Football is a game of making tough decisions and adjustments, often on the fly. Head coach Justin Fuente announced at Monday’s press conference that sophomore Devon Hunter would likely redshirt this season.
“We’ve talked to Devon, and really feel like we need to continue to develop Devon,” Fuente said. “It’s looking more and more like he’s going to redshirt this year so we can continue to bring him along.”
This is the first known case of Virginia Tech using the new redshirt rule to its advantage, as Hunter has appeared in four games this season, keeping under the threshold to remain eligible to redshirt. In those four games, the Chesapeake native tallied eight tackles, one tackle for loss, and a sack while starting one game against Old Dominion.
All signs pointed to Hunter starting the season at the whip linebacker position following the dismissal of Mook Reynolds. Fuente even said during the ACC Kickoff that Hunter, “has worked like he’s a walk-on, which is exactly what you want.” However, when the depth chart was released before the Florida State game, Khalil Ladler had moved to whip and taken over the starting spot, largely because Hunter didn’t develop as quickly in pass coverage as expected.
It’s a decision i had to make for my future and family 💯 Ima just leave it at that.
— 7️⃣ Hunter (@devonhunter11) October 8, 2018
There have been rumblings that Hunter might move over to the offensive side of the ball to running back, where he excelled in high school. At Indian River High School, Hunter rushed for 1,223 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior at tailback. The sophomore possesses all the physical tools as a punishing athlete with a 6-foot, 225-pound frame, but Fuente intends to keep that frame on defense for now.
“No position change,” Fuente said. “He wants to play… his heart is on the defensive side of the ball. We want to continue to give him an opportunity to have success and come along. Certainly if he goes through this year redshirting we’ll look at everything in the spring and try to evaluate where he needs to be in the secondary. There’s been no other discussions about drastic changes I guess.”
There was an indication that Hunter might redshirt when Tyree Rodgers started at free safety in the place of Divine Deablo on Saturday, instead of moving Ladler to safety and starting Hunter at whip as the Hokies did against Old Dominion. After allowing a 56-yard completion to Notre Dame’s Chris Finke in the first quarter, Rodgers settled in during his first career start and tallied six tackles, including a few in open space.
“I was really proud of Tyree Rodgers and how he played, for his first real action against a team like Notre Dame,” Fuente said. “Certainly it wasn’t perfect, but he was competitive in there.”
The bigger concern, though, is the health of Deablo, who sat out Saturday with a hamstring injury. Deablo also missed the Old Dominion game with what he dubbed, “a small ankle injury.”
The Hokies are 0-2 in the games Deablo has missed and the defense has surrendered an average of 535 yards and 47 points, compared to an average of 306.7 yards and 11.3 points allowed when he’s in the lineup. Not to say that Deablo’s absence is the sole reason for the defensive lapses in the two losses, but he is undeniably an integral part of the defense.
“Divine has experience in age and size and speed and intelligence and toughness and all those things that you want in any player at any position,” Fuente said. “We’re trying everything we can to keep him healthy and ready to go. He wants to go. He is a tough kid. I feel for him because he’s done everything we’ve ever asked him to do essentially every day since he’s been here. I want him to have success so badly. This team wants him to have success. He’s a well-liked, popular member of our squad. He certainly plays a big role.”
So how does a team respond to a demoralizing loss against Notre Dame with so many missed opportunities? It was disappointing to Fuente to see the lack of execution, but also encouraging to see the chances that existed in the game.
“I told them part of me is furious and part of me is excited about what you guys can be if you continue to stay the course,” Fuente said. “They took coaching, which is easier said than done sometimes. They certainly all weren’t walking around with smiles on their faces, but they certainly weren’t in the dumps where we couldn’t get them to do anything. We’re all owning it and moving forward.”
The loss to Notre Dame was not an indictment on the rest of the season, as Virginia Tech is still 2-0 in the ACC, with a real chance to be 3-0 with three wins on the road when they visit North Carolina this Saturday. That being said, Fuente doesn’t want to acknowledge that the team is still in a good position in league play, instead turning the attention inward to his program.
“I heard quite a bit of chatter about we’re 2-0 in the league and all that sort of stuff,” Fuente said. “To me, that’s counterproductive to what we’re trying to get done here. We need to focus on our improvement and finding a way to get better and give ourselves a chance to win regardless of [whether it’s] a league game or non-league game. ‘We’re still 2-0 in the league’ deal implies that if we were to lose a game in the league then there’s nothing to play for, and that’s not true either. We have a young group here that needs to focus on their improvement. We need to do a great job as coaches to continue to demand that from them on a weekly basis.”
On Saturday night, Virginia Tech returns to Kenan Memorial Stadium, where the Hokies whooped North Carolina 34-3 in 2016. In fact, since Fuente has taken over, Virginia Tech has outscored the Tar Heels 93-10 in two meetings. The Hokies will be sure not to take any opponent lightly, especially in the wake of what happened three weeks ago in Norfolk.
“North Carolina is coming off a bye week, which adds a little more urgency for us in terms of getting ready to play against these guys,” Fuente said. “We’re getting ready to go play on the road against a team that keeps improving… when they take care of the football, they’re pretty prolific offensively.”
- Damon Hazelton was named ACC Co-Receiver of the Week, sharing the honor with NC State’s Kelvin Harmon. Hazelton tied a career high with 12 receptions for 131 yards. He also collected a receiving touchdown for the fifth consecutive game, tying a program record set by Isaiah Ford.
- Saturday’s game against North Carolina will be broadcasted on ESPNU as announced on Monday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.