Fuente talking about Blacksburg getting back to normal:
I think they wrote about 400 parking tickets out there today. I’m just happy that I was not one of them. They have no problem giving me a ticket if I’m not parked in the right spot, but I was not a victim today. There were a lot of those little sheets of paper on windshields today.
Fuente describing the last scrimmage, including live kicking:
Yeah, I was pleased; we did live kicking. We do it once a year in our last scrimmage before the season starts, which is usually about two weeks before the season, and you hold your breath, but it’s kind of a fun day for me because I get to coach the scout squad and Coach Shibest obviously coaches the other squad. We talk a little trash and have a good time and I was really proud of both sides, quite honestly. We don’t really call them a scout squad because we’ve had a bunch of guys play on my team and by the time we’re halfway into the season, [they’ll] be on the varsity team covering kicks and playing special teams. I thought it went well. I was really happy we got out of it without any injuries, first of all, but then we turned around and scrimmaged a little bit, did a little bit of situational work. When you’re in the last scrimmage before you play, you know you’ve got to get work in, but you’ve got to pull some of those guys out pretty quickly; the Chamarri Conners and Dax Hollifields. You got to get them out of there and get a bunch of work for the younger guys or the down the line guys.
Is Fuente satisfied with the work the team has been able to get in?
Well, it was much more normal, more productive than it was a year ago, I can say that. I really enjoyed this camp, this group. I don’t have the official stats on it but I feel like it was the warmest one we’ve had maybe since we’ve been here, which I think was good for us. Now we’re transitioning to the morning time where it’s a little bit cooler and we’ve got less than two weeks until we play. We got some good out of that heat and were pretty efficient. We got some young guys in there to take a good look at. We’ll have to do a great job continuing to bring them along as the season goes on and some veterans that performed well as well.
Fuente on how number changes have worked:
It’s a real pain in the bottom, is what it is, to be honest with you. The biggest thing is you cannot take the field with two players with the same number. I watched it cost a team a game several years ago. They were down to their third punt returner, they stopped a team late, they put the punt returner on, he had a duplicate number of somebody else on the field, the team that was punting got a first down, drove down the field and beat them. We take it really seriously. We have developed a little bit of a system for those guys. What messes it up is when you start with your young skill players and you give them all the low numbers. What we started doing was, like Tayvion Robinson has been in 83 for two years; we brought those guys in and put them in the high numbers and we go off our hard hat program, which certainly has something to do with lifting weights, but it’s got to do with accountability and leadership and some intangible things there. We just kind of peck them out. There’s a point total at the end of the spring and the highest point totals get opportunities to get the jersey of their choice, but I stepped in and just gave Chamarri [Conner] one. I said we’re not voting on it this year, I’m over that. Chamarri you’re number one, let’s move on.
Why was Chamarri the choice for number one?
A couple of years ago, the players wanted to do this deal where they vote. We’ve never worn one and number one was always reserved for the team; it’s team first. But they wanted to vote for it a couple years ago and they voted for Reggie Floyd. We had like four different votes throughout the year which was fine and Reggie wore one but I thought Chamarri deserved it for this reason: we knew he was a good player, knew he was a good worker, knew he was a good person, but he has really stepped forward from a leadership standpoint. He has not been a very vocal person in his career but now he’s stepped up and when he does speak, they certainly listen, so I felt like because of the development in his leadership that he deserved that opportunity.
How impressed is Fuente with the offensive line and will he continue to shuffle it around?
Yeah, we will move them around a little bit, but it’s pretty much time to get settled in and get ready to go. We did move some guys around just to get them some work in case it comes down the pike as the season goes on, but for the most part, we’ve got guys settled in. I love our first group. Of the top eight or nine offensive linemen, there’s seven or eight that have legitimate opportunities to be in the first group, so that’s a good thing, and then some young guys that have shown a lot that I don’t want to play with right now, but I’m really excited about what they’re going to be able to do. Jack Hollifield is going to be a really good offensive lineman here. He’s just kind of a natural center. He’s 280 pounds now and it didn’t take him long to get there so I’ve been really pleased with the way they’ve worked. Obviously, like everything else, I want us to stay healthy there, but those guys have settled in. We’ve got some experience in there, which makes you feel good.
Fuente on Brock Hoffman off the field:
Brock’s made a concerted effort to help other people and I think it’s very mature of him. I’m not sure that when I was his age I was all that concerned about other people, to be honest with you, when you’re a senior in college and you’re a starting offensive lineman at Virginia Tech and you’re a pretty good player. He’s kind of at that point where he’s not just doing it outside the building, he’s doing it in the building, too, and kind of using his power for good in our locker room. I walk by in the middle of the summer in the position meeting rooms and he’s got Jack Hollifield in there just coaching him like he’s a coach. That’s extended out into the community and he’s got a special family, and a lot of people have read about Brock’s mom and dad, and they’re great people that have done a great job with him. He’s kind of enjoying this ride here where he’s on the tail end of going to school and the tail end of his career and he wanted to take his extra time to help other people.
Fuente on the leadership of the team, specifically Jordan Williams:
When we assembled our leadership council, we had interesting conversations about it. I only put eleven people on there and I basically put one from every position, but two from the defensive line and two from the offensive line. There was probably 25 guys that had legitimate opportunities to be on it. I just didn’t want to work with that big a group, I wanted it to be a smaller group so that’s how we divided it up but that’s a good problem to have. Drake Deluliis deserves to be on it. If anybody sees anything, we’ve got our guys on the leadership council in their white helmets while everybody else is in maroon for now. I’ve been really pleased with the ownership that’s come along through the summertime pushing us through fall camp, and we’ve got a lot of guys that are high-character, high-motor guys, that are excited for the season and excited to take those leadership roles on.
Fuente on the numbers game and how the roster will shake out:
They didn’t really throw us much of a life raft. They basically said, ‘you better be at 85 next year and they’re not going to budge on that part of it.’ Everybody has another year of eligibility. I mean, we could have, we won’t, but everybody on this piece of paper in front of me could come back next year, except for the super seniors. That’s not going to happen, obviously, but it’s an interesting time to try and handle the numbers. We’re getting it on both ends too and I do believe they’ll do something with the hard cap 25, I think that’s down the pike, they’re going to do that here shortly, I think, to let us sign some more people because of the transfer portal and all that sort of stuff. Good luck figuring this deal out, it’s just a really difficult situation to manage the numbers.
Fuente on the Hokie Hi Rally:
There are so many events and so many things that we were deprived of, certainly games in Lane stadium with fans was one of them but a lot of little things, too, like the welcoming picnic for all the freshmen and events like this where we’re not up in the press box with the windows open so we’re in compliance. We’ve just missed out on a lot and it’s been nice to kind of soak those things in, to hear the band outside practicing when you go for a jog, to get some sense of what it’s going to be like. I know it’s going to be electric and probably be emotional. It’s been a while and it’s got a chance to be really special.
Fuente on the toughness of his team:
I think the challenge for our players is: are we a tough team? And I know a lot of people, when they hear that, think, ‘oh here we go, the football coach wants guys to bang their head into the locker and all that.’ No, no, no. What I’m talking about is: are we mentally, physically and emotionally tough? Can we handle ebbs and flows? Can we handle the ups and downs? Can we handle distractions? Can we handle the external world? Can we focus on our task every single day? I mean, practicing football is not the most fun thing in the world, it’s just not, and there’s no other sport where you do as much work for as little opportunities to actually play. That requires a tremendous amount of mental discipline to focus and prepare yourself to go play. Can we play at a level, whatever that level is, week in and week out? Are we tough enough mentally and emotionally to go do those things? That’s kind of been the challenge. What I’ve seen through fall camp encourages me. When their legs were gone, they were still pushing, they were still trying to go. They know that I’m going to take care of them when they get to that point, but they got to keep pushing.
Fuente on the team keeping intensity on defense during the entirety of games:
You got to be able to play more than eleven people, that’s the first thing. You’ve got to be able to shuffle guys in and out to keep them fresh so that they can continue to play and run to the ball and play with that same level of intensity. Your offense has a role in helping them out. In all honesty, it’s not a cut and dry thing, it’s a symbiotic relationship. The offense has got to help them out as well because it’s difficult to play defense, it’s hard. You’ve got to find a way to let them rest and relax and take some time off the clock and do those sorts of things while they get energized to play so you got to rotate guys through. You got to take that challenge as a whole program to help those guys out so they can play at a high level all the time.
Fuente’s thoughts on the running back room:
I feel really good about it. Jalen [Holston] has had a really good camp, he’s probably the all-around guy that understands everything the best. Raheem [Blackshear] is settled into being the tailback. I think we probably did him some injustice last year with no spring ball and fall camp the way it was. We just asked way too much from him and then in the first game, you hand it to Khalil six times for 180 yards and you’re like, ‘why would we do anything else?’ I’ve been really pleased with Raheem and his development. Keshawn King has had a very good camp. We remember him from two years ago and how explosive he was as a true freshman. We’ve been trying to push towards consistency. Adam Lechtenberg has done an incredible job with this young man. He’s just got to keep stacking days on top of each other but he’s had a very productive, very good camp. I feel really good about those guys right now. Our younger guys have been really good. Malachi Thomas has been the one that’s probably the furthest along as far as special teams and offense and running the ball and catching the ball and doing some of those things. It’s got me pretty excited.
Fuente on Malachi Thomas sticking out:
He’s just a ballplayer. He could walk over there and play on the defensive side of the ball. He just loves to play and he played both ways in high school. He was a really good baseball player. He just loves playing ball and I think he’s going to have a really good career here. We’re going to bring him along and see how it goes. Chance Black is the other young guy that’s up there that’s really explosive and really stands out to you and can really run and do a good job as well. I’ve been really pleased with that young group. Kenji’s had a good camp as well. Those three guys have some talent.
Is Fuente happy with the vertical game from the offense?
I am. I think we’ve got to continue to find ways to let Braxton [Burmeister] hold the ball and get a little farther down the field on early downs. Tayvion [Robinson] has looked as good as he’s ever looked throughout fall camp. Not having the offseason last year really hurt Tayvion if you think about it. As a freshman he comes in and plays a lot and then basically has no offseason and then everybody expects, me included, him to be all that much better his sophomore year, but he’s had no offseason and no development. Now he’s had it and he looks really good. We all want to get Jayden Payoute back out there and he was back out there today going and had a good practice and Tre Turner as well. It gets you pretty excited, we just got to continue to find ways to get Braxton schematically to be able to hold the ball and be able to push it down the field.
Will Cole Nelson be able to contribute this year?
Yeah, he’s going to play. Both those young ends I think are going to be really good. Stretch (Mattheus) Carroll is just not quite as developed physically, but he’s a longer player. Cole has had a really good camp, he’s a really smart player. He’s going to help us this year. I think the good thing about as it stands right now, and things could always change, there have been years where I knew we were going to have to play a newcomer, even if he was ready or not. I don’t feel that way now. With where we’re sitting right now, I don’t feel like we have to force any of them into action. I do feel like we’re going to use some of them, some on special teams and eventually as the season goes along they’ll play on offense and defense more. I don’t think we have to press them into playing before they’re ready, but [instead] playing as they’re needed and as they’re ready for which gets me pretty excited.
Getting back into Lane Stadium and the significance:
It’s going to be an interesting event because of our players’ feelings about the other team. I don’t know how many more things I really want to put on their plate. We’ll talk about how neat it’s going to be and that sort of stuff, but we’ll talk more about keeping our cool and making sure we’re a disciplined football team because this is real, this football game we’re about to kickoff.
How do you get the freshmen used to coming through that tunnel?
There’s nothing to get used to, they watch it on YouTube, I guess that’s the best you can do. But they didn’t even get to take an official visit to here, you know. They never even got to really come and let us treat them and they chose Virginia Tech. But we’ll talk about the emotions of the first game. They’ve never experienced it but they know it’s cool, they know that.
Goals for the transition to game week against UNC:
We’ve got a lot of situational work we’ve got to get covered on offense, defense, and special teams. We basically start every day with it. This is not a warm-up game, this is a game that you’ve got to double-dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s heading into it because of the magnitude of it. We’re heavy into situational work and then we’ll be heavy into dress rehearsal, that’ll basically be what we’ll be in. We’re still focusing on working with and against each other on offense and defense with a little bit of scout teams mixed in there. Then we’ll go into a couple days of dress rehearsal that’ll let their kids get their legs back and feeling good and then really hit the ground running next week.
Attitude towards the mock game this weekend:
I like it because I don’t want people thinking about the process on the week of the game. I want everybody to know exactly where they’re supposed to be, what they’re supposed to be doing, what they’re supposed to be wearing and how they’re supposed to be acting. We just walk them through it step-by-step and we don’t actually play a game, but we have a script, and we go out there in just helmets and we run through various scenarios from overtime to injuries to halftime, the whole nine yards, just to try and get guys ready and comfortable because I don’t want them to be worried about all that stuff. I want them thinking about performance.
Who will play Sam Howell on the Scout team?
We’re going to need somebody who can give a better picture than me, I can promise you that. Tahj Bullock has started to do that. He’ll do a great job with all of that. I take a lot of pride in taking over that scout team role and think that we’ve improved because of that. Most importantly, I really like it; being around the kids and getting to coach them and getting to show them what we’re going to go do. So, I’m looking forward to that getting kicked off as well.
Evaluation of Tahj Bullock:
I’d never been in the same room with Tahj before, before he came here, because of the pandemic. I’d never met him. I’d zoomed with him, but I’d never met him. So, when you’re about to walk in a room with the guy, the quarterback that you’ve signed, like you’re going to get one of two feelings: you’re going to walk in and he’s going to be five-seven and you’re going to go, ‘oh no,’ or you’re going to walk in and have him look like Tahj. This is a big man and he’s maybe the most grateful and courteous kid in our program, just a pleasure to be around. [He] can really throw the football, he’s really talented. He’s coming along and he’s got a lot of work to do with the speed of the game and what’s going on and all that sort of stuff but he’s perfectly capable. He just hasn’t had a lot of that growing up so I’m really excited about him and when you see him, you’ll know why. It’s pretty easy to pick him out.
How have you picked up momentum on the recruiting trail?
We got people here. Six years ago, we started building this new dining facility, this new dorm, this new meeting room, this new weight room, this new players lounge and they’re all almost done so we actually had things to show them. I think our recruiting staff, the additions we’ve made in our recruiting staff, which we have to continue to make, is paying dividends. I don’t know where our class is ranked, I’ve been told 14 or 15 or somewhere in there, which I don’t care, but I’ve been really pleased with what we’ve been able to do and where we can go once we’re able to get people here and show them what we’ve been up to.
Virginia Tech has held the Commonwealth Cup for 254 days. #Hokies
— Commonwealth Cup (@CommonwlthCup) August 24, 2021