Tech Talk Live Notes: Preparation For Florida State

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Justin Fuente Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente (Photo by Jon Fleming)

On a different feel in practice now that the first game is just a week away…

You can tell that there’s just a little different feel in the air.  It’s here.  We’re a week away.  Our players are excited, our coaches are excited, we’ve got to have a great week of preparation, but you can certainly tell that it’s a little bit different now.

On the experience at Sunday’s Fan Day…

Well, the first thing I think about is really how lucky we are to get a chance to work at a place that really values what our kids go through on a daily basis in terms of the work that they have to put in…it requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice, and it’s always nice, everybody always wants to feel wanted, and it’s good for our kids.  And we certainly enjoy it.  I feel like I’m lucky and blessed and the luckiest man alive to get a chance to work here.  But for our players to see that and feel that…football is maybe not as personal a game as maybe basketball, you can’t see their face, their faces are hidden, but for the fans to really get to see inside the helmet that these are really young people.  They may be 6-8, 330 pounds, but it’s a 19-year-old.  I think it makes it a little bit more personal.

On how the young players went through the experience of the mock game…

Well I was really pleased with them.  I try to go into great detail into what’s expected of them so that on game week they aren’t worried about all that.  But there is a certain way that we want to go about things, it’s very regimented, it’s the same every week.  I feel like it’s important to empower the older guys to help those young guys along.  It’s a mock game.  You’ve got to try and use your imagination a little bit.  You’ve got to try and put yourself in the moment so you can go through the basics that that’s just reactionary and you can just focus on playing the game.  I like the way our guys went about it. I thought they understood that, and I thought they welcomed it, quite honestly.  A chance for them to know what the heck is going on leading up to the game will make them feel better a week from now.

On how it’s time to play somebody else now…

I think emotionally that’s where everybody’s at.  They’re really excited to go play against somebody else.  It’s a little like sending your kids off to school or something.  You raise them up, and you train them, and you try and do the best job you can, but eventually you’ve got to cut them loose and they’ve got to go out on their own, and that’s what’s going to happen Monday.  We’ve got to let them loose and let them go.  We’ve tried to do some things in practice the last week to remove, for lack of a better term, to remove the coaches from practice so that they’re not standing there teaching.  The kids are kind of on their own already a little bit, and that’s going pretty well.  I do know that we still need the preparation time.  I know from an anxiety standpoint and an anxiousness standpoint that the kids are looking forward to playing.

On those who have stepped up and taken leadership positions besides the upperclassmen…

There’s been some guys that are going to play for the first time, that we’d love to tell them don’t worry about it, that we tap you on the shoulder in a couple of years and tell them “it’s your time.”  That’s just not where we’re at.  The fact of the matter is that you’ve got to be wise beyond your years, and be mature beyond your years, and we have had some of those guys kind of relishing that opportunity and be thankful for that and have some understanding of what it’s going to take to play at a high level at a young age.

On the kicking competition…

I feel pretty good.  We’ve got two competent guys that really worked hard in the offseason and really competed.  Brian Johnson and Jordan Stout.  It will be interesting to see how it all finally unfolds.  I feel that Jordan will probably handle the kickoff duties.  We’ll see about field goals.  I’m not 100% sure how that’s going to go, but they’ve both done a good job.  Sometimes you have a competition for a position and by default you pick somebody because neither one has done a very good job.  That’s not the case here.  We’ve had two guys really go out and prepare and train and perform under as much pressure as we can put them under in practice. 

On his comfort level with the punt returners…

The first rule of punt return is that we have to have the ball at the end of the play.  There’s so much that most people either don’t know or don’t think about at that position.  There’s 10 other guys blocking for him, and they’re not looking at the ball, so communication when a punt is short, communication when the ball hits the ground, doing a good job talking to those guys because they guys blocking are taking their keys from the returner.  Communication with those other people is incredibly important.  Along with catching the football and being able to return it.  Greg was fantastic.  He did everything.  He made good decisions, was a good communicator back there, and he was also a weapon.  CJ (Carroll) has done it in a game, and I feel really good about him back there.  Damon (Hazelton) is another guy that is not maybe a traditional body for a punt return, but it’s something that he’s really been anxious to go do.  He’s a big, strong guy with big, strong hands, and I feel good about him being back there.

On Oscar Bradburn…

He is the elder statesman now.  We have a freshman snapper and a new kicker, so he’s the guy that’s kind of been around the block a little bit.  It’s always good to have those guys a little bit staggered.  If you’ve got a young snapper, you want a punter that’s been through the wash a little bit.  If you’ve got a new punter, you want an older snapper.  He’s done a really good job. I’ve been really proud of him.  He’s fit in with the team, he loves living here, and obviously he’s performed on Saturdays.  We did some things in our punt team last year that we had never done before because our operation time was so good.  He deserves credit for that.  We had a fantastic snapper last year as well.  I think the hang time is going to be crucial.  We just have some different guys covering the punts.  Just think about the last couple years how many plays Terrell Edmunds made on the punt team.  Hopefully Jovonn Quillen and some other guys can fill those roles.  We really won a lot of our battles covering punts with speed.  We really just outran guys down the field.  We’ll sacrifice a few yards for really good hang time.  There is such a thing as outkicking your coverage.  You think about Greg’s long punt return against North Carolina, that’s what happened.  That was a booming kick, but there was nobody within 10 or 15 yards of Greg when he got the ball and the rest was history. 

On whether Fuente will defer most of the time if he wins the coin toss…

That’s probably what we’ll do.  I do believe that there are some times when we may look at going the other way, whether it be weather related…the Duke game is one that came to my mind most recently where the weather just turned awful at halftime, so that was something we talked about.

Vinny Mihota Virginia Tech
Vinny Mihota will be limited, but it’s not clear how much (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

On the limited availability of Vinny Mihota and playing multiple defenders against Florida State…

We’re going to have to play multiple people.  They are going to try and push the tempo.  The best thing you can do is slow them down on first down and put them in second and long.  Vinny is working hard and is cleared and is ready to play some.  I just don’t know that we can throw him out there for the whole game right now, but the good news is Jarrod Hewitt has had a fantastic offseason.  He’s transformed his body and done a really good job.  Xavier Burke continues to get better, and then we’ve got some good, young ends that have really had good camps that give us some needed depth over there. 

On whether it’s ideal to start the season against Florida State…

I look at it like this.  Once the decision’s been made, it’s up to us to get ready for it.  So let’s get ready to go.  Let’s embrace the challenge, let’s get our guys ready.  They talked about it for a long time, and there’s been a lot changed since then.  Obviously at Florida State, they’ve had some turnover there.  And with us, our teams looks different than maybe we thought it was going to look a year ago at this time.  But I’m a firm believer that when you can control everything you can control, it’s your turn now to go get prepared for it and meet the challenge head on.

On going up against Willie Taggart, whose career as a player and coach has mirrored Fuente’s…

Well it’s certainly interesting.  It’s like two magnets that keep trying to get apart and then get pulled back together.  When you think about how I ended up at Murray State, he was at Western Kentucky, and we ended up playing against each other.  I was at TCU, and he was at Stanford, and we happened to have a series together as assistant coaches.  And then we end up as head coaches in the American Conference playing together, and now we end up in the same league again.  It’s just odd.  Whether he was on the west coast or the east coast, we always ended up playing against each other.  I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him some at our conference meetings both in the American Conference and the ACC, and he’s done a fine job everywhere he’s been.  I’m happy for him, I’m proud of him, he’s obviously had success at the places he’s been.  And I enjoy competing against him quite honestly because I know his teams are tough and well-coached and talented, and we’ve always kind of enjoyed a spirited competition.

On whether Fuente will find himself watching the other games on Saturday and talking to his team about mistakes that were made in those games…

100%, absolutely.  There are going to be so many teaching points.  I was talking to the team in the preseason in mock game, and I was trying to stay awake and watch Wyoming and New Mexico State, I literally only watched five minutes of it and finally just went to sleep, but in that five minutes there were like two or three teaching points of things that guys had done wrong in the first game that cost their team.  So absolutely, I’m going to try to take in as many of those things [as I can], and we’re going to talk about them leading into the first game.  We talk about those things anyway, it’s just another way to highlight those things, especially the first game, there are just large chunks of yardage that can flip and flop during the football game.  It won’t be easy to sit around and wait, but at least we’ll have something to fill our time.

On FSU starting Deondre Francois as the starting quarterback…

Well, I’m not surprised by it.  I didn’t know how they were going to handle it, but from what I’ve seen and heard, we were not surprised.  I think he’s a really talented football player, and I’ve heard he’s got control of what they’re doing, and is a leader and all those sorts of things, so I’m not surprised at all.  I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player.  He missed last year with the injury.  It won’t change our preparation in terms of getting ready.  We kind of assumed that was going to be the guy all along.

On the heat and humidity at Florida State…

It’s something we have no control over.  Quite honestly, it just does not get very hot here.  Today was 86 degrees or whatever, and of course we weren’t practicing today.  We just don’t have much control over that.  It’s something that’s been on my mind ever since the game was announced.  How can we try to simulate those things, and we’ve tried our best, in a very safe way, obviously, through our training staff, to simulate that heat and that humidity.  The kids have done a good job with it.  Our hope is through our training in the summer and through our training in fall camp that we’ll be able to adapt and handle that.  You can’t start worrying about hydration right before the game.  It’s a week-long deal.  I once heard somebody say that giving a guy a glass of water after he’s cramping is like throwing him a life preserver after he’s already drowned.  It’s too late then.  You’ve got to do it all beforehand. 

On the guys who played against West Virginia last year who can help in a game like this…

Well I think so.  There’s just a level of anxiety that goes into the first couple of games.  I don’t know what it is, if you call it football shape or what, but there’s just something about it that it seems like in the first couple of games that your breath just gets sapped, you’re just so excited to play.  That eventually goes away for whatever reason, two or three games into the season.  You handle it better or whatever, I don’t know, I’m sure there are some scientists who can explain it to you.  But that’s the thing that we try to manage on special teams particularly early in the year, understanding that’s going to happen to some guys no matter what, even if they run all summer long.  There’s going to be a moment where the anxiety and the emotion of it all climbs up on them pretty quickly, and getting our guys to handle that I think is important.

Silas Dzansi D'Andre Plantin
Justin Fuente has been impressed with Silas Dzansi (60) and other young offensive linemen. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

On Silas Dzansi and Christian Darrisaw…

They’re just super-talented is what they are.  Silas, Darrisaw, and Lecitus Smith are three young guys that are really, really talented.  I think if they stay healthy and stay on this path, they will have really productive careers.  I’m excited about that part of it.  The other guy that we don’t really talk about because he never really speaks is Zachariah Hoyt.  He’s really improved.  He’s embraced his look…whatever that is…that long beard and that long hair.  I’m just telling you that he’s worked his way into giving himself a chance to be a really productive player.  But Silas and Christian…hips, feet, and some toughness and work ethic, I think they’ve got a chance to be really good.

On whether playing a team with a first-year coach causes him to reflect back to his first year and how VT’s program has changed…

Well it’s going to be interesting.  It’s interesting to see what their actual makeup was.  Ours was so different when we started, not just the pieces of the puzzle fitting, but just our makeup.  We had such great leadership and a really great group of guys that were really hungry to take Virginia Tech back to the top.  And we had experience.  It’s up to us as coaches to mold whatever it is we’re doing to our players.  We can recruit to a system, but you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got, like high school coaches.  What you have is what you’ve got to find a way to formulate into success.  If you don’t do that, then you’re short-changing your guys.  I think our staff has done a great job of that the last two years.  That will be the challenge moving forward, and as we continue to move and continue to recruit and fit the system we can continue to have it look the way we’d like to have it look. 

On the depth at wide receiver and Damon Hazelton…

He’s going to be excited to play, I know that.  He’s a guy that played as a true freshman and really used the redshirt year to benefit himself.  He continued to change his body, he got a lot stronger.  He’s a sharp guy anyway, but he’s mastered the offensive scheme.  I know he’s going to be excited to play.  That whole group is continuing to improve.  I have not been happy with their practice habits, quite honestly, since I’ve been here, and we’ve needed those guys to kind of embrace that, and they’re beginning to.  Guys like Sean [Savoy] and Hezekiah [Grimsley], and Phil Patterson has done a great job pushing through…Tre Turner and Eric Kumah.  We’re developing that mentality that we want.  It’s not quite where we need it to be in terms of our depth and our competition, but it’s getting better and I’m really pleased with the guys we’ve got right now.

On how the days stack up for the team between now and Monday’s game…

We have two Tuesdays this week.  We’ll have two Tuesday practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, which I know doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the only way I can wrap my mind around it.  They’ll be structed like a normal Tuesday practice.  Then we’ll take our pads off as we get closer to the game, we’ll have a good workout on Saturday morning, our Thursday preparation. Then Sunday we’ll travel, and then on Monday we’ll sit around the hotel do some walk throughs and that sort of stuff and get ready to play.  And then when the game is over, we have to immediately turn the page.  We’ll get in at 6 in the morning on Tuesday, and we’ve got to be ready to play Saturday.

On Deshawn McClease and Steven Peoples…

I’m really pleased with the work they’ve put in.  Deshawn has embraced not just the weight room, but a little bit more understanding of what you put into your body and understanding the nutritional part of that, to be the player that he wants to be.  I’ve been pleased with him through camp and the summer, he had a really good summer.  Same with Steven.  He’s just a bowling ball that is incredibly strong, almost freakishly strong.  Runs with great pad level.  He’s not choosy.  The first crease he finds, he is full bore sticking it in there.  Terius Wheatley and Jalen Holston have kind of been battling for that (third) spot.  I’ve been really pleased, not that I’ve been unhappy with Jalen, but Terius has continued to improve.  He’s going to bring us a little added dimension there. 

Whether his daughters have grasped the magnitude of how big his job is in a community this size…

You know, I don’t know.  I’ve never really asked them about it.  They just kind of think it’s interesting, or kind of weird a little bit…that anybody would want me to write on something of theirs.  I don’t think they would understand, because it’s just dad.  But there’s some understanding of what it is we do.  As they get older, to me they get to play a little more of a part in it, when they get old enough to behave themselves and sit still.  It’s kind of fun to have them along, and have people talk to them and that sort of stuff.  We try to do that as a staff.  I want our coaches’ kids to be around us as much as possible, because I want the players to see that as well. 

On what they did over the summer…

Pretty much everything you would want a child to do in the summertime, from going to camps to swimming to going to the lake, to visiting grandparents, I think when you live in a place like this and you get activities, just trying to stay busy.  Everything a kid should do in terms of being outside, going swimming, it’s what I remember as a child where I grew up, and I know Jenny spent her summers in a very similar way.  It’s kind of fun for them to go do.

On his choice to come to Virginia Tech, knowing he could create a more normal life than he could at some other places…

Absolutely.  To me, the sense of normalcy that I have with my day to day life is worth a ton to me.  When Jenny and I talked about what we think is important to us as a family and those sorts of things, being able to coach big time college football at a place that loves and supports it, but also having some sense of a normal life to raise our kids in, to me that’s hard to replace. 

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9 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I completely missed the recent Commonwealth Cup “anniversary.” 5,000+ consecutive days. Man, that’s a crazy number.

  2. I am more impressed with the coach every year. Whit absolutely hit it out the park on this hire!!!!! Tech is so fortunate and so are the Hokie fans.

  3. I love the last part. Fuente may get offered other jobs that pay more, but I really thinks he likes where he is at and it would be a tough decision for him to leave.

  4. ” I feel like I’m lucky and blessed and the luckiest man alive to get a chance to work here.” – That is what the Hokie Nation is all about. Good people, good area, and good football. Now let’s go beat the Seminoles!

  5. I’ve never heard him quite so positive about VT as a job and community – the totality of it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a coach seem so grateful to have a specific job. I think he took the spot here because of Whit and the potential of VT and now he’s starting to see that potential materialize – happy family, successful recruiting, and he feels he’s close to competing for championships.

    1. motivational tactic would be my guess. maybe some one took a play off here or there during practice and that’s coach’s way of publicly telling them to get with it. he did the same thing with JJ previously saying he needed to “fall in love with the process.” Sometime during camp more recently, he alluded to having made that comment and how JJ responded in a great way. I would not read too much into it personally.

      1. Yes & he said they’ve gotten better…it’s maturity. They only had Cam as a veteran to look to last year. Now with everyone having to step up they’re “getting it” now

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