As kickoff on Saturday inches closer, it feels more and more likely that Virginia Tech football will finally begin its 2020 season this week against NC State. Tech sent players to the podium on Tuesday and one thing was abundantly clear, the team is chomping at the bit to get back on Worsham Field.
Anticipation is at an All-Time High
The Hokies’ 2020 opener has now been pushed back by a week three separate times from the initial start date of September 5 against Liberty. The new conference-only schedule pushed it back one week, and two cancellations later, Virginia Tech is expected to start its season on September 26.
The Hokies have watched as college football is being played successfully across the nation, waiting to get their chance to take the field.
“It’s been frustrating because I’m just ready to play, but I have to control what I can control. That’s been the motto throughout this whole process,” wide receiver Tre Turner said. “I’ve been aggravated because I’m just ready to get on the field.”
Tech has two more COVID-19 tests to get through in order to determine whether the team will be able to play. Head Coach Justin Fuente has already said that the team will not be at full strength, but if the results come back clean this week, Virginia Tech will be in Lane Stadium on Saturday night.
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When they finally do take the field, it won’t be your typical night game in Lane. Due to restrictions from the governor of Virginia, only 1,000 people will be allowed inside the stadium, which will mostly consist of friends and family.
Although there won’t be 66,000 fans jumping and screaming the lyrics to Enter Sandman when the Hokies run onto the field, the team knows that it has to bring its own energy.
“It’s going to be like a scrimmage. We’ve practiced at Lane last year and this year, so we know how to do it,” linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “The sideline will bring its own juice. I’m excited for it and I hope we can do it.”
Anyone who has played sports at any level knows that practicing isn’t what you look forward to, it’s the games. The Hokies are raring to go and hoping they don’t spend another weekend continuing to practice.
“We’re tired of practicing, we’re ready to play the games,” Turner said. “Everybody is bringing juice to practice every day. Nothing has changed and we’re ready to play.”
Will Virginia Tech be Prepared?
The team is surely fired up to play, but will they be ready? Tech shut down the program for four days due to coronavirus concerns and it is clear that a significant number of players have missed time during the preseason, leading to concerns about preparation for Saturday’s game.
Hollifield claims that at one team meeting, he entered the room and found out that he was the only linebacker who was allowed in the building that day. If whole position groups are wiped out, it has to be tough to make practices effective leading up to a game.
“We’ve been practicing for an hour and twenty minutes with a skeleton crew. It’s been interesting,” Head Coach Justin Fuente said on Tech Talk Live Monday night. “I do know this, I always try to judge it off of the players, and they’re excited and really want to go play. We’re always going to do what’s right by them and try to protect them, but hopefully we make it through this week, get prepared and get a chance to go play ball.”
NC State has already played a game, defeating Wake Forest in a 45-42 barnburner last Saturday. Although Virginia Tech has the tape from this game and that’s an advantage, the Wolfpack have already been able to shake off the rust and get adjusted to the COVID-adjusted experience.
“We have a really good game plan for this week. Obviously, there’s going to be some of those first game mistakes and stuff like that, but I really expect for us to come out and perform at a high level,” Hollifield said. “We’ve been practicing for a while, and I’m pretty sure we know the defense well. I’m excited to go and show everybody what we have.”
No one knows who will be available on Saturday for Virginia Tech, and even if players can play, when was the last time they practiced? The Hokies are in a tough situation and there could be some early struggles in the opener.
Tre Turner, Assistant Coach?
After Damon Hazelton decided to transfer to Missouri in the offseason, it was clear that Tre Turner was the big man in the wide receiver room entering the 2020 season. The depleted group is still relatively young and now looks to the junior as a leader.
“I had to take more of a leadership role in our room this year. I’m telling guys that we don’t know who is going to be playing, so the next man has to be ready at all times,” Turner said. “Ever since the first freshman got here on July 5, I’ve told them every single day to stay in the playbook because they have to be ready.”
Turner claims that he isn’t trying to be an assistant for Wide Receivers Coach Jafar Williams, but he is always willing to push guys in the room and give advice as they need it.
The good news for Turner is that some much-needed experience was added in the form of transfer receivers Changa Hodge and Evan Fairs.
Hodge comes in as a grad transfer from Villanova after the FCS moved their 2020 season to the spring. Last season, Hodge racked up over 1,000 yards with 13 touchdowns and brings solid veteran depth to the group.
“Changa is very savvy and he’s very good with his mind picking up the plays,” Turner said. “He’ll come and ask me about something and he’ll pick it up right then.”
Fairs transfers from Kansas where he didn’t have much production, but he has a large frame at 6’3” and just under 210 pounds.
With Turner at the helm, the wide receivers room that seemed to be decimated by a couple of losses this offseason now looks ready to go for the 2020 season.
“With COVID a lot of [the wide receivers] are going to have to play. It’s a weird situation,” quarterback Braxton Burmeister said. “They all can play and we’re really deep at that position. We’re really deep at a lot of positions. I think it’s going to show and it’s going to be a good year.”