Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Believe in Bud

ReadIn here and here and here 4 decks.

MIAMI -- You trust him. That's the biggest thing about Bud Foster.

Virginia Tech's defensive coordinator has done more than earn the benefit of the doubt. He's erased the doubt.

When he says somebody will step in and do the job, you believe him.

When he says his reserves are ready, you listen.

This has already been a signature season for Foster. He took seven new starters heading into the year and somehow crafted a top-10 defense, a remarkable feat. But the tests keep coming -- this time, the loss of starters Brett Warren and Jason Worilds to injuries heading into Thursday's Orange Bowl.

Still, be honest. If you're the Hokies, which loss concerns you more heading into this Orange Bowl: The two starters out on defense or the one on offense? All three are significant players -- Tech's offensive line lost an experienced guard in Nick Marshman to eligibility woes -- but Foster's track record suggests the damage will be felt less on his side of the ball.

And Monday, when he addressed the media, Foster seemed as assured as ever.

"I have a lot of confidence in Barquell Rivers," Foster said, referring to Warren's replacement at linebacker. "Barquell has taken a lot of snaps in practice. I think he's had 28 snaps, to be exact, as far as defense. Now, he played in a lot of key roles in our special teams.

"But he's a guy I've got a lot of confidence in, and our players have a lot of confidence in him. He's going to do a great job."

And you believe him.

Foster gave a similar vote of confidence to Nekos Brown, the replacement for Worilds on the defensive line. Despite playing regularly in the rotation, Brown has only made one career start. Foster said the extra workload and pressure shouldn't be a problem for Brown.

And you believe him.

As Foster spoke at the podium, cornerback Macho Harris sat next to him, nodding his head. Harris will leave Tech as one of the program's most accomplished players ever, an All-American who ranks third on the school's career interceptions list.

But every time he was asked to talk about himself, Harris seemed to come back to the same theme.

"You know, the coaches do a great job of putting us in great position to make plays," Harris said. "Coach Foster does anyway. That's all I'm doing, doing what I'm coached to do."

More than anything else, that is what Foster has done: Created a belief system in that locker room, a trust factory that churns out disciples.

But the Hokies aren't the only ones who respect him. Opposing players often refer to him by name. "Any time you face a Bud Foster defense..." they'll say, then explain why they're concerned about their own hides.

That's a significant evolution. Really, how many college kids can name coordinators at other schools?

Foster is becoming his own brand now.

Where the Hokies were once known by outsiders primarily for their special teams and affable head coach, they're now defined by a savage, attacking defense and the goateed magician behind it.

"They're going to challenge us in ways we haven't been challenged this year," Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike said.

And Tech will need that to be true. Again.

In a game with a lot of questions -- Are the Hokies better prepared this time? Can their offense move the football on a solid Bearcats defense? -- Tech can't afford to have its most reliable piece disappear.

Odds are it won't.

"We've got to do a great job of defending the field against them," Foster said. "But at the same time, we're going to do what we do, and I like our match-ups."

And you trust him.

He's given you no reason not to.

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