Tech Talk Live Notes: Extra Time To Prepare For Old Dominion

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Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente was Monday’s guest on Tech Talk Live.

On what he’s been up to over the last week…

Well, not playing any football games.  We’ve been practicing, which we needed.  We’ve kind of taken the approach that things have happened outside of our control, so we’ve got to make the best of what we’ve got.  We changed last week from focusing on an opponent to focusing on ourselves and our own improvement, which we need.   We have a large number of inexperienced players that have played a lot in the first two games that needed the work in all three phases.  We did a lot of good vs. good, try to get some guys back feeling well, then focused on ourselves, and took a little break on the weekend and were back at it last night for a good workout.

On the weird schedule that has worked out early in the season…

Well I do think it can be a good thing for us.  When I originally looked at the schedule, I was a little bit concerned that we didn’t have a true bye week.  I’m happy that we have a little bit of extra time to prepare for Georgia Tech and the nuances that that game brings, but we didn’t have a week to solely work on ourselves.  The way it laid out, we didn’t have a true get better week.  So we just said ‘well heck somebody is looking out for us’ and we’ve got this week to go get better, but no I haven’t been in the kind of frenetic schedule that we’ve had so far with the condensed fall camp, a big, emotional game on the road,  then turn around play five days later, and then have a game cancelled, but it is what it is.  I learned a long time ago, you try to control the things that you can control, adapt to things you can’t control, and make the best of it.

On how to maintain intensity when a game gets cancelled…

It’s an interesting scenario, honestly.  We obviously knew there was a chance the game could be postponed or cancelled or whatever term you want to use, but we didn’t know for sure.  So, we needed to continue preparing, and we didn’t find out for sure until right before special teams meetings were supposed to start.  We’ve got a little bit of a later practice schedule this year because of some class conflicts, so our schedule is kind of backed up.  We found out right before that we were immediately switching modes from preparing for an opponent to preparing for ourselves.  I probably didn’t do a good enough job of getting them ready in just a drop of a hat.  We had a very average, lackluster workout in my opinion on Tuesday, but really responded on Wednesday and Thursday with better improvement and practice schedule.  The whole time you’re preparing for a game you’re not sure is going to get played, but the good news is we didn’t go out and practice for a game that wasn’t played.  We did find out in enough time to try to do our best to turn the page and focus on ourselves for three good solid days of work.

On being able to recruit this weekend…

That was another thing.  We had the schedule when it became apparent that we may or may not play.  We immediately started finding schedules.  Of course, the high school games were affected too, but many of them were moved to the middle of the week, so we just sent our guys out in the middle of the week instead to go see some guys play.  We were able to get most of them back for the weekend to enjoy a little bit of time off and get ready for the long haul.

On players from North Carolina, whose families may have been affected by Hurricane Florence…

We had twofold, some guys who were worried about home and then some parents who were uncertain about what the conditions were going to be here.  There was kind of two separate groups who you wanted to let know everything was going to be okay.  Just providing that support system to our players and their families and allowing them to communicate and understand what’s going on, so they can handle what they need to handle while also assuring some of the parents who are a little bit farther off, that we were okay here was part of it.  Our kids did a really good job of handling it and I think that we came out of it in good shape.

On players injured in the William & Mary game and how the cancellation may have helped with their recovery…

Well it definitely did, we could’ve been without a few of those guys in the game.  I don’t know exactly how it would’ve turned out, but getting a little time off has been beneficial to those guys and getting them back, ready to go, because we’re going to go on a haul now.  I think they’re going to come one right after another here barring any unforeseen circumstances and we’ve got to be ready to go.

On what he took from the rest of college football this weekend…

Well it’s part of what we started doing the last couple years, which I really liked.  It gives us a chance to talk to our team about situations, and we basically have everybody in our program on alert when they see a situation in an NFL game or a college game with poor clock management, a mistake, or a trick play, or something fancy.  They always text me, and then I get it all to our video guy, and we compile it all.  At the end of each week, on Friday as a team, we sit down there and walk through it and talk about it.  Sometimes it’s good examples, it’s a great job of getting out of bounds or whatever the millions of situations that come up in football. I think our guys kind of enjoy that.  It’s a little bit more of relaxed meetings, the day before the game.  We just kind of talk about those situations and there was no shortage of them this weekend.  It was kind of fun to sit there and watch some of those.  You had the Florida State one, before the half, where they got tackled in bounds and weren’t able to kick a field goal.  Then the one that everybody is talking about is the punt return with North Texas and Arkansas.  My understanding is that they told the officials before the game that they were going to do this and essentially they punted the ball and the returner caught it, he did not give a fair catch signal.  He stood there and kind of put his arms down and nobody tackled him, they never blew this whistle.  He just stood there, and then he took off down the sidelines and he scored, which is pretty nervy to stand there defenseless and hope that they don’t tackle you.  There was actually a returner for North Carolina, Switzer, who was a very good player that pulled that off, and we had video of when we were getting ready to play them.  We actually played them in the rain game.  Those are things that we’ve been talking about for years now because that’s such a crucial thing.  You’ve got to play to the whistle, nobody wants to go blast a guy that fair caught the ball, it’s a 15-yard penalty and everybody says you’re not a disciplined football team.  It’s kind of a tough situation to be in there.  You got to have some stones to stand in there and just hope that you don’t get hit.  In my opinion, if this becomes a trend, I think it’s something that needs to be addressed, we’re talking about player safety.  Everybody talks about playing to the echo of the whistle, but the whistle isn’t always blown.  They’re emphasizing the whistle less and less.  As coaches we don’t really like that, they just feel like when the play is over.  That’s one of those deals where guys are just standing there staring at each other and it could go either way.

On guys laying down in the endzone on punts, specifically in the TCU vs. Ohio State game…

I saw them run that a couple years ago against Oklahoma at home, and we actually had that run on us against Boise.  How it usually goes is, if the paint in the endzone matches the uniform, the “T” in Tech is white and you’re wearing white, they try and get in there to camouflage it even more.   They try and return it and throw it across and set up the wall.  They did that and I thought just watching it, it was an amazing play, the kid threw it all the way across the field, but he never got to get set.  The Ohio State guys were on him so fast because he got drilled when he threw the ball.  They were on him so fast, he was moving forward, and I really feel like he was moving forward and he threw it across and his momentum carried the ball forward and made it a forward pass.  If he had been able to set his feet I think he could have thrown it backwards, but he just didn’t have time. 

On teams using the same trick plays…

We all copy everybody else, ok?  We don’t have any original thoughts, we just steal everybody else’s stuff.  We actually keep a file of all that stuff, a video file of trick plays.  We have trick plays for years and fake punts and substitution deals, all of that stuff.  You keep a file and if you find a situation or you find a skill set, it doesn’t do any good to do a throw across the field kick return if you don’t have a returner who can throw.  If you have guys that match up those things, you pull them out of the closet, you throw them out on the field.

On heading to Norfolk to face ODU…

I think our guys are excited, and not just the guys from the 757 area.  Obviously there’s an element of that, and that’ll be special for them, but I think all of our guys are excited to play in our state on the road in a place that Virginia Tech hasn’t been in some time.  It’s something that our guys have looked forward to for a while now.  We had good energy last night, we’ll continue to have good energy, in my opinion, throughout the week as we prepare for ODU.  I just think it’s a neat deal, it’s kind of like taking the band on the road a little bit, like reaching out to a segment of your fanbase that has made the trip out here many times, the 4+ hour drive to come out to Blacksburg and support the Hokies.  It’s kind of neat for us to kind of return the favor and head down there and play in front of them.

On how Hokie fans travel, and how many will be there on Saturday…

We have a great fanbase that follows us everywhere, and this is a little bit shorter trip for them.  I don’t know how the ticket deal works out and all that, but I would imagine that the Hokie nation has gobbled up their share of those tickets.  I’m sure ODU will be well-represented as well.  It’s just kind of an exciting opportunity that we don’t get to do that often that we’re happy to be a part of.

On playing in a smaller environment like at ODU…

We’ve all but eliminated the whole workout at the other person’s stadium.  When we started at Memphis, we wanted to, but we played in so many NFL stadiums that half the time we would get there and they wouldn’t let us in.  We’d be standing outside looking in, wanting to go get our workout in.  We’re always so worried that people are going to be watching us and we can’t do anything anyway.  So we just walk around a little bit.  We get our workout in here.  Before we leave Friday, we’ll do the same.  There is some element to occasionally do it, I know we did it in the Battle of Bristol when we’re playing in a unique, completely unique environment. I think we did it at the ACC Championship Game, but that was out of necessity, not because I was dying to do it there.  We’ll just continue to keep our status quo with preparation.

On how Coach Bobby Wilder has built ODU’s program from scratch…

It’s really remarkable the job that he’s done.  It’s one thing to start a program, it’s another thing to start the program and continually, however many years it’s been, to take steps up in competition.  That’s the remarkable thing, to continue to move up.  I remember before we played them last year, I’ll get all the numbers wrong, maybe they’ve played 100 games in their history, or something like that, and their first game was against a team that nobody had ever heard of, and the 100th game was North Carolina.  To go that quickly and elevate up is really remarkable.  He’s done a great job.  It’s better now because they’re in a league, they’re playing games, they have conference games, but when you first start out and all you’re doing is practicing, I imagine that’s a very difficult situation to go through.

On ODU’s struggles this season, and the anticipation of bringing in a ranked team like Virginia Tech…

I think they just haven’t hit their stride yet.  When I watched them play, they have older players, they’ve got seniors on the defensive line that are really good players.  They’re kind of still figuring things out offensively.  When I say that, I don’t mean that they don’t have an identity, but that there are some young guys in key positions that are getting better.  I still think Steven Williams is going to be a really good player for them, he’s athletic, he can throw the ball.  We’re going to see the freshman tailback, Elijah Davis, I guess he goes by La-La now.  He rushed for a gazillion yards in high school, we really liked him.  He’s a big physical football player, I think he’s really coming into his own as a freshman.  Then, their kick returner Isaiah Harper is a fast guy.  He ran a kickoff back against North Carolina last year.  Their record is not indicative of what this team is going to be, I don’t want them to be that team on Saturday, but I think they’ve got a really bright future.  They’re going to keep coming and keep getting better and have a chance to do some damage later on this season.

On the schedule this week being a little off…

We’ll treat it like we always do with our first game, like how we treated our Florida State game and how we treat our bye week games. Anytime we have a little bit of extra time, we just bump everything up a day.  We practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of last week.  The guys got a lift in on Friday, they got Saturday off, and Sunday night was our Tuesday.  We had a good 24 period, all out practice, full pads, to prepare for the game.  Monday is their off day, tomorrow will be like a Wednesday practice for us.  We just get ahead, we actually have one extra practice without pads on to kind of fine tune everything on special teams and on offense and defense, which gives a chance to hopefully be a little more fresh by the time the game rolls around, but also maybe more in tune with what we’re doing and what our assignments are and what it takes.

On watching games of teams that the Hokies play down the road…

Well, I try not to ruin my Saturday by getting too into, this team looks great, or this team this.  I will say this when you ask me about that, the thing that sticks out in my mind is Boston College.  That looks like a mature, old, physical football team.  Their quarterback is playing well, they can run the ball, the tailback is humungous, and they’ve got some speed to match that on the outside with an older defensive line.  That one sticks out in my mind.  The rest of the time, I just tried to watch the games I was interested in and teams that maybe I knew somebody coaching.  I’m going to see those games anyway, like I’m going to get to see them on film, so I tried to take my Saturday and not be the coach, but just be the fan and enjoy it a little bit.

On Florida State’s early season struggles…

I’m surprised, I think everybody is.  I don’t really know, nor understand why they’re struggling the way that they have.  Their defense seems to be keeping them in ballgames.  They seem to not be able to get much going offensively. They’ve got some really good personnel over there.  Everybody seems to point at the offensive line, but I don’t know if one position group can be the reason for all of that.  It’s surprising to me, but also I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about it.

On Zachariah Hoyt’s progress snapping the ball and other things worked on in practice…

We took 10,000 snaps, I can promise you that, in an effort to rectify that situation.  We’ve worked diligently at that, I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ve left those things behind us and can handle the football the way we need to in order to be the team we want to be.  We had a list of things we needed to work on.  Obviously punts and punt returns, a bunch of drill work on kickoff and kickoff return.  Obviously got some good situational stuff, put the ball in the redzone and worked one offense, one defense, and some third down situations, worked some two-minute stuff.  We kind of just made a list of what we need to do so we can have good focus and good productive practice.

On whether he was surprised in his work with the defensive backs and kick coverage…

Nothing too big, I think it was good.  I think Nadir Thompson is somebody that can continue to improve and can help us on special teams.  He’s going to be a very good player down the road on the defensive side of the ball.  Maybe sooner rather than later, I shouldn’t say that he won’t help us on the defensive side this year, but I do think he’s made big strides from a little bit of game experience.  Dax Hollifield is another guy on the defensive side of the ball that continues to get better and understands what we’re trying to accomplish on special teams.  I think there are some defensive backs that are going to be covering kicks. As we go and play people that are better and can do those things, we need those guys to be fundamentally sound to give us a chance to cover those things.

On uptick in practice from young guys who got their first game experience…

I do think that they realize that there’s some opportunity there and the realization that we have gotten away with some things in all three phases of the game in the first two weeks that we won’t be able to continue to get away with.  There’s been an effort from the players to do a better job in those areas, and there’s also some renewed vigor, that I’m actually playing, I’m participating and playing a key role.  This isn’t a fantasy, this is ‘I’m in the middle of a season and we have a chance to go have an impact on the ball game.’

On ACC scheduling…

When we get together, the coaches just complain.  I’m kind of the newer group into the league, I wasn’t there for as long as Frank was.  For the beginning conversations, when the league came to what it is now, and how they determined all that stuff, I understand.  I still think the best way to do it is to play everybody in your division and half of the teams in the other division and rotate those every two years.  You play them home and away and then the other group comes on.  That being said, I totally understand the you play one team from the other division every year.  I understand why they’ve done it, I think there’s some good to that.  The unfortunate part is that rotating those other schools through one time a year wouldn’t be my first pick if I had to organize the whole deal, but also I understand there’s more in play than just my opinion.  There’s a handful that like to talk a lot and complain, and there’s a group that likes to get it over with.  I like to get it over with so we can move onto something else.

On whether he hears what the crowd says in hostile environments…

No, I do not hear what they’re yelling thank goodness.  There’s just too much going on.  First of all, I do wear the one-piece headset though, some people wear two, which you can’t hear anything.  I like to have one ear open to have a conversation with somebody next to me without having to take it off.  The whole crowd deal, you can tell when it is affecting the game, and you can tell the emotion involved and momentum and all of those kinds of things sure.  Trying to be in the moment and focus on what’s going on, you hear very little of that. 

On his Great Grandfather, the wrestler from Spain, the Spanish Red Devil…

My Great Grandfather, his name was Jack Fuente, lived in Spain.  When he was 16, he ran away from home, I don’t know why.  He was a stowaway on a ship and ended up in the Northeastern part of the United States, right around the time of the Great Depression, and he actually made it through the Great Depression as a professional wrestler.  We have some pictures of him, like a little promotional card, so it was real. I don’t know much about him, but I don’t think this was turnbuckles or fireworks, I think this was two guys in there trying to hurt each other.  We have a picture of him, he looks like he’s 165 pounds, and he’s getting ready to go after it.  Jack Fuente, the Spanish Red Devil, and he actually made it through the Great Depression that way.  Then he made it down towards the Oklahoma way.

On the WWE belt in his office…

Jerry the King Lawler.  He’s a big wrestling guy, he does more announcing now, but he had to deal with Andy Kaufman years ago.  He’s a Memphis legend and he lived kind of by us, down the street from us when we first started at Memphis.  Nobody really wanted to be associated with us, we were so awful, no friends, nothing.  I was on my way to work one day and I wrote him a note, just saying, ‘If you ever wanted to come by practice, we’d love to have you” and I just stuck it in his mailbox.  Not really stalking, maybe pseudo-stalking him, hoping he would come out and say hi.  I never really heard anything back, but we kind of got things rolling and one of the administrators at Memphis and I were talking and I told him the story.  He took it upon himself to reach out to him, and we won the conference championship and were getting ready to go to a bowl game and Jerry Lawler came to practice, which was really cool.  A lot of our players knew exactly who he was, even though he was a little bit older, because a lot of our players were from the region. He brought me out this big, heavy belt, it’s in my office, it’s the number one thing that gets talked about in my office, and I’ve got a lot of stuff in there.  It was a big, heavy WWE championship belt and he signed it and everything.  I only had a couple of T-Shirts for him, but he gave me the WWE championship belt, and it was really coo.

On his daughters’ Halloween costumes…

I’ve been informed, that it has begun.  Charlotte is good to go, I think she’s going with Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.  We’ve got red shoes and a little stuffed Toto, the whole nine yards.  I don’t know what the two big ones are doing yet, it’s still up in the air.

On his daughters trick-or-treating in a golf cart…

They tell me it’s fun, I’m usually at work.  How spoiled are you to get to ride in a golf cart to go trick-or-treating? Like walk to the next house.  It’s a pretty neat deal in the neighborhood, the people are awesome, and the people here have been great.  It’s come that time of year, that’s a fun time, big time memories.

On whether he saw his wife play volleyball…

No, I saw her coach, I never saw her play.  She was a little younger than me, we weren’t dating when she was a player.  I did see her coach, she coached her sister, our seasons were at the same time, but I’ve heard she was competitive as a player.

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7 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. It one of Coach’s daughters still needs a Halloween costume, they should get her a wrestling singlet, some red devil hornes and a red cape like Jack Black had in Nacho Libre so she can go as her grandfather, Jack Fuente, the Spanish Red Devil.

  2. This is a fine quality extensive interview of our coach. I feel as if I know a little bit about his personality and adult life. Kudos to Jake- u have a future in writing.

    Also, I think it is very positive that coach took the time to respond to so many questions…TSL must be gaining ground on their relationship with the athletic department.

  3. “It’s surprising to me, but also I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about it.”

    I really enjoyed this quote since Fuente was rumored to be an early target in the FSU coaching process.

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