Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tech lifer puts his passion on page in Hokie Football Annual

Chris Colston thinks Virginia Tech will finish 11-1 this year.

He predicts the Hokies will handle Georgia Tech on Monday night. They will outlast Florida State in Blacksburg. They will lose at Clemson but win the Coastal Division and go to the ACC title game. Colston also has a hunch that we'll all be raving about Michael Holmes and Jack Tyler by that point.

Add it all up, it's 11-1.

Why should you care what Chris Colston thinks? Because outside that locker room, there might not be anybody who knows that team better. Colston isn't just a Tech graduate; he's a Tech expert, a Tech historian.

A Tech lifer.

Much of what the 54-year-old Roanoke native knows about the Hokies can be found in his fabulous publication, the Hokie Football Annual. It's 128 pages of detailed position breakdowns, interviews with coaches and players, feature stories, and retrospectives.

It's $9.95. If you're a Tech fan, that is a steal. You'll love it.

But not everything Colston knows about the Hokies is in that self-published guide. He has written four books on Tech, including collaborating with Frank Beamer on his auto-biography. He was the longtime editor of the Hokie Huddler.

And like many of you, he lives for Saturdays at Lane Stadium.

"I'm a nut," Colston said of his game-day demeanor. "Because for years, I had to sit up there in the press box and be neutral. All those years when I was working for USA Today, I always tried to sneak down to the game as a fan. I said, 'Man, this is what I was missing.' The tailgating part of it and cheering from the stands, just being part of that throng."

Colston, who lives just outside Washington in Herndon, didn't rejoin the throng by choice. In December 2009, he was laid off from his job as an NBA writer for USA Today. He'd given 13 years to the company, both with the newspaper and Sports Weekly, so his severance payment was significant enough to give him some options.

One was to chase a long-postponed dream.

Colston, a 1976 Tech graduate and the son of Virginia High School League Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim (Colston) Carroll, had talked with friends about launching something like the Hokie Annual for years. Suddenly, he had the time and enough seed money to try it.

So he started his own publishing company (James Doctor Press), researched the annual and published its first edition in July 2010. The Tech bookstores were the only retailers that carried it.

"Nobody knew about it," Colston said. "There was no time for any advertising. Obviously, there's no way to sell it because it was a new product. We sold it for $20 a copy - a little high. But we sold some. I think we sold about 1,700 copies. After all was said and done, lost $5,000 on it."

But Colston kept at it, publishing a better version last year and breaking even. Sales of the third edition, released June 1, have already exceeded last year's sales.

"I can't do any better than that," Colston said. "I feel extremely good about what I was able to do. All of my experience though the years at Tech and what I learned at USA Today and my connections and my skills - it's all in that book."

And now comes the fun part: settling into his seat in Lane Stadium and seeing how close reality comes to expectations laid out in the annual.

Nobody can deny the passion he'll feel when Tech kicks off on Monday - even though his wife, Melanie, is a Virginia graduate.

"She's real good about it," Colston said with a laugh. "She's very supportive. Although she wasn't very happy when I bought the $120 Virginia Tech toilet seat on eBay."

Money well spent. Just like that first Hokie Annual.

The 2012 Hokie Football Annual is available at Barnes & Noble at Tanglewood Mall and local Stop-In Food Stores and online at

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