Brent Pry is working to get Virginia Tech back to the top of the ACC


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CHARLOTTE — Virginia Tech’s Dax Hollifield was speaking in glowing terms about Hokies first-year football coach Brent Pry on Thursday afternoon when the senior linebacker compared him to Bud Foster, the program’s former longtime defensive coordinator.

Pry, who served under Foster at Virginia Tech as a graduate assistant and defensive line coach from 1995 to 1997, smiled broadly in addressing the significance of having the Hokies’ leader on and off the field, mentioning him in the same breath as a legend who remains. beloved in Blacksburg.

“It’s a great compliment, and it’s not by accident, right?” Pry said during his first ACC media day. “As far as defensive coach and mind-set and coaching mentality and all those things, I learned so much from Bud those three years. Three years is a pretty good run, especially when you’re a sponge and you’re a young coach and you’re just soaking up everything.”

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Pry parlayed the knowledge he gained from Foster into a successful career as an assistant, most recently serving as Penn State’s defensive coordinator since 2014 before undertaking the assignment of overhauling the program at Virginia Tech on the heels of Justin Fuente’s departure.

Unlike his predecessor, Pry has made himself accessible in the community, following the model established under Frank Beamer, the program architect who turned Virginia Tech into a national power. Beamer remains extremely visible, often walking around campus engaging with fans and students.

Pry has put himself out there as well in a bid to reignite a fan base that had grown weary amid losing records over the past few years. The Hokies finished below .500 in each of the previous two seasons for the first time since 1991 and 1992, when Beamer was in the early stages of constructing the program.

Almost immediately after his hiring, Pry seized upon the winning tradition Beamer had put in place over his Hall of Fame career, telling his charges during his first team meeting that they didn’t come to Virginia Tech to go 6-7. Players have since recalled that introduction to Pry as inspiration for this season and beyond.

“That’s kind of the first thing that bridged the gap for us as players with a new coach,” wide receiver Kaleb Smith said. “Having somebody who knows the Virginia Tech traditions, knows what it means to be a Hokie — because that’s something we all share and hold deep in our hearts.”

The unbridled enthusiasm Pry brings to the job surfaced during his opening remarks Thursday, when he paused to look at his cellphone and revealed Virginia Tech had just added another commitment. Pry, wearing a suit and tie in Hokies colors, then turned to the three players who accompanied him to the event and told them, “Virginia Tech just got better.”

Offensive lineman Silas Dzansi later recounted a story of how Pry’s ebullient demeanor has lifted the spirits not just within the locker room but also throughout Blacksburg. The redshirt senior from Woodbridge used to get asked when strolling through campus or nearby neighborhoods how relatable Fuente was to his players, with fans expressing their distaste for the former coach.

“That’s one thing I thought was crazy because last year, the year before, we would walk around, and people would be like: ‘Do you like Fuente? Because I don’t,’ ” Dzansi said. “And now it’s like: ‘Oh, how do you like Coach Pry? Because we love him.’ It’s so different. It’s such a big turnaround.”

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But it hasn’t been only Pry’s vibrant personality that has energized the Hokies, who last season finished 12th out of 14 schools in the ACC in total offense (361.6 yards per game) and second to last in scoring (23.7 points) as well as losing three straight games at Lane Stadium for the third time in four years.

He also brings credentials that include directing the Nittany Lions to a national ranking of sixth in scoring defense (17.3 points per game) and third in the red zone (66.7 percent) last year. Pry was nominated last season for the Frank Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in college football.

He inherits a unit that finished eighth in the ACC in total defense (392 yards per game) in 2021 and fifth in scoring (25.3 points).

“I remember Coach Foster, he would just teach it all over again and do these basic drills,” Hollifield said in elaborating on the similarities between Pry and Foster. “It really speaks to how easy football is when you actually understand what you’re trying to do. Learning the technique the proper way and applying it on the field makes a world of difference, and that was [Pry’s] initial message: ‘We’re going to get the fundamentals down, and from that we’re going to start building.’ “


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