Beamer's block party's always open

As they stood on the sideline at Florida State's Doak Campbell Stadium that Saturday afternoon, the Virginia Tech coaches felt helpless.

Deion Sanders had mocked them on punt and kickoff returns. The deafening Seminole fans had foiled the Tech snap count, causing the Hokies botch a pair of Deion avoiding fakes. In the blink of an eye, a 14-7 deficit had grown to 41-7. And the coaches vowed to never again let an opponent thoroughly manhandle them in the kicking game.

Since that day, 15 years ago, no Division I-A team has blocked more kicks than Virginia Tech. What the Blackshirts are to Nebraska, what nameless uniforms are to Penn State, what suffocating defense is to Oklahoma, the "Pride and Joy" special teams have become to Virginia Tech. It's the cornerstone of the program.

"Coaches always say there are three phases to the game -- offense, defense and special teams," said assistant Billy Hite, who's in charge of the kickoff return team. "But not many of them put the work behind their words.

"That day we realized -- this is a way we can manipulate the outcome of a game."

At most schools, special teams is a process. It's a method used to transfer possession of the football from one team to another. But try punting the football when you know Beamer has spent five hours that week dissecting the holes in your protection. Try punting on the 4th and long, inside Lane Stadium, when the crowd is erupting on its feet, knowing something good for them -- and bad for you -- is about to happen. And try kicking a field goal knowing that the opposition has hand selected 11 people for the sole purpose of getting their hands between the ball and the goal post.

Last year, Virginia Tech blocked seven kicks, giving them a total of 90 in 174 Beamer-coached games. That's more than one block every two games. It would almost seem fitting to change the sign off I-81 to, "Exit 128: Blocksburg." Every offseason, high school, college, even NFL coaches come to town to discover the methods behind Beamer's special teams madness.

But there are no real secrets. Just a unique way of thinking. And an unmatched dedication to an often-overlooked area of the game. For one, Beamer himself is the special teams coach. Every Sunday, he spends four to five hours dissecting film of the previous game and the upcoming opponent. Every Monday, he hands each player a binder-thick special teams playbook, tailored to that team's tendencies. And throughout the week, he comes down from his perch and hands-on orchestrates the special teams facets of practice.

"When you see how passionate he is, when you see him take control in the meeting rooms, the film rooms and on the field, you get the message real quick," said redshirt sophomore Justin Hamilton, who blocked two kicks in 2001. "It isn't time to screw around."

Instead, it's time to put the best players on the field. Corey Moore, Lee Suggs, Andre Davis -- they all put in their time. Beamer would rather rest a star linebacker on a defensive series than not have him on the field for a potential block. Just last week, Beamer was reviewing tape from the 2000 season with his team when he realized eight of the 11 guys on his "Pride and Joy" punt block team had played in the NFL.

"When you show them that, when they see the skill and dedication it takes to be on these teams, everybody wants to be there," Beamer said. "I have guys ask me if they can get on special teams."

It's a never-ending sales job, a cleansing of the special teams psyche. And few do it better. Each week, Beamer gives out a special teams game ball. The guy who delivered the biggest special teams hit is called the Big Kahuna. Each week's star gets his picture on the locker room wall. They get a "Special Force" t-shirt. Everything is geared to stressing the importance of the kicking game.

"If you block a field goal and return it for a touchdown, that's a 10-point turnaround," Beamer said. "There's no other play on the football field can swing momentum like that."

Ask Hamilton for the most frenzied moment of his college career and he points not to one of his two blocks last year, but to 2001, when Eric Green blocked a Miami punt and returned it for a touchdown.

"I was in the stands and I remember stumbling down a bunch of rows, people jumping on me," he said. "It was the most chaotic moment I've ever experienced in my life. I've never felt a stadium switch on like that. And I wasn't even on the field."

Opponents have tried everything imaginable to counter Beamer's special teams attack. A couple years ago, the Hokies played five straight games in which the punt formation from the previous time they faced that team was different. Two weeks ago against Central Florida, they faced a punter who avoided the Tech rush by kicking on the run.

"That's pretty much the best compliment you can get," Beamer said.

"We've created a monster," added Hite. "People are spending so much time preparing for this now, it takes away from working in other aspects of the game. And that's only going to help us even more."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.