No position group has faced more adversity than Virginia Tech’s secondary over the past month. Every starter at safety and corner has missed at least one game, which has forced the coaching staff to scramble, but it seems like the worst may be behind them.
“It was a rough stretch, and I was really mad that I couldn’t be out there with my guys. I was also proud of them and how hard they fought,” safety Divine Deablo said. “They played their heart out, and I couldn’t be happier to have everybody back.”
The most recent shuffle that Tech had to make was moving grad transfer cornerback Devin Taylor to safety this past week against Boston College. With Keonta Jenkins still working his way back after missing the Hokies’ game against North Carolina, Taylor had to step up in a big way.
“I didn’t have much experience, but coach needed somebody to step in and fill a void. I did what I had to do to help the team win,” Taylor said. “It was [a challenge] just learning the new position. I got some extra meetings in with Coach Kardulis (graduate assistant Matt Kardulis) and he helped me get comfortable with the position.”
Taylor moved over from Illinois State after the FCS season was cancelled. He quickly was thrown into a difficult position, but stepped up and even grabbed his first interception as a Hokie.
“The whole thing with Virginia Tech was the motto of, ‘This is Home,’” Taylor said. “My coaches at Illinois State knew the coaches here because Coach Fuente coached there, and they brought me in as family, and that’s why I decided to come here.”
Taylor came into Tech expecting to add to the Hokies’ depth at cornerback, but during this season, he had to adapt and stepped up big.
“He actually asked the coaches if he could move to safety this week because he knew we were short,” Deablo said. “That’s a big-time guy, that’s all I’ve got to say.”
With Taylor moving to free safety, Deablo shifted over to boundary safety and covered tight end Hunter Long. Deablo claims he can play any position on Tech’s defense and performed well in a tough spot.
This was Deablo’s first game back after testing positive for COVID-19 before the Hokies’ matchup with Duke.
“I was a positive test and the first week, I knew I had to sit out,” Deablo said. “Carolina week, there was hope for me, so I was studying film and doing push-ups and sit-ups in my room, trying to stay in shape as much as I could. Later on that week, they let me know that I couldn’t play.”
It hasn’t just been the safeties who have had to deal with adversity; the cornerbacks haven’t had a consistent group available all season.
During the summer, cornerback was expected to be a huge strength for the Hokies. However, both starters on the outside have been missing this season. Caleb Farley opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft, and Jermaine Waller has only played in one game so far this season.
This has forced younger players to step into much larger roles than expected. True freshman Dorian Strong has stood out from the rest so far and earned himself a starting role against Boston College.
“The biggest thing I see with him is the confidence he has in himself,” Taylor said. “Even in practice, if he gets a ball caught on him, he’ll come back the next play and won’t let it happen. He really just has a lot of confidence in himself.”
Head Coach Justin Fuente said on Monday that Waller should be able to return this week, but just a few months into his time in Blacksburg, Strong will most likely have to play a large role throughout his freshman season.
“Dorian Strong is just a big-time player, and he works hard at practice every single day,” Deablo said. “He’s going to be big-time; I can see it. He comes to work, and I think that has the biggest impact on him.”
It hasn’t been easy on the Hokies’ secondary. Almost everybody on the two-deep has missed time, and both coaches in the back end have been out for at least one game. However, they have battled through and hope to be back to full strength for the rest of the year.
“A lot of it is behind us, and we’re just looking forward to continuing to get better,” Deablo said. “We think we can show some great defense, amazing defense, actually.”