Publisher's Note: Nico Naha contributed to this transcription.
We asked some of the coaches before, probably asked some of the players too, do you like the sorta higher profile openers rather than sort of playing the team that's a little bit lower level getting into the season? Do you like kinda being in the spotlight right away?
I think it's better for us to have a big-time opponent. But, to just get us started for the season you dont wanna just ease into it. So I'd rather that than just any non-conference easy game.
Is that cause it trickles into the preparation of the offseason, or why do you like that?
It's like more emphasized to get ready. It's not like any, just, any little exhibition game, it counts. So it's like the mindset going into it prepares us, as a team to take it seriously and be ready, to be ready for any other season.
With the starting punt return job, what does that mean to you, and I think you've only had one return in the last two years so is it like riding a bike you think for game-wise or what do you think it's gonna be like?
I feel like I have a natural ability to field balls. It's an honor to be, to get the starting job as punt returner. Just another way to get the ball in my hands and help the team. But, also we have like a back- like if I go down we have a backup, Tayvion Robinson he got natural ball skills. But, I mean it's a big deal for me for the coaches to trust me on that level, and trust me to get back there and make big plays so it's a big deal for me.
You were a really good punt returner at Lafayette and then I remember earlier in your career you mentioned that it was not something that you wanted to do here. What morphed you into this dude that all of a sudden looks forward to doing it? It's like you said I gotta think that like you said the fact the coaches trust you, that sorta level of trust in you helps, but there's gotta be some want to that you'd wanna do that kinda thing.
I mean high school is obviously way different. It was fun, you don't got a lot of top D1 guys coming full speed at you, but I think what changed is seeing highlights of G-Stro like Greg Stroman doing it and seeing the crowd as you go down the field the crowd will get louder and louder. It's just the excitement that it brings, even you don't even have to score, a 20-yard gain, it brings motivation to the team. It comes down to trust and I like having that badge on me and the fact that my teammates are with me. Say something bad happens it's not like they gonna keep me up. So it's like a big role, I like it.
Hezekiah, did you watch that Miami game against Florida?
There's a lot of missed tackles in that game, did you notice that?
Yeah, I did.
There was some ACC analysts that were saying, 'Look, they don't hit as much as they used to in practice, you're worried about concussions and all those things.' So it's hard to actually simulate what you're gonna see on Saturday. How do you guys prepare for that and how well do you think you are prepared to make the tackles when you get the opportunity to make them?
Coach [Justin] Fuente does a good job of putting what we need, putting the periods we need in practice and we get a good amount of thumpin' in. Our defense, they do they're little wrap up drills and it's always emphasized, Bud Foster emphasizes that. Or on the offensive side, we have an offensive tackle they say interception or something. So it's something we always prepared for it's not like we're gonna go in there and just not wrap up. We're prepared for it.
Offense with a week to go to the season compared to last year with a week to go, what is the feeling? Are you guys more confident? Do you feel things are more put together? Any difference from where you were this time last year that you can sense?
In the receiver room we hold each other at a higher level, but as a whole offense obviously last year is last year. So knowing that in the back of our mind we don't wanna be in that same position. So everybody's pushing each other and standing together trying to better each other and everything. So we see one dude slacking, we are going to say something because we don't want to end up like last year. So we moved on so we gonna be better.
Talking about how the offense a little more experienced, BC's defense is pretty young this year. How do you think that will give you guys and advantage, something to take advantage of there with your experience versus their inexperience?
We don't really think about that. Whoever steps in front of us they gonna get the same amount of Tech football than anybody. It's just basically doing our job. It's not really, it's not looking at the scouting report. I mean it's a big deal like they only had what like three starters coming back, but the fact that we have what we do have I feel like it's an advantage in that. But it's gonna come down to doing your job at the end of the day.
Hey Dax, did you watch that Miami-Florida game the other day?
I watched part of it, yeah, it was a pretty good game.
Yea, it was competitive, but it seemed like there were a lot of missed tackles and there's been some analysts who said, 'Look they don't hit as much as they used to before the season starts.' When you go into that first game some teams aren't ready to wrap up and do make the tackles. How have you guys prepared, I mean how much do you guys hit in practice and how prepared do you feel like you are for a very good, physical team?
The game is played in so much space now, that's probably one of the hardest things to do is make a tackle in open field. So it takes a lot of practice. Coach Foster, we always go through little tackle circuits. It's not really going all the way to the ground, but it's something. We're either going over roll tackles, we're thudding up, we're wrapping up. We just don't take 'em to the ground. But we do that almost every day, or every other day. So I mean I know he has us ready, and is, he said all week we should take pride in being a great defense and that's what you gotta do. You gotta be a great defense and you have to be a great tackling defense to be a great defense.
After a season like last year where you guys struggled against the run so much and that was a major point of emphasis obviously in the offseason, when you see the schedule and you see a team like BC in a matchup against one of the best backs in the country leading off, do you get especially hyped for that to kind of give you, to give people a measuring stick of how much you guys have improved? Or do you, give me your thoughts?
I just wanna play. Just, to be honest, I treat everybody the same, every team the same. I mean they're a great team. A lot of teams, everybody at this level is really good. So, I mean I treat every week the same. I'm just ready to play to be honest with you. We know what we're doing now as a defense. So I'm, like you said I'm ready to prove to everybody, I'm tired of talk to be honest with you. I'm tired of everybody talking I'm just ready to play.
Well Dax, first of all good luck this weekend.
Thanks I appreciate it.
You think of the Lunch Pail Defense, Bud Foster made it what it is today. What's it like being apart of that Lunch Pail Defense tradition that he has established at his time here at Virginia Tech?
That's why I came here. I've never been a guy that just goes out there and just does everything right just naturally. It's always hard work, going at it every day. That's what I really pride myself in, the kind of player I am. I feel like that's where everybody that plays on defense prides themself. He's going at it everyday workin hard every day and that's really what LPD is about. That's what he built this thing on and that's why he's had so much success and why Virginia Tech has had so much success. And it's really an honor to even play for that and it's probably the reason I came here.
How would you compare the mindset of the defense headed into this years season opener to last year where, you guys have a little bit more experience now on this side of the ball?
I mean, like you said, we didn't really have experience last year. I didn't really know what to expect. Last year at the beginning of the season I wasn't really ready to play. I had no clue what I was doing really. I know what I'm doing now. I feel I'm better right now than I was at the end of last year. So I feel like everybody on the defense is like that especially after spring ball we all are miles ahead of where we were last year. So I'm excited to just prove everybody wrong to be honest with you.
What impresses you about AJ Dillon?
He's, obviously he's a big guy. He's big as me. If not bigger than, a little bit heavier. And he can run, he's got great balance and he runs behind his pads good. He's a great back. I mean he has two back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. I mean, he's banged up last year and still got it. He's a great player and I'm looking forward to playing against him, so yeah.
Coach Foster said earlier this fall you kinda had worked a little bit at Mike. Do you anticipate moving around a little bit this year?
Yeah, I do. I work, I look at, I work, I watch Mike everyday. I learning Mike and backer the same to be honest with you.
Does that feel different? What's the difference for you at those two positions and excited to kinda play both?
It really depends on the formation. They're really similar and very different at the same time. It's just, Mike is more to the field, back is more to the boundary. So it just depends on what you're getting, what formations are lined up, what plays we're running. He's gotta know what I'm doing, what coverage we're in cause it's all about the coverages how that will fit in the run game and stuff like that. It's just subtle differences. They're a lot the same, they're also very different at the same time.
You were one of a bunch of guys on Twitter who wished Danielle Bartelstein good luck in her next stop, can you give us a sense of just how important and how much did behind the scenes here?
She's the ultimate team mom. My family loves her. My mom loves her, my dad loves her. She's the greatest ever. She's gonna get, shes gonna have everything to a tee. I get a text from her everyday, whole schedule, and she's always gonna text out reminders, stuff like that. She's always on top of her everything. It's hard to see her leave 'cause she, she's one of us. So, it's just hard to, I know she deserves, she works really hard, and she's gonna do great things for the College Football Playoff. But, we're gonna miss her. But she deserves it. She works harder than anybody probably I've ever met.
Dax, obviously classes starting back up again this week. It's a game week. I mean does it feel a little bit different for you guys? Is there kind of an adjustment adding the student part back into being a student-athlete?
I said two days ago I could smell in the air it was getting football time. The air cooled off. It was about sixty past two days. The smell is different, it feels different, everybody is back. This is why I came to Tech. I love it here. Fall is my favorite time of the year. It's football season I just can't wait to just head on into it.
You guys struggled so much against the run last year and obviously that's been a massive point of emphasis to get that right in the offseason and now you get to open up against one of the better running backs in the country. Is that something you would like or is it, you don't get to make the scheduling or anything like that, I get that, but do you prefer to have that kinda matchup so you get a measuring stick of how far you guys have come right away or would you rather have something a little more basic or simple?
No, of course, I love competition. I know this defense and this program love competition so we gonna open up with whoever, the best, whoever they may be. It's gonna be a great game. He's a great back so it's gonna be a good game and we gonna see how we do.
What is the biggest challenge about their running game? Is it talent, speed, attitude? What kinda makes them good at running the ball?
They have some great backs. They have a great line. Great tight ends. They just run it down your throat. We gotta stop it. So it's just gonna be power football. We're gonna have to get in there. We're gonna have to play for however long the game is. And I know every down they gonna try and run the ball, run it up our throats. So that's what we're gonna have to stop.
Pretty sure you guys got Dillon kinda towards the end last year. Do you take anything from that game or do you kinda not really even look at that from last year?
I look at it as far as just, looking at like what they did against us. How they schemed us up. Just little things like that. But other than that it's a new season. A new team for both of us. So it's gonna be an exciting game.
Are you guys able to tackle enough during camp? Cause you don't do two a days anymore. There's worries about concussions and all of that. Do you guys hit enough during camp to be ready for an opener or does it take a little time to get into the flow of the game cause you're not hitting as much as you used to?
It's definitely hard when you only have a certain amount of real scrimmages to really hit. But with the way we do hitting drills here it helps us just with the form and getting ready to tackle. So we definitely should be ready.
Along those same lines, Coach Foster talked about playing disciplined football. What does that typically look like or what does that feel like for you for a season opener?
Everybody doing their job. No penalties after the play. No extra penalties. Just doing their job and playing for each other and playing smart.
How have you seen yourself change over the past year as a leader?
As a leader? I kind of looked up to this guy named Tre Turner. Just trying to be a leader like him, how he leads. I kind of take tidbits from him. Trying to be more vocal. Things like that, I think I became more vocal. Started hanging around with him more. You hang around with good guys, you become better. So you try to do that.
What impresses you most about Dillon? About AJ? Is there anything that stands out in his game that kinda impresses you?
He runs hard. He runs hard, he's tough. I like it.
First of all, I gotta ask you how's it being apart of this Lunch Pail Defense tradition that Bud Foster has established being its his last year? What's it like being apart of this tradition building the Lunch Pail Defense?
It's amazing. Like you said, the legacy and history it has here and just him himself all the legacy, how great he is. It's just amazing being apart of and carrying on that tradition and try to pass on the tradition to the next group whoever comes behind us. So it's just amazing being apart of such a rich, historic program like this.
As a player do you like sort of high profile openers rather than dipping your toe in the water to start out?
It doesn't really matter who we play. I'm just ready to play, honestly. Saturday, I mean it's a big opponent, but we're ready, so I'm just ready to see who it is. I'm not gonna say I recommend playing a high profile, I don't recommend. I don't really care. I'm just ready to go 1-0.
Where did you see Ryan [Willis] get better, obviously being named the starter last week y know he won the job. What do you think kind of put him over the top? And where have you seen him having improved since last year.
I'm not gonna say anything put him over the top, but he's became more of a leader of the offense. He's trying to be more vocal breaking the huddle down. Just like little things that he has. It just brings different things to the table so we're ready to go 1-0 like I'mma keep saying.
You were a guy that came in and made an impact as a true freshman. A little different obviously last year 'cause they needed guys to step up in your spot and play. Tayvion Robinson we see is number two on the depth chart going into this opener. What does it take for a freshman to sort of make an impact at your spot, and what has he done to sort of impress you guys? I know a lot of you, I think you even back on August 1st on media day mentioned the fact he opened a lot of eyes in 7-on-7s and offseason stuff you guys were doing.
Throughout the whole period of camp Tayvion [Robinson] just came and put his head down and went to work everyday and with this offense, with our receiver room, we hold each other accountable. So if you're not working hard we're gonna tell you. We didn't have to tell him to go hard, but we told him to keep his head on a swivel and stay focused cause he's still a freshman so don't get too comfortable. Just little things like that, but I always, I got him under my wing. I stay on a suite full of freshmen on campus. So he's a part of that room and I got Elijah Bowick in there too. So I keep my freshmen in common.
So you're the old dude all of a sudden.
Yeah it's kind of funny.
Alright Coach Fuente talked about you this offseason just working on your body and obviously you're a little more healthy this offseason then you were last offseason. Where do you feel like you're at with that? Do you feel good going into this season physically?
I feel good going into the season. Sorry I didn't mean to shake my head. Like I was trying to work on all the strength cause I couldn't block on the perimeter like at all last year, but I'm definitely ready to block just block get off tackles just the little things. I knew I had to work on myself like Coach has told me throughout the season since I've been here but I wasn't healthy. Like he said, but I was healthy this whole offseason so it was a great offseason for me. Thanks to [Ben] Hilgart.
Tre how do you feel you have grown as a receiver from freshman camp?
I've grown in different aspects because I've been more focused. Things that I look at in my game last year that I want to improve on going into this season so I don't make the same mistakes. Just like route running, that's one of the big things. My coach he's still on me every single day, on route running. So I'm trying to improve that daily by the days get better in every single aspect of the game. It's not like I'm just working on single things, but route running was definitely one of the most important ones.
I'm just gonna ask about you said you were below average. Would Coach say you're average?
I haven't really asked him. I don't wanna ask him, but we'll probably talk tomorrow and see what he has to say.
But you're not lacking for confidence. Would you set personal goals for yourself? What do you kind of see before the season, do you kind of sit down you and say this is something I want to accomplish?
I don't have personal goals. I just have goals for the team. I just want to win games that's all.
Tre do you get the ACC network?
Do I get it?
Yeah at your house.
Well I stay in the dorms. Nah, I don't get it. I don't watch TV much honestly. I used to watch TV like when I had time back when I was a kid, but after my junior in high school I stopped watching TV. I stopped watching TV unless it was like playoffs or the finals.
So like the Miami-Florida game, you didn't watch that?
I didn't watch it. I'll watch some football highlights and condensed games and stuff like that on YouTube, but I don't watch TV. I mean that might be weird that I don't watch TV, but I don't have the energy to just turn on my TV and look for a channel of what I want to watch. If I want to watch something I just wanna search it on YouTube. Simple as that.
In this offense from last year to this year, with a week to go before the season. What feels different are you guys, Hezekiah [Grimsley] said the receiver room is a little more disciplined, or you felt that way. What's sort of the general feeling in this offense compared to last year? Any differences that you can sense?
With the whole offense we're comfortable with all of our skill positions because we have depth. That's the most important thing. We have depth at every spot. Our tight ends, receivers, running backs, even quarterbacks if we gotta do anything. I'm not in control of that, but we got depth everywhere so we're gonna be great. That's just the way I see it.
On the subject of numbers, you guys voted Reggie Floyd to wear the number one. How big of an honor is that? Do you think it's kind of a cool tradition to start?
Yeah I think it's awesome. Tyrell [Smith] and Ish [Seisay] came up with a great idea. Like you guys have all seen the video, but I think it's great. There's no one more deserving on the team than Reggie, and I couldn't be more proud of him, for how he's just taken on his senior year, and I can't wait to see the type of year he has.
Alright, DaShawn Crawford coming in as a transfer. Winning that starting job at least initially alongside you. How do you feel about him? What have you seen from him and are you excited to play alongside him?
Yeah absolutely man. Dede is a good a kid, man. He's come a long way since he first got here. He's adapted. For one, he's just comfortable. He's friends with everyone. He's getting along with everyone. At first it kind of seemed like he was kind of I don't know how to put it. Uncomfortable a little bit kind of transitioning kind of across the country, but now he's in his position. He's playing well. He's very consistent, and I'm looking forward to see what he does too.
Those three freshmen. How quickly have they come along? I mean Coach [Foster] said they're all gonna have to play. Were you surprised how quickly they have kind of acclimated themselves and made some big physical transformations over the summer too?
Yeah absolutely. I mean those guys came in. They were ready to learn, ready to adapt, ready to just really fill in where they needed to be. Norell's [Pollard] a kid that has some serious ability once he just locks in, learns the defense more, becomes more comfortable he's gonna be a serious player. Mario [Kendricks] and [Josh] Fuga, big guys, strong they really came in and took in the role of following and kind of leading the way like guys like me, but I'm really excited about all three of them. Can't wait to see what they do and they've got a bright future here.
After a season where you struggled so much against the run. Obviously a huge point of emphasis to get that right this year. Do you like having sort of a measuring stick game to start the season against one of the top running backs in the country, or would you rather have a different scenario to start that. You don't get to pick the schedule.
Yeah absolutely. We're excited. Our first competition is Boston College. A very physical group, well coached, they got a big back, they're always good upfront. We're just looking forward to the challenge. It's kind of a gut check for us. Like you said, we weren't too good on the run game last year so what better opponent to start out than Boston College to see where were at.
You know defensive tackle is such a tough position. How many Charley Wiles, DaShawn Crawford he expects like 25-30 snaps. How many snaps do you expect, and how hard is it when you're the veteran of the group to come off that field when you know you're trying to be the anchor of that group.
Well I'm never gonna really know a specific number of how many I'm gonna get game to game. It's always good to keep a fresh rotation. Like you said, me kind of being that veteran guy. I'm more than likely gonna be getting more of the snaps than the rest of the guys, but I'm just gonna try to lead the way, do my part, and hopefully these young guys come along and do what they've been doing all camp.
I asked Dax about this earlier, Danielle Bartelstein moving on to another job. How big of a loss is that? How much did she do around here that nobody sees?
I miss Danielle. She's been nothing but absolutely amazing since the day I stepped foot here. My family absolutely loves her. They gave her a call and stuff to let her know how happy they are for her. She got a great opportunity and all of us are happy for her, but we're sad to see her go but I'm just so excited for her future, and I just can't wait to see all she does.
What was everything she did here? Can you like narrow it down, I know it's kind of a broad job.
Took care of us, made sure we had what we needed. Made sure that we knew where to be at all times, travel, information. She does all the hotels, all that kind of stuff. A lot of the behind the scenes. This place would not have been able to run and be successful without her. Lot of credit to Miss Danielle. Really gonna miss her.
Bud Foster lunch pail the defense. When I say that to you what does that mean to you?
It means everything. It means guys like Kam Chancellor and Darryl Tapp coming back to the school for games. It means guys that put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this program. Coach Foster started that tradition twenty-odd years ago and it's something that's gonna stay with this program forever, and he really built something that means more than just a symbol on the sideline. It's a point of pride. It's how you come to work every single day, and it really means everything to us and the defense. And with this being his last year, we need to uphold that LPD standard to the absolute highest amount.