It’s no big secret that Virginia Tech had just six scholarship seniors on the 2018 roster. As a result, the Hokies didn’t have as much leadership from the upperclassmen as they have in most years. Virginia Tech has even fewer scholarship seniors heading into 2019 – four – but the on-the-job leadership training that those players received last year should help them this season.
Two such players, senior rover Reggie Floyd and junior tight end Dalton Keene, represented Virginia Tech at the 2019 ACC Football Kickoff on Thursday. Both players insisted that they are ready to lead the Hokies to better days this year.
“Yeah, I would say so,” Floyd said when asked if he had to accept more leadership responsibility this season. “You have so many guys on the team that are young, and they are all looking up to those four people…everybody’s looking up to you, and that’s something you have to be prepared for.”
Keene doesn’t believe that age will factor into Virginia Tech’s team leadership, especially after serving as a de facto team leader as a true sophomore in 2018.
“Age isn’t something we look for in our leaders,” Keene said. “You could have a freshman come in who is just as good of a leader as a senior. Really it’s more about your personality type, your work ethic, stuff like that. Guys want someone to lead them who plays hard, shows up to workouts and works hard. I wouldn’t say age plays a big part of it.”
Seniors Floyd, Ryan Willis, Jovonn Quillen and Tyrell Smith will certainly fill a leadership role, but the majority of it will have to come from Virginia Tech’s junior class and below. Players such as Jarrod Hewitt, Rayshard Ashby, Emmanuel Belmar, and others will have to step up into those roles.
If you ask Keene and Floyd, so far, so good. Virginia Tech’s offseason has been night and day when compared to the offseason leading up to the 2018 season.
“A 180 degree difference,” Keene said when asked about the difference between the two offseasons.
“I would say this offseason we were way more urgent, that’s probably the best way that I could put it,” Keene said. “From day one we were ready to go, we were disappointed after last season, and we didn’t want that feeling again. From the first day of workouts, everyone was excited to be there, excited to get a fresh start. We had our sights set on Boston College. Everything was just urgent, getting ready in a hurry.”
Many Virginia Tech players have mentioned the team meeting that took place between the players and head coach Justin Fuente following the conclusion of the 2018 season. Unprompted, Floyd brought it up again on Thursday in Charlotte.
“We had a team meeting where it was just the players and Coach Fuente,” he said. “No strength coaches, none of that. We sat down, talked to Coach about what we felt about last season and what we could have fixed, Coach told us what he felt about us and what we needed to fix, and once we finished that and we got our break, the next morning, I’m going to say 6 AM, you could just tell by the way guys were lifting and the sprints, on the field and in the weight room was completely different.”
“It was a very big deal for us. That was the main focus. We just wanted to sit down with coach and let him know how we were feeling about everything that was going on. He sat down, he listened to everything we had to say, and he also showed us that he was listening by having things like more team activities, bonding, having your coach call you to check on you…that’s all we wanted. And they listened. And now you can see the difference in it.”
So far, the talk sounds good, but now the players and coaches have to walk the walk and get better on-field performance in 2019.
That starts in the secondary, where “DBU” didn’t live up to its usual hype after Virginia Tech lost Terrell Edmunds, Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson to the NFL, and Mook Reynolds and Adonis Alexander were part of last summer’s infamous streak of attrition. Overall, Tech finished No. 98 in total defense, receivers were running open all over the field, and the tackling was poor.
Safeties coach Tyrone Nix did not join the 2018 team until after spring practice, and he had mostly young players to work with. Since then, Nix departed for Ole Miss, and Justin Hamilton has taken over that role. This is Hamilton’s second season on the staff, he played in Bud Foster’s defense as a senior in college, and he’s had two spring practices and an entire season to get his feet wet, unlike Nix.
Floyd has seen a big difference since Hamilton took over, and the younger players have a season of experience under their belts.
“The energy on the field, hiding coverages, all of that is different now because we have somebody coaching us that played it, and who also knows how to disguise it, and also knows the ins and outs of it and every position, so that was a really big plus for us.”
That change, plus the famous team meeting, has Floyd feeling much more confident heading into his senior season. He feels that the offseason was much more productive, and the Hokies are in a better place going forward.
“It was back to normal, like my freshman year when we had all those older guys. It’s a great feeling to finally have that back again.”