Some more shocking news made its way out of Blacksburg on Monday in the form of a press release announcing that Virginia Tech redshirt junior Devon Hunter has been suspended indefinitely.
Virginia Tech Athletics Statement pic.twitter.com/AuyS7jsY1q
— Virginia Tech Football (@HokiesFB) September 14, 2020
Mike Niziolek of the Roanoke Times reported earlier this evening that Hunter was arrested and charged with “strangling another to cause wound or injury and simple assault against a family member” by the Christiansburg Police Department.
Justin Fuente spoke to the media shortly after the press release was distributed. While he expressed that he was just as surprised as anyone, Fuente refused to comment further on the news.
“Before we begin, I’m sure you all saw the statement we issued on Devon Hunter,” Fuente said. “I understand your reasons for asking, and I hope you understand the reason I can’t reply. We’ll have no further comment on that situation.”
Hunter was expected to fill the void left by Reggie Floyd at the boundary safety position (formerly called rover). In 2019, Hunter played in all 13 games and tallied 16 tackles. The 6-foot, 220-pounder made a career-high eight tackles last year against North Carolina when he started in place of Floyd, who was suspended for the first half due to a targeting penalty.
It’s been a circuitous route for the former four-star prospect. Hunter played in 10 games as a true freshman, mainly on special teams before redshirting as a sophomore after a failed experiment at the whip/nickelback position. With the move back to the more natural boundary safety spot, Hunter appeared poised to finally make a name for himself in 2020.
Through the ups and downs, Fuente and Co. have continually lauded Hunter for the work he’s done behind the scenes. It’s what makes Hunter’s indefinite suspension such a huge blow.
“There’s guys that you just see every day working, trying to lead and do the right thing,” Fuente said during a press conference on August 14. “You just want them to have success so bad. That’s how I feel Devon right now. He’s been a great leader. He’s got a great work ethic, a great attitude. Has really come along to be a guy who people look up to in the locker room.
“Our kids have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Our coaches have a tremendous amount of respect for him. We can’t wait to get him out there and let him have some success, because he’s just been so great behind the scenes for many years now.”
It’s unclear at the moment whether Hunter will return to the team or if his career in a Virginia Tech uniform is done. As of right now, his bio is still included in the 2020 roster on HokieSports.com.
It leaves the Hokies in a precarious situation with no clear backup behind Hunter.
“I’m not sure yet,” Fuente said of any potential replacements. “We haven’t been together as a staff yet. We’ve been separate working on game plans and all that sort of stuff. To say that all those things will be fluid is an understatement in terms of continuing to cross train guys and get guys ready. It’s a little early for me to make a call on that right now.”
Nasir Peoples likely would have been a top candidate, but he was injured in a non-contact drill and is out for the season. True freshman Keonta Jenkins has been working at boundary safety. Senior Tyree Rodgers has spent his career at free safetly, while redshirt freshman JR Walker impressed in the 2019 Spring Game at free safety.
“Certainly those are a couple guys,” Fuente said of Rodgers and Walker. “I wouldn’t say [the safety positions are] exactly interchangeable. Keonta had a good fall camp. JR is certainly one that continues to get better as well.”
Walker may provide the most upside at the position. The 6-foot, 217-pound redshirt freshman is a former four-star recruit and chose the Hokies despite a huge offer list. Walker was one of the main standouts in the 2019 Spring Game.
“I’ve always felt that JR, when I first saw him, was an elite athlete,” former defensive coordinator Bud Foster said after the spring game. “He could have gone to a lot of places. I think he’s going to be really special… He’s big, he’s athletic, he’s sudden, he can cover, he can tackle. We put him in a spot at our safety spot that is a pretty important position for us from a run fit standpoint and a coverage standpoint… I think he has a chance to have a great future.”