Things are quite different for Virginia Tech Wide Receivers Coach Holmon Wiggins this offseason.
A year ago, Wiggins was working with three experienced and talented receivers, two of whom are likely to be drafted by the NFL in a couple weeks. The other, Cam Phillips, has the potential to be a pro after his senior season.
Now, Virginia Tech returns just two receivers who caught more than three passes last season — Phillips and CJ Carroll.
“It’s kind of like the universe has flipped a little bit,” Wiggins said. “We had a lot of experience coming into last year, and now we’ve got a few guys with some experience, with Cam being the veteran of that group.”
The Hokies will have to rely on several younger receivers this season. Eric Kumah continues to be the name that comes up the most this offseason, after playing sparingly in his freshman season. Redshirt-freshman Phil Patterson and true-freshman Kalil Pimpleton also figure to be in the mix for playing time.
“We’re kind of going back to square one, teaching those the guys the techniques and the fundamentals of how to play the receiver spot. I think those guys are eager to showcase what they can do. Will we have three dynamic guys that we had last year? I don’t know, that’s yet to be seen. Hopefully we’ll be able to kind of fill those shoes. It may be by committee, it may be with three guys.”
Wide receiver depth is an issue that Wiggins and Head Coach Justin Fuente will have to solve rather quickly.
“I would stop short of saying depth,” Fuente said. “We’re just trying to find three guys to start.”
Patterson, who’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 180-pounds, nearly played last season. Wiggins said that the coaches nearly pulled his redshirt vs. North Carolina, when Isaiah Ford went down for a couple plays with an ankle injury.
“I think he benefited from a semester being in the weight room, a semester of kind of learning what to do,” Wiggins said.
Pimpleton’s size, or lack thereof, made him underrated by most teams and programs. His athleticism and ability to make plays in the open field has Virginia Tech excited about his potential as a receiver and as a returner on special teams.
“He’s a smart kid,” Wiggins said. “He loves ball. That’s the one thing when you talk about a kid with his measurables, you got to kind of have a chip on your shoulder and I think he plays with that. He’s smart, he’s tough and he is dynamic with the ball in his hands.”
Another receiver who had an opportunity to contribute this spring was Henri Murphy. Murphy played minor roles on special teams and as a receiver last season, but seems to have suffered an injury during spring practice. Wiggins wouldn’t go into detail of Murphy’s injury, but it sounds like he’ll miss some time.
“Before he got nicked up, he actually did a great job of basically soaking up a lot of the things we were throwing at him,” Wiggins said of Murphy. “I think last year helped him, playing a little bit. I think this spring, he kind of was looking forward to taking that next step. I kind of saw him inching towards that. Unfortunately, some things kind of out of his control happened, but I still feel comfortable about what he can do and where he was. I’m excited about his progress.”
Samuel Denmark could benefit from Murphy’s injury. Denmark came into the program with tons of potential, but redshirted last season and hasn’t been mentioned much by coaches or players.
“Right now, he’s given ample opportunity to go out and showcase what he can do,” Wiggins said of Denmark. “When he got here a year ago, we just felt like he was so far off from what we were trying to ask those guys to do, that he needed to learn, he needed to redshirt. Now, he’s showing what he can do. He’s actually playing a whole lot faster than what he came in as.”
Regardless of who steps up, Virginia Tech is far from having enough receivers to make the coaches feel comfortable.
“At Memphis, we rotated seven or eight guys,” Wiggins said. “Will we get to that point? I’m still trying to get to the point where we can trust a good four or five guys.”
Facyson confident in NFL decision, pleased with Farley’s transition
Virginia Tech is searching for starters at a couple of positions, but cornerback is not one of them. The Hokies have three entrenched players there in Brandon Facyson, Adonis Alexander and Greg Stroman. With Stroman sidelined for the spring, Facyson and Alexander have taken over the primary roles.
Of course, Facyson nearly left for the NFL.
“It was something me and my family had discussed for some time,” Facyson said. “Ultimately, I think I made the right decision to come back. It’s another year to perfect what I need to perfect and get this team… we’re all going to do great and do our roles to get this team to another ACC Championship and a National Championship. That’s our ultimate goal, but I think I made the right decision to come back.”
Now that he’s sticking around, he has to help mentor younger players to be ready to contribute. Tyree Rodgers redshirted last season, despite being in the two-deep at cornerback. Jovonn Quillen played last season on special teams and is moving from safety to cornerback this offseason. True-freshman Caleb Farley is playing cornerback for the first time in his career, after playing quarterback in high school.
“He’s definitely a fast guy,” Facyson said of Farley. “He came in here and everyone was impressed by his speed, his ability to transition in and out of breaks, things like that. Those things are natural for a corner, and I think he’s going to do well in this position.”
Fuente excited about two-year contract extension
Virginia Tech announced to much fanfare on Monday that Head Coach Justin Fuente had signed a contract extension through the 2023 season. The extension added two years to his previous deal, while also increasing the rate of his pay increases. Fuente said that Director of Athletics Whit Babcock and Deputy Athletics Director Desiree Reed-Francois brought up an extension after the season.
“It was certainly not something I was anticipating,” Fuente said. “We had a good talk about our program, about our coaching staff. I couldn’t be more proud of our staff here, and the fact that they’re all back, I think that speaks volumes. Many, if not all, had multiple opportunities to go somewhere else. It speaks to Virginia Tech, continuity, I think those are all good things. They approached me in our end of the year meeting, and we had a good conversation about what we were doing and where we were going.”
Fuente said that he also talked with Babcock and Reed-Francois about upgrades for the program, as well as a raise for his assistants, but he didn’t want to get into the details.
“Oh yeah, we talked about all that stuff,” Fuente said.
One thing is for sure, Fuente seemed excited to have the deal done.
“This is a special place. My wife and kids, they’re awfully happy here,” Fuente said. “I’m excited to get to work here every single day.”