With a little under two weeks until the start of August camp, Virginia Tech is wrapping up their first offseason strength and conditioning program under Head Coach Justin Fuente and strength and conditioning coach Ben Hilgart.
Hilgart has redone the entire program, tailoring it to fit Fuente’s fast-paced offense.
“It’s definitely been a little different than Coach Gentry,” said senior offensive lineman Augie Conte. “It’s not necessarily harder, Coach Gentry was really tough, but it’s different. Football-specific, position-specific, were doing a lot more quick, up-tempo kind of stuff to simulate running plays on offense instead of just running. We’re basically trying to simulate as much of a drive and a football game as we can, just to get us ready for this no-huddle offense we’re going to be running in the fall.”
Hilgart, who has previously worked at New Mexico, Arizona State, Ohio State and UTEP, pushes the players but also takes the time to build a relationship with them in the weight room.
“He’s a guy you’re able to communicate with,” said senior defensive back Chuck Clark. “He’s very intense. He’s passionate with what he does. You can tell that. He’s got the music in there blaring while we’re working out. He’s going around and talking to guys, showing them different things and working with their technique while they’re lifting. Also, just talking to guys and getting to know them. He’s trying to get to know everyone and he’s a really intense guy. You can tell that for sure.”
“He definitely demands a lot out of us,” Conte said. “He’s very passionate about what he does. I think he loves what he does. He loves seeing guys work hard, seeing the benefits of working hard and seeing everything pay off. He’s a great guy and I love working hard for him. He’s a pretty intense guy and he expects a lot from us.”
The players believe the new conditioning program, which includes more reps with less rest, will benefit them more during the season.
“For the offense, it’s that fast pace that they need, but for us, on defense, it will help us when we’re playing teams that play up-tempo and at a fast pace,” Clark said. “It helps us a lot as well because we get that look everyday from them.”
Hilgart has split the team in three squads roughly based on position groups. For instance, Conte says his group primarily consists of offensive and defensive lineman, along with a couple of tight ends. Each group awards a player at the end of the week based upon their performance.
“At the beginning of the week, we have a word of the week,” Conte said. “The first week was ‘elite’, the next was ‘tradition’ and the third week was ‘sacrifice’. This week is ‘toughness’. We just have different words and at the end of each week, whoever represents that word gets a special lifting shirt for that day in workouts.”
Conte mentioned that some of the winners in his group include offensive linemen Parker Osterloh and senior Jonathan McLaughlin, and defensive tackles Ricky Walker and Tim Settle. Winners in other groups include H-back Sam Rogers, linebackers Raymon Minor and Jonathan Galante, and rover Terrell Edmunds.
Conte says he feels confident about his offensive line as August camp approaches, and that bringing four starters back should make them one of the better units offensively.
“When you’re learning a new offense, you want everyone to be on the same page with all of the calls and stuff and I think we’ve done a pretty good job with that,” Conte said. “It’s been a lot easier adjusting to the new offense simply because basically everyone has starting experience. It makes life a little bit easier when everyone knows what’s going on. It hasn’t been that big of an adjustment for the offensive line getting used to the new scheme, it definitely helps just because any experience you have is going to help.”
“The more experience you have playing with each other the better,” Conte said. “I know what Parker (Osterloh) is thinking when something is happening in front of us, I know what (Eric) Gallo is thinking when something happens. The more experience you have up there the better.”
Clark, who is the senior leader of the secondary, said that getting cornerback Adonis Alexander back after the Liberty game will help solidify the defensive backfield.
“I feel that every player in the unit is equally important,” Clark said. “From a starter, all the way down to a guy that just came in and walked on. Everybody is equally important because we all need each other to get better. Some of us may know things that some of us may not. We get different looks from different guys for different reasons. It’s very important to get him back and it’s important to have everyone out there.”
Neither senior is satisfied with their group’s standing, though. Conte says the offensive line needs to improve on their spring performance.
“I would like to see us be able to run the ball on a consistent basis,” Conte said. “As an offensive line, I would like to see us protect the passer on a consistent basis. We need to be better with our pass protection. We gave up a few sacks that we shouldn’t have in the spring. It comes with declaration of linebackers and staying on the same page. Obviously with Coach Foster’s defense, you’re sure to get a bunch of funny looks. I feel like if we can protect the passer on a consistent basis against Coach Foster’s defense and the personnel he’s got, I feel like we can do pretty much anything we want when it comes to playing other teams.”
Clark knows that there is a lot of inexperience around him. Alexander and Edmunds, as well as Mook Reynolds, have just one year of playing experience under their belts. Cornerback Brandon Facyson is the only player in the secondary, besides Clark, with a significant amount of playing time.
That said, Clark is confident in his unit and in Virginia Tech overall. He’s realistic, but thinks the Hokies can compete with the elite programs in the country and possibly win a championship.
“I would be selling myself short if I said anything less,” Clark said.
Conte is a little more reserved regarding Virginia Tech’s potential, saying it all depends how much his team wants it.
“To be honest, I think we’re as good as we want to be,” Conte said. “At some positions we’ve got some young guys who need to step up, but it really depends. I think we have a good group of seniors. Everyone is real mature and everyone knows that we need to come in and work everyday. One thing as a team, we need to try and pull people along and let these younger guys know they need to come in and work everyday and not just punch the clock. You need to come in and get something out of the practice and not just go through the motions. I definitely think we can be as good as we want to be, when it comes to the personnel we’ve got. We’ve got the coaches, we’ve got everything we need. It really depends on how well the seniors make sure everyone puts in the work and everybody is willing to give everything they got.”