Virginia Tech football dominated NC State in all three aspects of the game on Saturday night en route to the 45-24 victory. For the Hokies, many of the impact players in the win shared a common thread.
Braxton Burmeister, Khalil Herbert, Raheem Blackshear, Brock Hoffman, Justus Reed, and Devin Taylor all began their careers outside of Blacksburg. It was the transfer market that brought the collection of players to Virginia Tech.
“We’ve been a huge benefactor of the transfer portal,” Fuente said during Monday’s media availability. “I don’t know that anybody has brought in higher character, better kids who have added more to their locker room than we have. Certainly we talk about how they produce on the field, but I’m talking about high end individuals who are leaders that are doing more than just contributing on the field for our program. I couldn’t be happier with how that’s all worked out at Virginia Tech.”
It’s part of the ever-evolving college football landscape where teams aren’t just limited to making splashes in the regular form of recruiting from high school. It’s those players from the transfer portal that can in fact bring about exactly what a team needs like the Hokies have done. However, it doesn’t mean that Fuente and Co. will just go after anyone.
“I can tell you this, we do our due diligence on them,” Fuente said. “There are people out there when a guy enters and he’s played a little bit for some school and they go out there and try to get him. We really slow down and try and talk to people and really try to get a good handle on what we’re adding, not just as a player, but maybe most importantly as a person. Our staff has done a really good job of vetting those young men. We’ve had some great additions here on our team.”
Fuente’s more impressed with the presence of those transfer players in the locker room, but here’s a look at how they performed on the field versus the Wolfpack. Burmeister received the start with Hooker unavailable and went 7-of-11 passing for 107 yards along with 46 yards rushing. Khalil Herbert carried the ball six times for 104 yards (17.3 avg.) with a touchdown and 46 receiving yards. Raheem Blackshear picked up 28 yards on the ground with a touchdown. Devin Taylor looked comfortable in the secondary and totaled four tackles.
Hokies fans were excited for the debut of Hoffman, and he did not disappoint as arguably the best player on the offensive side of the ball. He dominated his matchup against Alim McNeill, a former Virginia Tech target and a Preseason Third Team All-American by PFF. Hoffman was named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week on Monday.
“He’s a positive person. A confident person. He backs it up with hard work,” Fuente said. “He’s a really intelligent player, so he can help other people not just know what to do, but how to do it. I think they feel really good and strong and unified when he’s around. He certainly has without a doubt helped other people elevate their game. That’s through his leadership, that’s through his work ethic, that’s through his intelligence. A big piece of our football team right now.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, Reed made his presence felt with five tackles and two sacks. He provided an edge rush that Virginia Tech has sorely missed in years past.
“He’s got game experience, first of all,” Fuente said. “There’s not a lot of substitute for experience. He’s also a big, strong, powerful person. He plays hard, he enjoys the game and he’s a smart player. Good things happen to people who work really hard. In his opportunities in the game, he was playing hard. He’s just kind of got the package of a guy who has talent, but is maximizing his talent to be the best player that he can be.”
It’s a breath of fresh air to see these players making an immediate impact. After all, it’s that fresh air of the Blue Ridge Mountains that may be appealing to some of these transfers.
“I do think there is an element of this place that may appeal to guys sometimes who are a little older,” Fuente said. “I don’t know that for a fact, I’m just kind of projecting there.”
Monitoring the Justin Hamilton Situation
When Fuente received the news on Saturday morning that Justin Hamilton would not be able to make his first appearance as the heir apparent to Bud Foster as defensive coordinator, moves had to be made at the last second for the Hokies to get all their ducks in a row. This week, Hamilton is in quarantine and will communicate with the team via Zoom for the time being.
“It’s annoying as can be, but you have to find a way to adjust,” Fuente said. “If you can’t adjust, then you’re not going to give your kids a chance to have success. Those meetings take place via Zoom. If we have a meeting with staff, we have the people who are currently here and then the others join through zoom. If the defense has a meeting, it’s the exact same thing.”
So will Hamilton be available for Saturday’s contest against Duke? It’s a situation Virginia Tech is monitoring moving forward.
“We’re figuring this all out as you all know,” Fuente said. “I have no say in return dates and really, our athletic department doesn’t. It goes through Dr. [Mark] Rogers and through the department of health. There are interviews that go on with those sorts of things, it’s not just test dates, there’s more to it that I don’t get into. We’ll have a meeting this afternoon, and as we go through the week, on each guy, player or coach, we’ll hopefully have a better handle on exactly where we’re at as the week goes on.”
Hendon Hooker and Jermaine Waller’s Availability
A few months ago, many folks would be shocked to hear that Virginia Tech won its opener by 21 without quarterback Hendon Hooker or cornerback Jermaine Waller. However, the Hokies did just that on Saturday without two of its top players from the 2019 season.
It appears that both missed action due to a matter unrelated to the coronavirus. Fuente said during his post-game press conference that Hooker would return to the practice field this week, but will he play on Saturday?
“I think so,” Fuente said. “We haven’t had him for a while. He’s had a really good fall camp. I’ve been really pleased with him. I feel the same as I always have.”
Jermaine Waller, on the other hand, has still been nursing an injury to his foot from before last year’s Belk Bowl. In true Fuente fashion, he remained tight-lipped on that situation.
“I know that he really wants to be out there,” Fuente said. “So, I’m optimistic that he’ll feel comfortable and he’ll be back with us shortly.”