Sad claim to fame

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

Until yesterday, Ike Charlton was from the school that produced NFLers like Bruce Smith and Michael Vick.

It was a claim to fame the former Winnipeg Blue Bomber was proud to make.

That all changed in the space of two hours and a hail of gunfire yesterday.

From now on, Charlton's former college, Virginia Tech University, will be known for tragedy, rather than triumph. The school that set the bar, not for football, but for mass shootings.

IN SHOCK

"Everybody's in shock right now," Charlton told Sun Media from a hotel room in Detroit. "I've been getting phone calls all day from people I went to school with. And everybody knows I went to Virginia Tech, so I'm getting calls from everybody. Just to look at this stuff is crazy."

But Charlton couldn't take his eyes off the TV, and news of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

A CFL free agent who last week signed with the NFL's Lions, Charlton first heard about the killing spree from a Detroit teammate and fellow Hokies alumnus after a morning workout.

It wasn't long before he spoke to a friend who still goes to school at Virginia Tech. A friend who came a little too close to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"She was an engineering major, and she was on her way to that building," Charlton said, referring to Norris Hall, scene of most of the killings. "But she was running a little late, because she had something else to do. Luckily, she didn't go.

"Most of the people he shot in that building had to be engineering majors, because that's the engineering hall. It's sad because a lot of those kids ... they had bright futures ahead of them."

Charlton attended Virginia Tech from 1996-99, graduating with a degree in property management.

He can't imagine having been a student there this past year.

"They just had a bomb threat like, two weeks ago, or something like that," he said. "And in August of '06, a guy broke out of jail and killed somebody close to the campus, and that was the first day of school. So a lot of these freshmen, they're going through a rough year."

There aren't a lot of V-Tech alumni in the CFL. But old Hokies stick together, so Charlton was aware of one, safety Willie Pile, who signed with Toronto this past winter.

Like Charlton, Pile spent a good part of yesterday watching news reports and fielding phone calls.

"It's a terrible time for Virginia Tech and its alumni," Pile said. "It won't be remembered for the guys who've come out of there and done well in business or athletics. Now, just like Columbine (in Colorado), it's known as the school where the massacre occurred. I don't know how it'll affect recruiting. Because parents definitely look at that."

Pile's certainly will.

The 26-year-old has a younger brother who's being recruited by Virginia Tech.

"I don't know what he's thinking right now," the CFL newcomer said. "But I would imagine it raises some questions with him. It's random, and when it comes down to it football is still football. And you can't live in fear. But I would imagine it's a little damaging to the reputation of the school."

A reputation which, like that of any university, Canadian or American, takes years to build.

And just one morning to change, forever.


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