Darryl Tapp’s departure for the NFL left Virginia Tech with a hole on its defensive coaching staff, but Justin Hamilton wasted no time filling that void with another former Virginia Tech defensive lineman, J.C. Price.
“It’s wonderful to be back in Blacksburg,” Price said. “I’m thankful to Coach Fuente and Coach Hamilton for giving me the opportunity to come back to Virginia Tech. It’s been 17 years, so I’m just really happy to be here.”
Price joins six other former Tech players on the coaching staff after spending the past nine seasons with Marshall. As a player, Price turned in a dominant senior season which led to a third-team All-America selection and the Hokies’ first ten-win season in program history.
“The main memory is not a fond one. It was the locker room after the Cincinnati game,” Price said. “The next day, having to watch that painful game and relive that, we all came together as a senior class and decided, we were not going to lose another game. To do that, we had to practice harder than anyone else and compete harder than everyone else in every operation.”
After spending two seasons in the NFL, Price began his coaching career by returning to his alma mater as a graduate assistant. Price was back in Blacksburg from 2002 to 2004, coinciding with the Hamilton’s playing tenure as a Hokie.
“When [Hamilton] eventually got into coaching, all of us Hokie alums who are in coaching bounce ideas off of each other all of the time. That’s kind of our network with Bud [Foster] as the centerpiece,” Price said. “He also actually came to Marshall, interviewed and we tried to hire him. He ended up choosing to come here in an off the field role which jumpstarted his career and catapulted himself into the job he has today. Obviously, he made the right choice.”
It’s been 17 years since Price left Blacksburg, when he moved up I-81 to work on James Madison’s coaching staff. There’s been plenty of changes to Tech’s facilities over that timespan including upgrades to Lane Stadium and the construction of the Beamer Barn. Surely, today’s student-athletes have much more at their disposal than Price did during his time as a player.
“It feels like a totally different place, but in a good way. You see all of the donations that people have made and the upgrades have been incredible,” Price said. “People ask me how it looks and I say, ‘It looks exactly the same if the same was 17 years ago because it’s completely different.’”
Price returns with a large role to fill as Tapp was crucial to the Hokies as a coach and as a recruiter. Working with Bill Teerlinck, Price looks to get the most out of a unit with plenty of talent coming back and more joining the fold.
“I got the job after the defense went through last year’s cut-ups. I’m trying to play catch up a little bit, I’ve seen the guys run around. Obviously, I’ve watched games over the past few years any time that I’ve had a chance,” Price said. “I’m just really starting to get to know the guys because I’ve only truly been on the job for about ten days now. We really had our first defensive line meeting today and I told the guys, ‘I’m familiar with you guys, but I’m still learning about a lot of the team.’”
Tapp and Teerlinck received plenty of attention when they were hired together last year. Now, new chemistry will have to be formed between the Hokies’ two leaders on the defensive front entering 2021.
“Through the process, he was the one guy on the defensive staff that I didn’t really know. We took some time on a Saturday afternoon to meet and talk football,” Price said. “We didn’t really have an agenda, but the next thing you know, four hours go by and we’re still talking about football. We hit it off, and I think it is a good thing that we have some similar philosophies on how to play defensive line, yet there’s some things that are different.”
Tech is still shuffling the deck following the departure of longtime defensive line coach Charley Wiles in late 2019. Fuente and Hamilton hope that Price and Teerlinck can be the tandem that will allow the defensive line to get back to the level that fans were used to when Wiles was in charge.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t think I would ever come back. I probably felt like Darryl did. Charley and Bud were such staples, so you figured that Charley would be here as long as Bud was,” Price said. “Once the opportunity opened up, Darryl got the job and I thought, here we go again. I know Darryl’s passion for this place; the same passion that I have and we all have from our years here. It was definitely a dream for me and my wife to get back here with our family.”