It’s an odd week for Virginia Tech football.
The Hokies are coming off a week where the team didn’t practice and most of the coaching staff spent the majority of their week away from the facility on recruiting trips. Virginia Tech doesn’t play this weekend either, and players have to deal with final exams.
Head Coach Justin Fuente said on Monday that the time off was much-needed for the players.
“They do deserve time off. It has been a long season, a long process and we work pretty hard around here, but they do deserve some time off to get refreshed, but also, we need to find a way to set our focus on winning the ballgame,” Fuente said. “I feel good about our guys’ approach to it.”
Getting through final exams, a week off and then settling back into a normal practice routine shouldn’t take too long, but it depends on who you ask. Isaiah Ford doesn’t see it as a problem.
“Football has always been my safe haven,” Ford said. “It’s where I escape to kind of get away from everything and just relax.”
“Sometimes it takes a day or two to get people’s focus narrowed back in, but it’s just from having a little bit of time off,” Conte said. “To be honest, I think the time off is necessary to give people’s body’s a chance to recover from the season. It usually takes one or two practices, but it’s not hard to pull people in to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Getting back into the rhythm isn’t any easier when you’re coming off of a disappointing loss. Just last week, Virginia Tech went to the wire with Clemson, a national title contender.
Andrew Motuapuaka said that he was still dealing with the loss until the first or second day of practice after the game. He believes that once the players make it through their finals, the team will coalesce and put all their efforts into bowl preparation.
“I think it’s been pretty tough, just altogether with guys moving on from the loss at Clemson,” Motuapuaka said. “I think once all the students leave, it’ll be easier for us to concentrate on what we’re really practicing for and getting 10 wins.”
This period is also an opportunity to give younger players a chance to get extra reps.
“We did it this weekend, carve out some time to get some reps for the young guys, carve out some time after practice for them to get work,” Fuente said. “We’ll eventually let them put the ball down and play a little bit, but I think there is a balance, in terms of preparing a team to win and also getting good work for young, developmental players that have been running plays off of cards for the better part of several months now.”
Fuente mentioned freshmen Phil Patterson and Emmanuel Belmar as players who have impressed this season, despite redshirting.
“Belmar looks good running around. He doesn’t know what he’s doing right now, but that’s because he’s been over there running plays off a card for so long,” Fuente said. “He’s continuing to develop his body and he moves around really well.”
Fuente said that his players would not practice Monday or Tuesday, instead focusing solely on the gameplan and watching film. Wednesday, the Hokies will begin their practice schedule.
Fuente has built his bowl practice routine around former boss and mentor Gary Patterson, the head coach at TCU. Fuente worked under Patterson from 2007-2011 and has named him as a large influence on his coaching philosophy.
“Almost everything that we do in our program, the seeds were planted with me with Coach Patterson,” Fuente said. “Through the years, time changes things and situations change things, but I liked the way we prepared.”
Ford quiet on possible declaration for NFL Draft
As the 2016 season draws to a close, multiple Virginia Tech players face big decisions on their future. The Hokies have at least two players who are garnering serious high-round consideration in next year’s NFL Draft — Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges.
Ford declined to comment on questions concerning his future a few weeks ago and sang the same tune on Monday, saying he hasn’t filed paperwork with the NFL College Advisory Committee.
“I haven’t done any of that,” Ford said. “I haven’t really thought about it. We still have one more game with these seniors.”
Fuente said that he meets with players who are in these types of situations, just to make sure their full focus is on the task at hand.
“I meet with a lot of our players about various subjects,” Fuente said. “The centerpiece behind all of our conversations is there’s a time and a place for everything. Right now, it’s the time and the place for us to prepare for Arkansas and send our seniors out the right way.”