The time for talk is over.
Virginia Tech football started their preseason camp on Thursday, as Head Coach Justin Fuente continues to prepare his team for their season opener vs. Liberty.
“My initial reaction was certainly better than our first practice in the spring,” Fuente said. “I liked the way our guys flew around. They seemed to have a decent retention level. Obviously, it is hard to tell anything in just helmets. You can tell that there are some guys out there that have spent some of their own free time trying to figure out what’s going on. It showed a little bit today. In a good way.”
Fuente and Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelsen are still installing the offense, and haven’t been able to work with the players on the offense since spring practices in April. That being said, Fuente believes his team is moving right along with the new scheme.
“I was optimistic that it (the team’s retention) would be pretty high. Obviously, it is pretty rough with the guys that weren’t here in the spring. Those guys are just drinking water through a firehose right now. I don’t know if I felt like that or if I just hoped. Walking off the field, I feel pretty good about us having a general understanding of what’s going on.”
One of those guys who wasn’t available this spring was cornerback Brandon Facyson, who had a minor knee operation that kept him out of practices. Facyson has battled injuries his entire career at Virginia Tech, but says he’s feeling 100 percent.
“It seems like I’m getting back to where I once was,” Facyson said. “It feels good.”
“It was kind of miserable for me, sitting out for most of the spring watching, so to be out there with everyone at full speed was really fun,” Ford said.
Ford says that the offseason conditioning program has put him in better shape. He’s gained 16 pounds and feels more athletic.
“I feel more explosive,” Ford said. “I feel fast actually. That’s the good thing. When they told me they wanted me to gain weight, I didn’t want to lose any speed or explosiveness or anything like that, and I gained it.”
Fuente said that having Ford on the field is almost like having another coach.
“He has been like that. He doesn’t need a lot of coaching when it comes to helping guys out. He is kind of naturally outgoing and like that. He might as well have had a whistle around his neck most of spring. He’s a sharp kid that picks it up quickly. He is not afraid to help those guys out.”
Ford is expected to contribute a lot at wide receiver, but he’ll need some of the players on the roster to help him out, along with two-year starter Cam Phillips. Ford thinks that Divine Deablo, Samuel Denmark and Eric Kumah are progressing the most, in large part to enrolling early.
“Seeing them here first, when they got straight out of high school to now, they’re getting comfortable in the offense and you can see them show nice glimpses and flashes of really nice things,” Ford said. “The more reps they get the more comfortable they’ll become.”
One player who did participate in full this spring was offensive guard Wyatt Teller, who says that this year’s offseason program has put the team in a really good position.
“It was a transition, but it was a good transition,” Teller said. “I feel that we all benefited and it really helps with the offense. I like the new strength and conditioning coach, Coach Hilgart, he’s the man. I have a lot of respect for him too.”
Teller, along with Jonathan McLaughlin, Eric Gallo and Augie Conte, all return from last season to form an experienced offensive line. Teller says that playing with these guys is easy compared to previous seasons.
“Being thrown [in], my freshman year, with a bunch of guys who were studs, I was the young buck,” Teller said. “It was different, but now, it’s like, we’re all upperclassmen, all tough guys and it’s really cool to have that trust.”
Of course, there is a starting spot available. Parker Osterloh and Yoshua Nijman are both fighting to start at tackle, opposite of McLaughlin. Teller says that both Osterloh and Nijman are having a great offseason.
“Yosh, just look at him. He’s a phenom,” Teller said. “He’s a great guy too. Parker, the guy is huge. He can move anybody. Those guys, they’re working their tails off to do it and I really hope the best for both of them.”
Fuente is expecting veteran guys, like Teller and Ford, to be leaders and help the young players develop as the preseason continues and he finishes installing his system.
“We will go basic installation for the first six (practices). Then we will take a day off. We will get into a little bit of down and distance in those first six. We will really work on first and third down and try and get everything going special teams wise. Obviously, we have to get ready to play games. We have to get some great situational work. Then we will really turn our attention to in-game scenarios on a daily basis after that. When we get through that phase, we will start to turn our attention to opponents and that sort of thing.”