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Nov. 18, 2010
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Like all seniors, Steven Friday of Virginia Tech realizes that the number of football games remaining in his college career is down to a precious few.
The Hokies have two games left in the regular season, and if they win one of them – at Miami this Saturday or home against Virginia next week – they are assured of a berth in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte on Dec. 4. After that will come a bowl game.
If you ask Friday what he wants to accomplish in the final four games of his career, his answer is succinct.
“Accomplish? I just want to win,” he said. “I don’t care how we win, I just want to be able to say in my senior year we won the ACC Championship. I think that would be a big thing for my story.”
His story has been one of perseverance, of overcoming doubt and disappointment, of continuing to work hard even when it appeared he might never make a significant contribution to Hokie football.
Friday, a defensive end, took a redshirt season in 2006 that was followed by three years of rarely playing. Finally, when an opportunity came this season, he was ready. He has started all 10 games and registered 52 tackles, 11 tackles for loss (10th in the ACC) and 5½ sacks (ninth in the ACC).
“It taught me that patience and hard work truly pay off at the end of the day,” Friday said. “It also taught me not to quit on anything I do, so it was an incredible learning experience for me.”
He didn’t think it would be this way, of course. He came to Virginia Tech as a defensive end-linebacker from Hampton, Va., who had to bulk up his 197-pound frame in the weight room. Still, he thought he would contribute right away.
“I came with the freshman big head – thinking you’re going to come in here and just start and play Division I football,” he said. “But it didn’t happen like that; it wasn’t meant for me.”
As the seasons went by and Friday seldom got on the field, he wondered about a lot of things. Maybe he wasn’t good enough. Maybe he should transfer and start over somewhere else. The stress was high, but his family helped him put things in perspective.
“They told me football is second,” Friday said. “Make sure you get your degree and then football will come. And that’s exactly what happened.
“I looked at it as if it’s meant to be, it’s going to happen. All I could do was prepare, work hard in the weight room and try to get bigger and faster, study more film and learn the game more so when it is my turn I’ll be able to play with everybody.
“My dad doesn’t quit when he starts something so I had to buckle down and help my game up so people would look at me and say ‘you know what, he can play at this level.’”
As Friday was doing the work in football, he was also doing it in the classroom. He earned a degree in Residential Property Management and is working on a second degree in Psychology. He played a little last year as a backup to Jason Worilds, an All-ACC defensive end.
When spring practice came this year, there was an opportunity for Friday to show what he could do. He watched film of Worilds and some other good Virginia Tech defensive ends through the years. He studied opponents. He hit the weight room.
“Every year you have to prove yourself so I had to prove myself so that (the coaching staff) could actually trust me,” he said. “Before I was inconsistent; I felt like I probably wasn’t taking it as seriously, being the backup guy, as I should like a starter does.”
It worked. Friday, now nearly 250 pounds, was a dominant player in the spring. He held his position in fall camp and started the season opener against Boise State.
But once again, things didn’t go according to plan. Virginia Tech dropped that game, then followed with a loss to FCS opponent James Madison. The Hokies were 0-2 and in danger of the season spiraling out of control.
“We basically just looked in each other’s eyes and said, ‘man, we’ve got to buckle down,’” Friday said. “We take great pride in the tradition here, so we told everybody to settle down. We just tried to get everybody on the same page and everybody focused and said we were going to win out from this point on.”
The Hokies have done just that, winning eight straight since their stumbling start. The defense, much younger than last season, has matured as the season has progressed. Friday believed that, as one of the older players, he had to help turn things around.
“I looked at it as I have to do more to help the team,” he said. “I’m a team player, plus a senior, so I put it upon myself to help get people ready and basically just do my part to help contribute to the wins from that point on.”
Friday said he is his own biggest critic and there is always room for improvement. Overall, though, he is pleased with the contributions he has made this season after four years of inactivity.
Coach Frank Beamer said Friday is one of the players who helped solidify the Hokies with his leadership.
“He doesn’t say very much but the way he plays certainly leads our football team,” Beamer said. “He’s been good – he’s athletic, he plays every snap and has been instrumental in keeping this football team together.”
Beamer credited Friday’s mental toughness and belief in himself as factors that carried him through the times when he didn’t figure into the team plans. Now he’s someone the Hokies depend upon heavily.
And they will again this week when they play at Miami, the only team in the Coastal Division that has a chance to catch them. Friday said the first order of business is stopping the running game, and after that it’s pressuring freshman quarterback Stephen Morris.
Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon knows exactly what to expect from Virginia Tech’s defense.
“One thing you always notice is they’ve got a lot of fifth-year seniors on that football team,” Shannon said, “so they’ve been in that system a long period of time and those guys really understand what they’re trying to get done. They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and … they stretch your offense as much as they can.”
If Friday’s dream comes true, the Hokies will not only clinch the Coastal Division title, they’ll win the ACC Championship Game. He was on the 2007 and 2008 teams that won championships and played in the Orange Bowl, but he didn’t play in either game, so he felt they really didn’t count.
“I want to participate in it,” he said.
That would be a fitting cap to Friday’s story, one he has shared with teammates in a similar situation.
“Any time I see somebody down or thinking about transferring, I tell them my career here hasn’t been (easy),” he said. “It was hard. The only thing you can do is work on your game, hit the weight room, study film. Every time a coach says something as far as technique, learn from that technique and try not to make the same mistake twice, I tell them that will pay off.”
In Friday’s case, then, the old platitude that all good things come to those who wait is true.
“I’m glad I stuck it out,” he said. “I got my degree and everything is going in a positive direction.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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