When offensive lineman Brock Hoffman announced that he would be transferring from Coastal Carolina to Virginia Tech, most assumed that it would be a slam dunk case for Hoffman being granted immediate eligibility.
The Statesville, North Carolina native would be about two hours from home at Blacksburg as opposed to the nearly four-hour drive to Coastal Carolina, allowing Hoffman easier access to care for his mother who recently had an acoustic neuroma (benign brain tumor) removed.
However, Hoffman announced on Wednesday evening that the NCAA has denied his medical family hardship waiver request. He will file an appeal and the signs are promising, but Hoffman still is unsure if he’ll be able to play in 2019.
— Brock (@BrockHoffman76) April 23, 2019
“I spoke with Brock and his mother last night,” head coach Justin Fuente said at Wednesday’s press conference. “They are understandably upset their request was denied. They still have, we still have an appeal left. Our administration is going to do everything we can to support him in that appeal. We understand there is a process that goes with this, we respect that process, we are trying to do everything we can to support Brock and his family.”
According to Hoffman’s tweet, his request was denied for two reasons. Blacksburg lies five miles outside of the required 100 mile radius from Hoffman’s house in Statesville. Also, the NCAA has apparently explained that Hoffman’s mother is improving despite “facial paralysis, hearing loss, and eye sight issues” according to Hoffman.
Many have pointed to quarterbacks Justin Fields and Tate Martell being approved for immediate eligibility as wrongs in the system, but it is important to note that they applied for different waivers (a general waiver, not medical hardship waiver) that allowed them to gain eligibility at Ohio State and Miami, respectively. Still, the frustration lies in the optics of those situations where a player is more willing to receive eligibility for a coaching change than for a sick family member.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you I was disappointed, for a lot of reasons,” Fuente said. “The first one that comes to mind is the way Brock and his family tried to handle this was really professional and above board. This wasn’t an issue of Brock being upset about playing time, or using a coaching change, or moving from center to guard, or any other issue other than a very private personal family matter. From the very beginning it was never about lawyering up or any of that sort of stuff, it was about him trying to get closer to his family as they dealt with some very serious issues. When you see a kid who tries to go about it as you perceive the right way for very real reasons and it doesn’t work out, it’s very disappointing.”
Hoffman started in 24 games over two seasons at Coastal Carolina, including becoming the first true freshman to start at center in the program’s history. As a sophomore, Hoffman demonstrated his versatility, moving to guard. Whether his appeal is accepted or denied, the offensive lineman will have two years of eligibility at Virginia Tech.
“What we can hold on to is that he has an appeal, and we can hope that through the appeal process that what many people view as a wrong can be righted and we can move forward,” Fuente said. “We are here to support Brock and his family. I think they are great people and I have really appreciated how they have been through this entire thing.
“I’m not involved with the appeal. That goes through our administration and goes through compliance.”
Despite not officially coming to campus until the end of May, Hoffman’s future teammates have already been reaching out and encouraging him along the way.
“We’re here for him,” linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “I feel bad for him with the circumstances he’s under. We just let him know that he’s in our prayers. Just trying to think about him. Hopefully this stuff gets handled in the way he wants it. I hope he knows that he’s in our thoughts and prayers. I’m sure he does. He talks to us all the time. I hope it all gets handled.”
Lecitus Smith, the Virginia Tech O-Line Crew, and the Running Game
Despite losing three seniors from last year’s unit in Kyle Chung, Yosuah Nijman, and Braxton Pfaff, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the young crop of talent on the offensive line. Throughout 2018, freshmen Christian Darrisaw and Silas Dzansi made their marks at left tackle and right tackle.
Another youngster, redshirt freshman Lecitus Smith made three starts after coming in as a tight end and redshirting in 2017. Now the 6-foot-3, 313-pound guard is anticipating a breakout season in 2019 on the heels of a fantastic spring. Part of that is contingent on Smith’s continued adjustment to the position.
“He continues to get better,” Fuente said. “He has talent, is a good athlete and is a big, strong young man that is still learning the nuances of the position and trusting it so that he can really cut loose. He cares, he wants to be right, and that sometimes slows him down because he wants to be perfect and do things the right way.
“Through repetition and time, I’m optimistic that his natural ability, explosiveness and athleticism combined with confidence in knowing exactly what to do. There’s a lot that goes into playing on the offensive line, and if you don’t believe me ask any line coach. They’ll tell you how hard it is. Combining that technique with the ability to cut it loose is what he’s getting towards.”
Smith agreed with Fuente’s assessment that he’s a perfectionist at times, which causes his mind to be a mental roadblock. For Smith, he’s focused on working through those obstacles and approaching every play with the same effort.
“When I’m not 100 percent sure, I slow my feet down and I’m not as aggressive as I should be or I could be,” Smith said. “I try to make sure I understand things more. When plays come and it’s not exactly right, I just try to flow through full speed. Even if I’m wrong, I try to go through the play aggressively and 100 percent full speed. Afterwards I ask coach [Vance] Vice to see what I did wrong or what can be corrected.”
The Hokies haven’t had a 1,000 yard rusher since Travon McMillian rushed for 1,042 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2015. In 2016, quarterback Jerod Evans was the Hokies’ leading rusher with 846 yards, and the team didn’t have anyone above 800 yards in 2017 or 2018. It’s caused some critics to question Virginia Tech’s rushing attack, a critique that doesn’t sit well with Smith.
“I take that to heart,” Smith said. “That has been something where you look over social media or you hear people talking about how much we can’t run the ball and we don’t have running backs. Them talking so bad about our run game and talking down on our run game, they don’t respect us as offensive lineman. That kind of hits in the heart. That’s why other guys like me and Silas and Christian Darrisaw, we try to be aggressive up there in that front line. Any play that’s called we try to go up there and dominate.”
Running back Jalen Holston, who’s in line to receive a bulk of carries after finally getting healthy during the offseason, has seen a big difference in the unit during the spring.
“I feel like they’ve gotten a lot better,” Holston said. “They’ve been opening up holes, finishing up blocks and in the pass protection game. I think they’ve made big improvements this spring.”
Following the spring game, it appeared redshirt senior Ryan Willis had a firm grasp on the position for QB1. By all indications, the bigger quarterback competition is between Quincy Patterson and Hendon Hooker for the backup. There’s also the unknown of whether Braxton Burmeister will be given immediate eligibility or not. However, Fuente wasn’t ready to crown Willis as the starter just yet.
“We aren’t even sure how many eligible guys we have in that room,” Fuente said. “[Willis] needs to take another step forward. This is his last opportunity. He is approaching graduation. His class load should be a little bit easier, and he should really be able to dive in and see how much progress he can make.”
Quotes of Note
Hezekiah Grimsley on the state of the locker room right now: “I don’t know what it was, I don’t know what sparked it, but it’s a whole different team now. It’s going to be competitive. On the field there’s fights, but in the locker room it’s a party like nothing ever happened. The energy and the connection we have now, it’s going to be special.”
Jalen Holston on if he ever considered entering his name into the transfer portal: “No, I make a commitment and I stick to that. My mom always taught me that. I’m a man of my word.”
Dax Hollifield on his failed attempt at the Benny’s pizza challenge: “I got to my fifth slice, I was about halfway through it… Next thing you know, it just starts coming up. I’m like, “Oh, man.” I just started taking a walk and breathing. Everybody is just chanting, ‘Eat more, eat more.’ I eat one more bite and everything starts coming up. I get disqualified then.
“I have a lot of respect for that challenge. I’m definitely going to try it again until I get it. I can promise you that. I’m going to train harder next time.”