On Wednesday, Virginia Tech head football coach Justin Fuente met with the media, for the first time since he was linked with the open head coaching job at Baylor University.
Three weeks ago, Fuente and Baylor engaged in discussions about the Bears’ head coaching opening. Later, Fuente decided to return to Virginia Tech by announcing it with a simple tweet showcasing the entire Hokies coaching staff together on January 16:
2020 – Let’s go! pic.twitter.com/hSE2uNR2LB
— Justin Fuente (@CoachFuente) January 16, 2020
Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock spoke with select reporters later that day to shed some light on the process, but Wednesday’s National Signing Day marked the first time Fuente addressed the media since those talks with Baylor.
“In my eight going on nine years, I’ve talked to exactly two schools – Virginia Tech and Baylor – and do I love that it became incredibly public? No, but do I understand that part of it? I do,” Fuente said. “You know, I get it. I had a meeting with our team and just told them that. I think we have a great plan here moving forward. We had a conversation, and the next day I showed up to work and went to work. I haven’t looked back since, so I’m really excited about what we have and what we’ve built.
“You look around and see what we’re building, not just bricks and mortar, but as a program and staff-wise, I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a little bit of rejuvenation. It feels a little bit like your first year. And the plan that we’ve got staffing-wise moving forward, I’m excited about. That’s kind of how I addressed it with the guys.”
Some in the fanbase might still be rubbed the wrong way by Fuente’s escapade, but he genuinely seemed eager for the future with the Hokies. The question still remains, did Fuente ever receive an offer from Baylor?
“You’ll never hear me talk about that,” Fuente said. “I’m just not going down that road.”
The Justin Fuente-Transfer Portal Controversy
The entire 24-minute press conference from Fuente mostly went without incident. He was upbeat and wasn’t snippy at any reporter.
However, one of his comments on the transfer portal sparked controversy after the fact. Here’s the full quote in its entirety after one reporter asked if any of the players who entered the portal had returned yet.
“No, we’re not doing that,” Fuente said. “We talked about that. We talked about it as a team. We talked about Hendon [Hooker] and Deshawn [McClease] last year, and how that was me not doing a job educating them. We’ll take all of them on a case by case basis, but we’re moving forward.”
Immediately following the press conference, Fuente received backlash for the comment. National outlets ran headlines marked with criticism, including an ESPN article which read, “Justin Fuente: Hokies in transfer portal will not be allowed to return” and featured a segment on “Get Up” where a panel derided the comments.
What exactly Fuente meant by those comments is up for debate as the “case by case basis” wasn’t emphasized in the early reports, but a previous quote could clear up some understanding as well.
With the lack of depth at wide receiver, Fuente was questioned if he’d look for graduate transfer to fill the holes that were left by Damon Hazelton, Phil Patterson, and Jacoby Pinckney, who all decided to transfer. Here was his response:
“We don’t have a lot of room to play with in terms of the 85, but we’ll see moving forward,” Fuente said. “I like the guys. We’ve got some young guys that I think have got some talent, that continue to work hard that I think have a chance. Just gotta keep coaching them up.”
It sounds like there is not much wiggle room in terms of the 85 scholarship players that the Hokies hold on their roster. Tech Sideline’s Chris Coleman counted 81 players on scholarship after the transfer portal announcements in a TSL Pass article, so that could hint as to why Justin Fuente would be cautious to accept players back. Either way, we’ll leave you to interpret this controversy as you choose.
National Signing Day
The February National Signing Day doesn’t hold the same glitz and glamor that it once held with most of the players choosing to sign in the early signing period. However, Virginia Tech did still add two players on National Signing Day to move its total to 17 players (including 15 high school and JUCO players and two transfers) in the class.
Running back Raheem Blackshear comes as a transfer from Rutgers University, where he compiled 912 rushing yards and 810 receiving yards over an abbreviated three seasons. Blackshear, who has been working out with the team since the start of the semester, will not be immediately eligible and will apply for a waiver with two years of eligibility remaining.
Listed as a running back, the 5-foot-9, 192-pound speedster could make his presence known in the slot or in a scatback type role to get him in open space.
“He’s a highly intelligent, versatile player, could’ve really gone anywhere he wanted and chose to come here and be a part of what we’ve got going on,” Fuente said. “He will meet in the running back room. He is a running back that is versatile enough to help us outside, and that’s where we’ll start with it. That’s what we’ve talked to him about and the rest we’ll kind of play by ear.”
The other player the Hokies added on Wednesday was wide receiver Dallan Wright. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound wideout caught 87 passes for 1,508 yards and 25 touchdowns in his senior season, while also excelling in basketball and track & field over his high school career.
With Wright not bursting onto the scene in the football capacity until his senior season, it caused him to be overlooked in the recruiting process.
“One of the drawbacks of recruiting the way it is now, is I think it devalues kids’ senior [season] and this is a kid that’s a three-sport athlete – triple jumper, basketball player, football player,” Fuente said. “Probably as a young person wondered about his identity. Was he going to be a basketball player? Probably as a younger player leaned more towards basketball. And then football wise, I’m sure he had some other good players with him, but he threw his team on his back on their way to the state championship. Incredibly productive and competitive young man that came onto our radar throughout his senior year, from a small town and we really fell in love with him.”
In the past, Virginia Tech has had success with recruiting multisport high school athletes. In the era of one-sport specialization, it’s actually something that Fuente and Co. value in players when on the recruiting trail.
“I love the multisport athletes,” Fuente said. “It’s certainly not a deal breaker if a kid doesn’t play another sport, but I think it’s great whatever it is.
“I want them to go do those things because they’re not doing them when they get here. With a few exceptions with our track guys, those days are over when they get here. I want them to enjoy that experience. I love guys that enjoy competing. I think you can learn a lot.”