Virginia Tech 4 Years Later: How Football and Community Made the Hokies Stronger

Justin CocchiolaCorrespondent IApril 16, 2011

BLACKSBURG, VA - SEPTEMBER 01:  Virginia Tech fans show their support for the Hokies and the 32 victims of April's campus shooting before the game against the East Carolina Pirates on September 1, 2007 at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Four years ago today, the nation watched as the largest mass shooting in American history took place on the college campus of Virginia Tech. The small community of Blacksburg, Virginia received unparalleled attention for all the wrong reasons, initially at least.

As a freshman walking to class that day through the strong winds and light snow that only Blacksburg could offer in the middle of April, a chorus of sirens rang ever so loudly throughout the campus. After a couple of minutes, I turned around and headed back to my dorm and turned on the news to see if there was any word about what was going on.

Initially, the number was two. Then it jumped to six. An hour later the number was over 20 for the number of people on a campus we all shared, that had lost their lives. It was surreal.  Obviously, everyone was in shock and unsure of what tomorrow had in store.

Through it all, Virginia Tech as a whole became a stronger entity. It's easy to point fingers at what was done wrong or what could have been done better, but this was an unprecedented event.

The semester basically came to a screeching halt after that day. Final exams became optional and the campus buzz was gone.

The one thing that many looked forward to after the tragedy was football. It would be the first major event bringing the Virginia Tech community together to take a step forward towards recovery.

ESPN's College Gameday came to town for the noon kickoff when the Hokies were hosting East Carolina. If anyone tells you that game didn't have a different feel, they probably have no affiliation with Virginia Tech.

Standing on the bleachers on the east side of Lane Stadium, a different buzz was felt throughout the stands. When Enter Sandman came on, the jumping began and then the Hokies finally took to Worsham field. When they burst out of the tunnel, it seemed the Hokie Nation had taken one of its first steps towards recovery.

It wasn't the best game the Hokies had ever played, but it was certainly one of the most memorable, important contests in the school's history. There are moments you'll never forget in your life. That was one of them for me and a number of other members of the Virginia Tech family.

Before April 16th, 2007, Virginia Tech was known by most throughout the nation for its football program and great academic record. But on April 16th, and the months that followed, Virginia Tech showed the nation that there is life after your darkest moment. The university didn't ignore the tragedy, but instead embraced it.

Setting up a memorial on the drill field, working to enhance security on campus and installing multiple community service events, like the Big Event, are all steps the Virginia Tech community has taken to show the world how a small community can grow after a tragic event.

It's been four years, and many of the students that were on campus that day have graduated or have traveled different paths. The Hokie Nation will never forget April 16th, the 32 that lost their lives, all of those that were injured. We will never forget the way the small community of Blacksburg, universities across the commonwealth of Virginia and the nation helped the university cope in its darkest hour.

April 16th will always be remembered as one of the worst tragedies in American history, but the events that followed are what made me, and so many others across the nation, proud to be a Hokie.