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Virginia Tech eager for second chance at Clemson

ACC Media Day Football

Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente (right) talks with players Cam Phillips (left) and Andrew Motuapuaka during the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte this summer. Phillips is among the best wide receivers in the nation.

CHARLOTTE — The laminated card with a maroon ribbon in the middle stays inside the rusty, dented Virginia Tech lunch pail. On that card are the names of the 32 people killed in the school's 2007 campus massacre.

The rest of the lunch pail's contents change every year.

"We'll put new goals in for whatever we have for the season — that'll be probably the first day we get to fall camp," Hokies linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka said. "Everyone signs (the team goals) and we put (the goals) in there. Then, when we win games at away places, we'll take (the opposing team's) turf and put it in there. If it's real turf, like it's hard to pull out, we'll just find something of theirs like a towel or a glove and put it in there. It gets pretty heavy at the end of the season."

Indeed, the lunch pail — a tangible tradition passed through the Hokies' defense to remind players of toughness and team ideals — packed on quite the pounds in 2016.

By the end of the season, Virginia Tech had won 10 games, dismantled rival Virginia, 52-10, and earned a date with Clemson in the ACC Championship game in Justin Fuente's first year as the program's head coach.

But the pail wasn't heavy enough.

A late-game rally against the Tigers in Orlando, Fla., fell short and therefore deprived the Hokies of accomplishing their conference title goal. In a game that already had College Football Playoff implications on the line for the Tigers, Virginia Tech nearly shocked the nation in a fourth-quarter showdown that Clemson eventually won. Seven months later, it still has Virginia Tech wanting revenge. And on Nov. 11 — when Clemson travels to Lane Stadium — that chance will finally come.

"(We're) definitely not (going to) wait until the last three minutes to try to do something. (We need to) just come out firing from the opening whistle and see what happens," Motuapuaka said. "I definitely think Lane is going to go wild that game. It'll definitely help us. When we went down to Orlando, their fans were crazy. You could hear that Clemson was in the house, their fans were wild. We'll see."

While most of the attention at ACC Kickoff naturally went to Clemson, Florida State and Louisville on Thursday, the Coastal Division teams on Friday seemed to take a back seat to the Atlantic behemoths.

But Virginia Tech — off to a commanding start in the post Frank Beamer era — is one to watch as the ACC only gets better and better.

The Hokies finished last season ranked No. 16 in the nation, having won every game at home except for a November loss to Georgia Tech. They knocked off Arkansas in the Belk Bowl despite being down 24 points at the half and hung right in with a Clemson team that was "poised to blow our doors off, too," in Fuente's own words.

As fall camps start to amp up and teams start to focus on season openers, the Hokies haven't allowed themselves to get too far ahead with the Clemson revenge talk yet — especially considering they have a quarterback battle of their own in the works. But soon the lunch pail will be emptied, then filled right back up with new goals.

And Clemson is on the Hokies' minds.

"I think I speak for, I think, the whole staff and the team when I say we'll be ready for them," wide receiver Cam Phillips said. "We're not going to take them lightly at all. They are the defending national champions, but I think it will be a great opportunity to show our growth in the season. I believe it's what, the fifth game of the season? So it'll be a nice test for us to see where we are."

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor