’clock to come into the office to get work done.”
The first-time defensive coordinator doesn’t have an ultimate goal in mind about where he wants his coaching career to take him. He’s just concentrating on the guys he’s coaching now, knowing they’ll be the ones to bring a flair of LPD to whole new part of the country.
“I don’t really think about what will happen in the future,” Adibi said. “Just try to take care of my business here every day. Work my butt off every day and get everything I can out of each day. I know everything will take care of itself if I work hard and be about the kids.”