Fuente urges right perspective for Hokies

Aug 14, 2017 - 4:16 PM Justin Fuente's successful opening season as Virginia Tech's head coach can be spun two ways.

There will be pundits who say Virginia Tech can't possibly repeat last season's success -- a 10-4 record, ACC Coastal Division championship and Belk Bowl win -- after losing so much talent in the offseason.

Other observers will assume last season was just a launching pad to bigger success for the Hokies, who were ranked 22nd in the preseason coaches' poll.

"I don't buy into the whole, 'We can't be good because guys aren't here,'" Fuente said. "Or, 'We should be good because guys are here.'

"I told my team when we were starting back after Christmas break, they've got a difficult job, because people are going to say two things about them. One, they're going to say that they can't have success because all the good players have left. And that's not true. We have this opportunity in front of us. It's up to us.

"And then the other half of the people are going to say you're going to have success because you had success last year. You've arrived. And that's not true either. It's right here in the middle. We're neither born winners or losers, but we are what we make ourselves. Every single day, let's go about building this thing forward."

The Hokies tied or broke 10 school offensive records last season, including for points (490), touchdowns (61) and total yards (6,223), but they must replace a group of players that accounted for most of that production.

Tech must replace its starting quarterback, Jerod Evans, its top wide receiver, Isaiah Ford, game-breaking tight end Bucky Hodges and versatile fullback Sam Rogers.

Much of the spotlight this preseason is on the quarterback battle among redshirt freshman Josh Jackson, freshman Hendon Hooker and junior college transfer A.J. Bush, but the Hokies also have critical battles at running back, wide receiver and along the offensive line.

"Regardless of what we lost, I still think we have a large nucleus of talent, especially on defense, and on the offensive side we have experience as well along with great coaching, which is very important," said wide receiver Cam Phillips.

"The senior leadership and the experience that we have in myself and (running back) Travon McMillian and (offensive lineman) Wyatt Teller, I think that can help us greatly to bring along some of these young guys."

Tech will have an elite-caliber defense, however, capable of keeping opponents at bay while the offense comes around.

Led by longtime coordinator Bud Foster, the Hokies' defense returns seven starters and a host of other players who saw critical action last season in reserve roles.

Tech is especially deep in the back seven, where it returns three starting linebackers, three big-play cornerbacks and a strong group of safeties led by Terrell Edmunds, who had a team-leading four interceptions last season.

"I think we're going to have a pretty thin margin for error," Fuente told reporters at the start of camp. "We're going to have to do some things really well. Execute on a fundamental level and a consistent basis in terms of taking care of the football, taking the football away.

"There are going to be some young guys in there mixed in with some very experienced, very good players. And I'm anxious to continue camp and get to see those young guys grow and develop and mold in there with some very talented older guys."

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: WR Cam Phillips -- Phillips is the most seasoned skill player on the roster following the departures of top wideout Isaiah Ford, tight end Bucky Hodges and jack-of-all-trades fullback Sam Rogers. The experienced Phillips caught 76 passes for 983 yards and five touchdowns last year and is on pace to break the school career records for receptions and receiving yards. He will help ease the transition of a new quarterback and an otherwise unproven cast of wide receivers.

BREAKOUT STAR: DT Tim Settle -- A much-ballyhooed recruit out of high school, the 6-foot-3, 335-pound redshirt sophomore spent his first couple of years in Blacksburg learning the ropes. Now is his time to star as a gap-plugging, disruptive defensive tackle, one of the biggest interior linemen to ever suit up for the Hokies. Settle had seven tackles for loss as a reserve last year. His contributions as a backup provided a welcome glimpse of what he could be as a starter. The Hokies will need Settle and junior Ricky Walker to fill the sizeable shoes of Woody Baron and Nigel Williams on a re-tooled defensive line that could use more depth.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: SS Devon Hunter -- The five-star freshman is arguably Virginia Tech's most touted recruit from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, aka "The 757," since quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Hunter may not crack the starting lineup right away -- he has competition for the strong safety spot from sophomore Reggie Floyd -- but if his credentials are any indication, he may force his way into the rotation sooner rather than later. Hunter was rated the No. 3 player in Virginia last year by ESPN and was selected to play in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

--CB Brandon Facyson has been limited this preseason after having surgery on his right wrist in the offseason. He ramped up his activity through the first couple of weeks of preseason practice, however, and has participated in non-contact drills while wearing a cast on his right forearm.

--WR Caleb Farley suffered a season-ending knee injury while doing non-contact drills on the first day of preseason practice. Farley is a true freshman who enrolled early and made the move from defensive back in the spring. He was expected to at least provide depth at a thin receiver position this season.

--OL Parker Osterloh has returned after sitting out spring practice with an ankle injury. He is battling with Braxton Pfaff and Kyle Chung for the open right guard spot.

--DE Houshun Gaines has been reinstated after missing spring ball because of an academic suspension. Gaines had five tackles as a reserve last year.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!