Here and there, the Hokies have hosted the sort of big night games against ranked opponents that tend to dazzle recruits, and the Sept. 30 tilt against Clemson certainly fit that bill. The challenge for the coaching staff is making those sorts of marquee matchups feel commonplace.
So while the Hokies were certainly happy to show off the spectacle of a raucous College GameDay appearance or an electric Lane Stadium contest under the lights, Justin Fuente and company also kept an eye on the future when it came time to make their pitch to the top prospects in attendance.
"They're on the rise, and one thing Coach Fuente said is he's trying to make scenes like that normal," 2018 OG Josh Jefferson of D.C.'s St. John's College HS told The Key Play. "Like playing Clemson, big teams like Florida State, he's trying to make things like that normal."
But all that isn't to devalue the mark the game's atmosphere left on recruits. Even with a 31-17 loss to the defending national champions, it seems Lane has not lost its capacity to impress.
"I've never been so amazed. It was the best entrance in college football, to me," said 2018 DT commit Cam Goode, also of St. John's. "I'd never seen it before, coming in. Everybody was like, 'Man, Virginia Tech has the best entrance,' and I said, 'Eh, Clemson's entrance is pretty cool,' but man, was I wrong. It was just crazy, the entrance to Sandman, everybody just rocking the stadium. It's crazy how it's just like 64,000 people or something like that, and it felt like 100,000, easily."
Jefferson, a 3-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite ranking, agrees that the earth-shaking entrance was "electrifying" and "got me pumped up and I wasn't even about to play." He's willing to venture that the Hokies "must have the best fan base in college," and some of the younger recruits on the scene couldn't help but agree.
"Nobody was just sitting there at any point, everybody was just screaming and jumping around," said 2018 LB Dean Ferguson of Sterling's Potomac Falls HS. "I've been to games where people just yell and do the traditional calls, but it was nothing like that."
2019 WR Jacoby Pinckney of Roebuck, S.C.'s Dorman HS remembers going for his first game in Lane last year when the Hokies played ECU in an afternoon game. This time around was "a good difference."
"It was crazy," said Pinckney, who's rated a 4-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite. "It was wild."
Goode, no stranger to Tech visits himself, is unequivocal about the experience: "I've never had so much fun on a college visit."
"I'm not even just saying that because I'm committed, that was the most fun I've ever had on a visit," Goode said. "Just the life of the campus. Everybody was out, there wasn't no fighting, just everybody, Virginia Tech, we're a family, let's go. Everybody was friendly. When I parked my car and got on the shuttle bus to go to the stadium, a group of people was like, 'Hey you're Cam Goode. How're you doing, sir? We're so glad you committed man, me and my kids love you,' and I was like, man, I can get used to this. It was just surprising to me how many people knew me. I was just walking up the stairs to get a slice of pizza, and people were like, 'Man, Cam, we need you right now, you wanna go out there?' Just everybody, young, old, middle, they made me feel so welcome."
It didn't hurt that Tech greats like Michael Vick and DeAngelo Hall were stalking the sidelines, either. Goode says Vick snapped a photo with all of the 2018 commits in attendance, and they got to chat about why they all picked Blacksburg in the first place.
"It was pretty cool to talk to him, and he was pretty down to earth," Goode said. "I was even standing next to him as ESPN was showing him. Everybody was texting me, like 'You were just on TV next to Michael Vick!' and I was like, yeah, there you go, you know. It was pretty cool. My favorite player of all time."
Ferguson says it was "shocking" when he turned to his right at one point on the sideline and spotted Vick milling around, while Jefferson said the number of high-profile Tech alums in Lane was a testament to the program's "tradition."
"I was kind of starstruck when I first saw (Vick)," Jefferson said. "The only person who was missing was Tyrod Taylor, everybody else was there. It was great seeing people like that right there in front of me on the sideline. It kind of put things in perspective."
The result of the game, however, was a little less thrilling, but Goode was hardly discouraged by what he saw from the team afterwards.
"They were like, 'Y'all got this one, but we'll see you in the ACC championship,'" Goode said. "That's something that I really enjoyed. And that game was extremely winnable, we're just a young team. No need to say anything, VT's got it, simple as that."
Pinckney says he took a clear message from what he watched unfold on the field; the team could use some receivers like him.
"They just need some more people, some more weapons," Pinckney said. "I'd say they're underpowered compared to Clemson at the wide receiver position. Clemson's got a lot of weapons but Virginia Tech doesn't have that many right now. That was really the difference in the game."
Jefferson saw the same sort of deficiency on the offensive line, as he starts to picture how he might be able to help if he should ever don the orange and maroon.
"The offense, they couldn't get any production," Jefferson said. "Me, personally, I feel like they need help on the offensive line. They have the tools to be successful, but they just couldn't break a play loose. If it was a run play, the o-line would handle the d-line, but wouldn't get up to the next level. If it was a pass, the QB didn't have enough time to even look at his receivers. So I just feel like in order to handle teams like that, they don't have enough depth at o-line. Their offensive line group looks very light...They need depth as far as the o-line goes, especially going against a team like Clemson with the d-line that they have. Honestly I really do feel like they need some help, especially on the interior picking up blitzes and things like that."
But before he can offer a hand, Jefferson needs to earn an offer from the Hokies. He says he discussed the prospect with area recruiter Holmon Wiggins and Fuente at a pregame gathering the team arranged at the indoor practice facility, and he expects some members of the staff will be headed his way for an in-person evaluation at one of his games soon.
"They saw my midseason film, said they watched it as a staff, said they liked it and how I dominate, and told me to be patient," Jefferson said. "They understand that I really like them, and they understand that I'm waiting on an offer, so we're on the same page as far as that goes."
Ferguson only earned his Tech offer a few days before the Clemson game, so he says he also got a chance to learn a little more about what Bud Foster and company see in him.
"My physicality was one of my main selling points, and they're excited about the future I'd be able to have down there," Ferguson said. "Coach Foster's a nice guy, playing for him would definitely be an amazing experience. Playing for one of the legendary defensive coaches and learning from him would really be special."