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Virginia Tech football is in the middle of an important bye week, but wide receiver Sean Savoy is dealing with things that transcend football.
Early Sunday morning, on Oct. 8, Omar Rogers was shot and killed after performing at a music show in Washington, D.C. Rogers is the older brother of Savoy, a freshman wide receiver for Virginia Tech. Rogers was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead after the shooting.
“It’s always tough when young people have to deal with very adult situations or tragedies,” said head coach Justin Fuente. “It’s really nice to know there’s a lot of people that aren’t in our football building, either players or coaches, that are also there for Sean. I think his teammates have been fantastic for him so far. The coaching staff is there for him.”
Virginia Tech is doing their best to support Savoy. Players have reached out to him throughout the time period since Rogers’ death, and are keeping in touch with him while he’s away. Players wrote personal notes to Savoy on Wednesday, letting him know that they are there for him.
“It’s a very difficult situation,” said cornerback Brandon Facyson. “It’s very unfortunate that happened. We’re a family here on the team, and when one of our brothers is hurting we all hurt. It’s our job to comfort him and help get him through this tough situation with him and his family.”
A fundraiser has been created in order to help the family. Rogers’ death leaves two boys, aged one and 3-years-old, without a father. The fundraiser aims to help pay for Rogers’ funeral service, and to create an educational fund for the two children. The fundraiser’s initial goal was to raise $10,000, but as of Wednesday afternoon, over $17,000 has been raised. The fundraiser will end on Tuesday, Oct. 17.
In terms of football, Virginia Tech is not rushing Savoy back. However, they will welcome him with open arms when he does return.
“I’m confident that Sean will handle his responsibilities, and then return back to his teammates and back to school, and be ready to move forward,” Fuente said.
Wide receivers coach Holmon Wiggins has dealt with this sort of personal tragedy before, and knows that Savoy needs support more than anything.
“What we don’t want to do is single him out,” Wiggins said. “Coming from my experience, the one thing that I didn’t want people to do is feel sorry for me. I want them to just kind of work with me. That’s the one thing we’re going to try to do with Sean is let him know that we’re here and anything he wants us to do, we’ll do that. But we’re not going to try to single anything out and make it a bigger thing than it is, because we know he’s already dealing with enough.”
Hokies focusing on development, recruiting during bye week
This bye week is critical for Virginia Tech. The Hokies are not only dealing with injuries at key positions, but are hoping to develop depth at thin areas. Because of that, Fuente changed things up for Tuesday’s practice.
Instead of running a normal practice, starters and key contributors were held out. Backups and reserve players repped the entire practice, not only giving key players rest, but giving younger players more opportunity.
“I usually try to evaluate it each season and make the best plan,” Fuente said. “I probably leaned more towards putting everybody out there and practicing, with an emphasis on the young guys. I just felt like with the extended camp this year, with some of our veteran players that have been multiyear starters, I just felt like giving them a day off and really focusing purely on everybody else — the guys that are either redshirting, or playing for us but are playing limited snaps. I felt like they need a full day to themselves.”
Fuente said that he saw good and bad on Tuesday, but that the players attacked the extra reps with the right mindset.
“They got tired quickly,” Fuente said. “It was a little warm out there, and it was a few more reps than they are used to getting. That was good for them, to be kind of snapped into reality a little bit, about what it takes to play multiple snaps. I think the thing I liked the most was they went out there and competed. They took advantage of it. They didn’t view it as punishment. It very easily could have been viewed as ‘Oh, Coach is being unduly harsh on the young guys or the new guys,’ and I did not want them to approach it like that. I wanted them to embrace the challenge of going out there and having their own practice, their own individual attention.”
Tuesday’s practice helped Virginia Tech get more receivers work, and Tech needs those guys to step up quickly. The Hokies were thin at that position coming into the season, and are even more thin now. Freshman Caleb Farley has missed the entirety of the season with a knee injury, redshirt freshman Phillip Patterson hasn’t played yet this season due to a knee injury and graduate transfer James Clark has missed Virginia Tech’s last three games. Redshirt junior CJ Carroll missed the Boston College game, and senior star Cam Phillips went down early with an injury. Carroll and Phillips’ status for North Carolina on Oct. 21 is up in the air.
“It puts some strain on some young players,” Fuente said. “They’ve got to feel the urgency. Not the pressure, but the urgency to go out there and perform. Everybody is dealing with those situations. I’m certainly not complaining about it, I’m absolutely not. There are a lot of people worse off, but that’s the challenge for us. How can we be as efficient as possible with the guys that we’ve got left in there, and get them to play well and try to play to their strengths, with still a young quarterback?”
Sean Savoy made an enormous impact vs. the Eagles on Saturday. Savoy finished the game with nine receptions for 139 yards, both career highs. Savoy also caught a touchdown pass, his third of the season.
“It was great to see him get out there and mature and grow up,” Wiggins said. “And we need him and a lot of those other guys to step up, because it is a marathon and not a sprint. We’ve got some older guys kind of getting some miles put on them, so we need the young guys to start to take the bull by the horns a little bit, and make a name for themselves and kind of keep up with the Joneses.”
Fortunately for Virginia Tech, one receiver outside of Savoy made a big step in the right direction. Sophomore Eric Kumah doubled his career reception total last Saturday, making four receptions for 53 yards. Each of those four receptions came in critical situations, and the growth is good for Virginia Tech.
“It definitely was a confidence boost,” Kumah said. “I feel like I’m getting more comfortable in my play style, my body and what I can and cannot do. It felt good last week to be able to go out there and show that I can do that to everyone, especially the coaches.”
For the rest of the younger receivers, Tuesday was yet another opportunity to showcase to the coaching staff they can be trustworthy and reliable players.
“It’s good to focus on some of these young guys and focus on some technique and kind of turn all of our effort toward those guys and invest in them a lot more than what we’ve done in the past, because over the course of a season, you can kind of get caught up in game-planning and the guys that are playing the majority of the time. And you can lose sight of that,” Wiggins said.
The bye week is important for the coaches as well. The assistants will leave town on Wednesday night to hit the recruiting trail for a couple of days, and Fuente, offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen and defensive coordinator Bud Foster will stay home. Those three will run Thursday’s practice, before leaving town Thursday night to recruit as well. The staff will trickle back into town late Friday and early Saturday, and will be off until Sunday for practice.