Hokies move into next phase of prep for season

Photo courtesy of VT Athletics
Head coach Justin Fuente leads the Hokies through practice.

The Virginia Tech football team wrapped up fall training with a scrimmage and has moved on to the regular practice phase in preparation for its season opener against NC State on Sept. 12.

The Hokies took Monday off for the first day of classes on campus. They resumed practice Tuesday morning.

Head coach Justin Fuente met with several members of the media via Zoom Tuesday after practice and spent approximately 30 minutes answering questions. Here are some takeaways:

Tech’s staff continues to work on sorting out the running back situation as the Hokies attempt to replace last year’s leading rusher, Deshawn McClease. The roster features 10 tailbacks, including nine on scholarship, and Fuente said that – at the moment – Jalen Holston, Keshawn King and Khalil Herbert are probably ahead of the others. If Rutgers transfer Raheem Blackshear wins his NCAA appeal to become immediately eligible, he would join that trio.
“If you take Raheem out of it, trying to figure out his status, then you start to think about Jalen,

Keshawn and Herbert, who have been working in there,” Fuente said. “Marco [Lee, a junior college transfer] has gotten in there some. It’s basically the older guys – the guys that have played. The younger guys, the true freshmen we brought in, are doing a good job. I’m pleased with them, but they’re not quite as far along as those guys that have gotten some reps.”

Speaking of freshmen, Keonta Jenkins and Robert Wooten continue to play well after the first couple of weeks of practice. Jenkins adds depth in the secondary while Wooten does the same at defensive end.

“Keonta Jenkins is one on the defensive side that’s a younger player who’s shown a lot of promise and an ability to pick up things pretty quickly,” Fuente said. “Well see as we continue to go through it. Wooten has gotten a bunch of good work on the defensive side of the ball. He’s a little more developed guy. Those running backs [Jordan Brunson and Jalen Hampton] are physically developed and will need to be ready to do something.”

Another young player who continues to progress is defensive end Amaré Barno, who the staff moved from backer to defensive end the first week of August. Barno, who took a redshirt season in 2019 after transferring from a junior college, still needs to refine his technique, but between Barno and the arrival of Youngstown State transfer Justus Reed, the staff feels better about a defensive end position that also includes Emmanuel Belmar, Eli Adams and Jaylen Griffin.

“Amaré can really run,” Fuente said. “He continues to get better. It is a change for him. He’s working his way into learning the position. Justus obviously has played it for a long time. He’s a big, strong player. He has provided some maturity on the team. He’s a grown-up. I think both of them have a chance to be productive. Amaré’s got to focus on continuing to improve. Justus has got to continue to understand the scheme and what we’re teaching because that is a little bit different, but I’m optimistic about both of them.”

Fuente also received a question about the quarterback position, which hasn’t attracted as much attention during the preseason as in the past largely because of the emergence of Hendon Hooker last season. Hooker played in 11 games, completing 61% of his passes, with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and he probably stands as the frontrunner to start this season, though Fuente plans on keeping the competition open among four players.

“I’ve been pleased with all of them,” the head Hokie said. “You start with the young one in Knox [Kadum]. I think he’s made great improvement. He’s behind the older players, but physically he’s gotten much stronger and more confident in what’s going on.

“The three older guys in Braxton [Burmeister], Quincy [Patterson] and Hendon have made improvements. We’re splitting those things equally. We’ll start to narrow that stuff down. They all bring something to the table. You can see very clearly how you could build whatever you’re trying to do offensively around that person. Different strengths and weaknesses. I think they’ve made good strides toward improvement, and I’m excited about what they’ve put on film so far.”

Fuente was asked about the NCAA Division I Council’s decision last week to grant all fall sport athletes an additional year of eligibility regardless of whether those athletes play this upcoming

Season. It’s a free year for student-athletes, and in theory, all 20 of the seniors on Tech’s football roster could return for 2021. The decision also allows Fuente to play any true freshman – and

“It’s all hands on deck, basically,” Fuente said. “I’m not really positive how it’s going to be managed after the semester, with mid-term guys, graduates and guys that stay and don’t stay and the long-term ramifications of scholarships for high school players. Everyone’s getting it, not just your seniors. It’s pretty much a free year. You get to go play. In the short term, it’s pretty easy. In the long term, it’ll be interesting to see how we handle it.”

–Jimmy Robertson, VT Athletics

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