Virginia Tech sorts out Sun Bowl logistics

Virginia Tech sorts through Sun Bowl logistics

EL PASO, Texas - Failing to prepare is preparing to fail -- it's a cheesy sports cliche, but especially true during college football's bowl season.

John Ballein, Virginia Tech's associate director of athletics for football operations, was in town this week -- ironing out the logistics with folks from the Sun Bowl, practice facilities and hotel.

ABC-7's Collin Carroll played in a pair of Orange Bowls and a Sugar Bowl during his stint as the Hokies' long snapper. And just because Carroll is out of Ballein's locker room, doesn't mean he's out of his hair.

"How often do you have players coming up to you and annoying you and bothering you and asking you dumb questions now that I'm gone?" Carroll asked Ballein.

"The last time it happened was yesterday," Ballein responded, "and it was you when I arrived in El Paso."

Old habits -- like old friends -- die hard. And after nearly 20 years as the Hokies' football-operations maestro, Ballein has a few of his own. This week he's the team's lone travel-planning diplomat. UCLA sent its own gang of eight.

"If anybody back at the school has questions about anything, I can answer it," Ballein said. "So they don't have to go through three, four, five, six, 12 people."

It's easy to get bogged down in the numbers. Virginia Tech will spend more than $1 million bringing the team's 240-person travel party to the Borderland.

"Training room, no matter what it is, we just pick it up and we move it," Ballein said.

Enter Victor Perales, the banquet manager at the Radisson Hotel El Paso Airport. He and Ballein put their heads together to make his hotel look more like an athletic department.

"Meeting space we have over by the pool?" Perales asked Ballein.

"Too small," Ballein replied.

That's Ballein's bowl-season bugaboo: How a hotel fashions a banquet hall into a makeshift locker room for the Hokies' roughly 120 players.

"Linebackers can go to another room?" Perales asked.

"I don't want to do that," Ballein responded.

Ballein said the Hokies will likely get dressed every day at the practice facility instead -- but even that location is up in the air.

"Burges is closer to the hotel property, and SAC is a little bit further out," Ballein said.

The headaches of bowl-week logistics predate Ballein. The school's very first bowl game was a showdown with Cincinnati in -- get this -- the 1947 Sun Bowl.

"Coach Beamer was three months old at the time," Ballein said.

The Hokies will leave Blacksburg, Va., for the Borderland the day after Christmas. Ballein said that just as players get giddy about new uniforms, the team is pumped to play in a new part of the country.

Full disclosure: Carroll asked Ballein how the punt and field-goal units have fared since he graduated. Ballein said the improvement has been "drastic."

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