After being hired as Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks coach in January 2020, Ryan Smith was eager to get on the field with new defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton and the rest of a revamped defensive staff. Unfortunately, that opportunity never came due to COVID-19, quarantines and the subsequent changes in daily life as we knew it.
Fast forward to March 2021. While COVID-19 is still a reality and vaccines are steadily being administered across the country, Smith and his fellow coaches are cautiously optimistic about the start of spring football, currently penciled in to begin in mid-March. Smith in particular is looking forward to his first spring on the field with his players.
According to Smith in a pre-spring interview, perhaps no Tech player is more eager to get back on the field than cornerback Jermaine Waller. Dubbed “a warrior” by both head coach Justin Fuente and Smith, Waller played sparingly in 2020 as he fought through a variety of injuries. Fuente has indicated that the veteran corner is a “full go” for spring and has been furiously working out to get ready.
“He might be the definition of self-motivated,” Smith said of Waller. “He’s going to show up every day and approach it like a professional. He’s going to get the job done and go above and beyond what he has to do.
“He’s developing as a leader,” Smith said of his cornerback. “I think you’re going to see a guy that’s hungry and ready to attack the 2021 season. He’s been crushing it.”
Smith also addressed recruiting the state.
“We’ve been locked in as a program,” he said. “Since day one when I got here, I knew that it was a major emphasis from Coach Fuente on down. I’m excited to work with J.C. (Price) with his knowledge of the state, his relationships up and down I-95, east on 64 to the 757, and in Richmond. He’s a rock star. He’s got a lot of relationships with a lot of coaches.
“Being able to tag team with him, with the emphasis we’re putting on the state of Virginia, we want to keep Virginia boys home,” Smith said. “We’re also evaluating guys who are a good fit for Virginia Tech. We’re trying to build this thing with good players who have high character.”
Another Tech assistant coach eager for his first spring as a position coach is Adam Lechtenberg, who was promoted to running backs coach in December 2019. Although he’s been at Tech since 2017, the 2020 season marked his first campaign in charge of his own position group. Thanks in large part to running back Khalil Herbert and Tech’s offensive front, the Hokies led the ACC in rushing by averaging 240.1 yards per game, the program’s best mark since 2000.
Despite the loss of Herbert to the NFL, Lechtenberg is enthusiastic about a talented and deep running back corps on the field this spring. Rreturnees like Jalen Holston, Raheem Blackshear and Keshawn King have all shown glimpses of their potential. Numerous young players are also competing for reps this spring.
“The biggest thing I want to have in my room is a competitive group,” Lechtenberg said. “They need to compete for everything, and right now we do have a lot of guys. This spring we’ll have to see who earns their roles and opportunities.”
Lechtenberg has served in several different capacities since his arrival at Tech. In 2021, he is adding offensive recruiting coordinator to his duties. The Nebraska native was asked about how some of his off-the-field roles have helped him become a better coach.
“One of the things that does is give you a little more of a global perspective,” Lechtenberg said. “Being involved in a number of different areas of an offense or a program has provided that for me. When I see a picture, I try to see the big picture. It’s not just about my guys and how they fit, it’s about everybody and how they can help make the team better.”
In an interview session, wide receiver Tayvion Robinson was asked about Tech’s punt return duties, a role he flourished in as a freshman, but still made a couple miscues fielding the ball last season.
“Mistakes happen and when it happened, I talked to my coaches, I watched film and I learned from it,” Robinson said. “All I can do from it is learn. I’m looking forward to the spring and getting as many reps as possible and getting that back under my belt.”
Defensive tackle Norell Pollard is eager to work with former Tech standout turned co-defensive line coach J.C. Price this spring.
“I feel like it’s going to be a great experience and opportunity,” Pollard said. “He’s a fired-up guy. You can tell that he loves being back here at his alma mater. I can’t wait to work with him in the spring.”
Tackle Luke Tenuta discussed having his father, Jon, on the defensive staff, as well as his anticipated move to left tackle this spring to fill the spot vacated by projected first-round NFL draft pick Christian Darrisaw.
“I think [having my dad on staff] is awesome. I’ll get to spend more time with him, and he’ll get to see me play. My mom’s moving down here, so I think it’s great.”
About his move to left tackle, he said, “I’m excited wherever they need me to play, right or left (tackle). I honestly like the left side with my feet better. Obviously, it’s the blind side for a right-handed quarterback so you have to make sure you’re not getting beat. But it’s really the same mindset as right tackle, your feet are just a little bit different.”