I want to just say how proud we are of the players and what they had to go through this year. Everything changed week-to-week from the beginning of summer to the end. People don’t even know a lot of things that happened on a daily basis as we went through this season. I’m proud that they stuck together and finished it off. I’m proud of everybody, with the players, the coaches and the support staff too. Everybody did an amazing job and I appreciate all of those guys for that.
On Tahj Bullock…
He was excited. When we got on Zoom and offered him over the summer, he was really excited. From the very beginning, him and his family were very excited about Virginia Tech. He’s a very sharp kid and really focused in every single Zoom we did, whether we were talking football, academics, weight room or the campus virtual tours. Whatever it was, he was completely locked in. At the quarterback position, those are the kinds of things that you’re watching and evaluating.
I’m just really excited about him. He has a big frame and has the ability to do both (run and pass). He’s a proven winner and he’s tough. He’s got all of the things that you look for in a leader at that position. He did his due diligence in a short amount of time and we had some ground to make up in that period. Him and his family were great, and all of the people in our recruiting department and those people that help us did a great job. It came together pretty quick.
On the running backs Tech brought in…
They’re all explosive kids. They jump off of the film with you with their speed and quickness. Those are typically the best players on a high school team that they can put back there and hand the ball to. You never know what’s going to happen, but we’re excited about them at that position. They’re all a little bit different, but what they can do with the ball in their hands and their ability to be explosive and their talent and vision, those are the things that we’re excited about.
On Elijah Howard…
He can certainly do a number of things. As a young player, you watch his highlights and there were a lot on defense as his career moved along, which typically happens in high school. Those better players are put on offense to protect them a little bit and take some snaps off them on defense. He can do a little bit of everything. What we like about him is that he’s willing to do whatever. He wants to be here and he wants to be coached wherever he needs to be to help us the quickest.
I grew up in a coaching family, so I knew what I was getting into with this profession and certainly, at this position on the staff. I promise you that I have plenty to think about on a game week, so a lot of that, I’m not aware of. There’s no value that you can place on having a head coach who is behind you 100% and telling you to go call your game. On top of that, it’s a guy that’s already done it and a guy that can help, and you can lean on during a game that will give you sound advice.
There’s always going to be criticism. There’s always calls that I want back, that’ll never change. I’m just proud of our guys and the staff on offense with how much time they put into coaching their guys and putting together a game plan. It’s a group effort in getting the kids to one week at a time and regroup and commit to a game plan. They have to rejuvenate themselves emotionally to go put it on the line and that’s hard to do.
We had a nine-week stretch of that which isn’t really typical. There are a number of different guys that had to step up between COVID and injuries, so I’m proud of those guys that stood together, kept fighting and finished. There were some things we did really well at times and some things that we needed to do better at times. I love the guys and the young guys that we have coming back. I’m excited to turn the page on this year and get the guys back after a good break to start the next chapter.
On third-down issues…
The first thing you notice is the distance. It’s easy to look at the third-and-short and realize that you’re pretty efficient. The longer it gets, the harder it goes. That was the first thing that I wanted to look at was to make sure that was still the case. There was nothing predictability-wise. There were some things that we should’ve done a little bit more of that had been good for us. Every week, the defenses play you a little bit different and that certainly plays into the mode that you’re going to be in on certain downs and distances.
On being more available…
I appreciate the remarks from Whit yesterday. I think it’s more of what you guys were talking about, it comes with the territory. Coach Fuente, to his credit, takes as much of this off of us as he possibly can because he knows where our minds are and what we spend our time doing. To alleviate any of that is a help to us. I don’t really know what to make of that, that’s not for me to decide. Basically, Pete [Moris] runs the show and I do what he tells me to do.
On the quarterbacks…
We’ve had more guys play and more guys capable of playing. That’s a good problem, but you can look at it either way. There is something to one guy being the guy and getting every snap and every rep in multiple years, but there also is an advantage in having multiple guys that have played and can play. It’s hard to make it through the season with one guy. It doesn’t happen very often for very many teams.
All we know how to do is continue to work those guys and develop them. We’re developing them off of the field with what to look for. They have to learn their own system first and then they have to know what is coming with the defense and how to anticipate. Then, you have to get them as many reps as possible in practice. Certainly, the last two years we’ve had to play more guys than we normally would. We’re never satisfied with how much better we can continue to get in terms of managing the game, taking care of the football and all of those things.
On the wide receivers…
We still have to take a good step, but with the core guys coming back, and we’re getting Jaden [Payoute] off of an injury. He was a guy that really had a great fall camp that was going to be a weapon for us. We need to continue to add to that position and develop some more young guys, but we definitely have a good core there and a chance to develop others heading into next year.
On the team’s COVID issues…
It was random. You felt like once a position group got it, it was going to effect it. It was a little bit random through different parts of the season. I felt like, mostly for us, it was early in the year in late fall camp. You throw in one or two guys throughout the season and injury, that was the challenge for everyone across college football this year. We certainly felt those effects too. It’s next man up and that’s what our guys tried to do.
On whether Hendon Hooker or Braxton Burmeister could transfer…
This is the time of year that we know all of those guys, sometimes regardless of playing or not playing, they have those thoughts. They’re all getting advice from different places. I’m sure those things are out there, but right now, it’s about these guys leaving on a high note and getting with their families and turning the page on 2020 before coming back refreshed and ready to go.
On James Mitchell…
He’s been tremendous. It’s not just what he does on the field, you just know what you’re going to get from him every single day. He’s never on a list and never gives you anything but his best. He’s really smart. You wish that you had a whole team of guys just like that. Offensively, he’s just so versatile. You can almost make six different name tags for him to put on the depth chart. He gives you added depth at almost every position out there.
He continues to get bigger and stronger. I thought he took a big step this year blocking on the line of scrimmage which will be important for him moving on at some point. There are still some things that he needs to continue to improve on and he will improve on. There’s no question that another year could help him. He’s the perfect guy that could take one more year and turn that into a lot of money. We’re behind him no matter what he decides to do, but with these guys not getting a true offseason this year, I think that’s something they need to think about.
On what he said to Hendon Hooker…
It’s similar to all of those guys, we’re talking about everything they did and what they had to go through, it was tremendous. Let’s get out of here on a positive note as a team and go get refreshed. There’s a lot of things going on with everybody, so let’s get away from here and let’s relax and regroup and go from there with it. Those two guys, the whole season, played both roles. Similar things happened early in the season with Hendon and Braxton too. I told them both, there could have been a lot of drama every single week in the quarterback room and it could have taken away a lot of time and energy, but there wasn’t at all. That’s the first thing we talked about as they left this week. I wanted to make sure that they understood that I appreciated that part of it. They both handled it the right way and we sure appreciate that.
On any calls that he’d like to have back…
The red zone, as I kind of look back, I felt like that there were games where we weren’t as efficient in the red zone as we needed to be. That’s kind of the first thought that comes into my mind. The gadget play last week after the big play to James, I wanted that one back. Some of those, you’re flipping a coin and with those gadget plays, there are certain things that can hurt those plays that you don’t know if you’ll get or not get. It comes with that, but we’ll look at it objectively and see where we can get better and where I can make better calls.
On trying to run quarterback power on late downs…
That was part of the bye week, that was one of the things we looked at. We felt like we had four downs in those situations when it’s third down, so let’s get some of it. We could have gotten the ball to the perimeter more based off what happened on those previous calls. They weren’t all bad looks, but a couple of them, we just didn’t execute like we could have. That’s the situation that you don’t want to be too conservative, but you have another down. You’re also counting on the defense thinking that you won’t run it up inside because it’s third and more than it would be on those play calls.
On Danijel Miletic…
He’s been awesome. We all kind of fell in love with him. The evaluation piece of that, you do need someone that has had a prior relationship with him. That’s kind of what happened there. He works with a group over there that brings those guys to the states and takes them to some camps. It was a lot of video of him working out in his backyard because of what’s been going on. We tried to evaluate a lot that way. He’s a neat kid and we’re excited. He’s fired up to be here and I think he has a chance to be versatile up there in a lot of different spots.
On how much of a priority tackle is for this class going forward…
We’re going to need one or two guys there. There’s opportunities and spots for both still. I think Danijel is the perfect example, he could probably go outside or inside. We’ll let those things play out. You have to slate towards outside versus inside, but we want to make sure we don’t go overboard with that and get the right guys. That’s where we’re at and we’ll continue to evaluate. We want to make sure we get the right guys and not just certain guys at certain sports.
On Elijah Howard flipping…
He’s extremely talented. When I watch his film, his feet are amazing. That’s what jumps off of the film at me. He’s elusive and he’s a talented, talented kid. Coach Lechtenberg has been recruiting this kid…he’s been up here; we’ve evaluated him a lot. I love the kid, every coach we know in that area of Tennessee that has coached against him all say that we’re getting a heck of a player.
On who will replace Khalil Herbert…
Jalen Holston really finished the year well. He really just continued to plug along, and it was great to see him make plays. He’s always been outstanding in protection and blocking away when we’re running the quarterback or the receivers. He’s really good on special teams. He took the next step late in the year in terms of breaking tackles and making things happen at the tailback position. We’re excited about that.
Raheem Blackshear is an explosive guy that we’ll continue to work in both roles and find a way to get him in space. Keshawn King is another guy that has a tremendous amount of talent and we have a lot of hope for. We’d love to see him continue to come on and take that next step. He could give us a huge spark at that position.
Marco Lee showed a little bit at the end of the year. He just shows up and does his job every day and likes football and loves to work. If he continues to do that, he’s going to be a guy that can find a role and help us out. Then, it’s young guys that have to continue to work with the new guys coming in and the guys that came in this fall that were on scout team all year. It’ll be time for them to get their feet wet and start to get their shots.
On Parker Clements…
He’s going to have a chance. He’s a true freshman, but we’re extremely excited about him. Most of those true freshmen hit the wall at some point in the fall. Some of them hit it for a week and some hit it for the rest of the fall. His was quick. He hit it for about a week and was out of it. He’s got all of the tools. He’s tall, long, athletic and really smart. He’s got a little bit of toughness and nasty edge that you like up there. He’s going to be ready to go compete for a job this spring. He’ll need to be ready to go at left or right, however it shakes out.
On Adam Lechtenberg…
He’s huge. He’s just relentless. He’ll voice his opinion and he knows that even if we don’t agree with it, he feels obligated to voice it. That’s healthy and no one gets offended. That’s part of what he brings. He puts a lot of effort into staying on guys and finding new guys. He’s a bulldog and he’s relentless at what he does. He wants to bring the best guys that we possibly can into this program so we can be good.
Off the top, want to thank our players, the coaches, the medical staff, everyone involved in giving us a season this year. Obviously, it was a challenge for Virginia Tech. A challenge for every school that’s out there playing football, but it was something that there was a lot of learning.
There was a lot of things we’ll look back on and feel good about as far as development of young men and as far as what we were able to do as the season went on on our side of the ball and with our team. What a great way to end the season. Really proud of those guys for battling to the end. Really feel like there was a bond that was built. Anytime you go through tough times for a common cause with people, that’s what family is about and that’s what this season was about. Look back finally on that and hopefully we’ll continue to build on and keep moving forward. With that I’ll open the floor.
On bowl streak ending
My thought was I was going to support whatever the players chose. I think it’s the right thing that the players got to decide because as tough as we’ve all had it, they had it most tough throughout the entire season. I think it was good that they had the opportunity to discuss it and they had some time to think about it. If that’s the decision that they arrived at, then I support it. I also don’t think this is going to be a traditional bowl season. They wouldn’t have gotten the festivities or the time or the family, the typical things that come with a bowl experience. I support the decision they chose and I feel like they earned the right to make that decision whatever way they went.
On DBs in this recruiting class
I think if we didn’t learn anything else about our defense this year, it’s that we have to have available people in the backend. That was something that this year, or really going into this year, we put a premium on. We have some guys that are either finishing their careers or towards that and we have some young guys coming up, so it was important to continue to provide that room or those rooms with some depth. We also play with five of them on the field in our base defense, so you want to get as many as you can that have ability as far as the game is played in space.
Some you take with the mindset of knowing that as they grow and develop physically and as they grow older, they may grow into another position. It was important to have some variety. And it was also important to have guys that you’ve seen playing in space, you’ve seen them compete, and you’ve seen them cover.
On where some of the DBs in recruiting class will play
Not really. One of the things that when you take some of these kids, when we take a break here and come back, we’ll see how things shake out, what we have on our roster. The first step to me is us as coaches looking at each player that’s already on our team and answering the question, ‘What can they do?’ To me, it does us no good to talk about what a player can’t do, we need to know what they can do. We need to distribute those names across the board.
As we look at the new guys, take a look at them and say what they can do. Then you fill it in, give it a starting point and in training and offseason and spring ball, they have an opportunity to do a lot of different things. I think that it’s important that we give those guys an opportunity at where to begin and where they are most naturally suited.
Over time you have to create and develop and make roles for guys, particularly now in this age in football with all the different things that are out there for guys. If they don’t feel like they’re a part of the program here or somewhere else, there’s ways they can go to other places. I think it’s important you create roles for people and you give them opportunities to do things they do well. We’ll start at a point and give guys the opportunity to do what we feel like or what they feel like they do best. From there, we’ll see what they naturally do best and put them in those spots.
On the unusual first year as DC
And on top of that following Bud Foster. It was just like how you draw it up. Exactly what you want [laughing]. I own every bit of our performance. There are no excuses, no blaming, no complaining. What I look back at and see is that spring is a really important time, we all know that, but it’s such an important time for your players to bond and develop with their coaches and each other. It’s a time that you get a chance to experiment with what guys can do, not so much your X’s and O’s, but what guys can do. You get to put them in different spots, so you get a feel for it. We missed on that and missed out on that.
In fall camp usually you’re seeing what you got from spring, how guys have developed in the summer when they’re with the strength staff and if they’re building on what they did in the spring or if there’s something else you need to do. Obviously when you miss out on that, that now makes it to where basically what our season was as we got through the COVID, through the injuries and we had a somewhat normal rotation of guys we could play, it was like spring ball where you’re getting all of that within a season.
Each Saturday, obviously it’s more important than a scrimmage, but it was like you’re getting a scrimmage to see. In spring, you evaluate your scrimmages and say this is how this guy has developed and come along, so we can continue doing this or he needs to do that. That’s really what we had this season. We eventually settled in on “we know what these guys can do” and we’ve got to be able to put them in those spots.
The difficult thing is from week to week, it’s a different type of challenge with whatever type of offense you’re playing or whoever the offense’s feature player is and where they’re trying to get the ball. It was, I’ve said this before, but it was the most challenging experience that I’ve ever had as a worker or as an adult short of a tragedy. I think we learned a lot about ourselves, we learned a lot about our guys, and by the end of the year, I think we played our best ball the last game of the season which is encouraging.
That doesn’t cover up for the other things that happened throughout the season. They are what they are and I own all of that, but guys improved. They bought in, we developed I believe a little bit of a culture on the defensive side of the ball. The greatest thing was at the end, the last game of the year, the guys played hard for each other.
On if he wouldn’t have changed the scheme in hindsight
With hindsight being 20/20, you could always second guess it. There’s elements of that. The complexity piece of it, and those guys we’ve talked about it privately or individually. Really it wasn’t so complex as it was just different from what they’ve done in the past. Once they learned it the last two or three games of the season, there really wasn’t any difference. In Miami also, the game we played pretty well I felt like, it was just new. Had we had a spring ball, had we had a fall camp, those things probably wouldn’t have felt so complex. In fact, a couple of those guys that I talked to, they were like, ‘This is easier. This is not more complex. This is easier than what we were doing.’
There’s elements of that, but with what we needed to be able to do with what our d-linemen did well, what our linebackers did well and our secondary, we really couldn’t do the things that we’ve done here in the past as much. We really had to be able to try to blend it all and tie it all together. When you do that, there’s inevitably going to be people that have to do things that either are somewhat new to them or they haven’t done. Or else you’re not going to have a coordinated defense.
I just was watching, before I came in here to do this, cutups from the season and looking back on things. There’s going to be a really hard look in the mirror at me personally and looking at myself of if I was given every one of the variables all over again, what would I have done? I like to believe I’m my own harshest critic and I’m going to be very critical of myself. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that going forward. If we can do that and it helps our kids and it makes our team better, then this year has value.
On bringing players back for next year, specifically Rayshard Ashby and Jarrod Hewitt
There will definitely be lobbying for those two. I want those two on my team, whatever my team is, whether it’s football or whether it’s selling ice cream. I want those guys on my team. For them, they’re both ready to relax, enjoy their family and take some time. I think that’s exactly what they need and that’s exactly what they deserve and what they should do. When you have time to make that decision, time to talk it over with your family, time to step away from it, then you make a clear decision.
For both of them, they know the arms are wide open if they want to come back. I would love for them to be back. Now I might have to put my recruiter hat on towards the end of this break and try to help that out, but if they want to come back they would do it for the right reasons. If they don’t want to come back, then it would also be for the right reasons. Those two guys, since they stepped foot in the door, they have given everything they have to this program and to their teammates. I respect them so much, love them for it, and so appreciative they were here. I love them back, but that’s going to be a decision with their families, and I respect it either way.
On Devin Taylor’s decision
Dev is very similar because when I think you’ve played that many years of college football at any level, it’s a lot. With Dev, he got here late July, maybe early August. He was in Zoom meetings on his own. Duke week he ends up going out. When he got back for BC, all of a sudden he’s playing safety out of necessity. Really throughout the year, every day for the first week or two that he was playing was almost like new teaching for him. Over time, I think we and he saw that he developed into a quality player for us.
In my own opinion, it would be beneficial for him to spend an offseason here. He’s gotten to know his teammates. He’s much more comfortable. He’s a quiet guy by nature anyway. He’s got a great personality. He’s very mature and he saw the benefit that he brought to this program. We’d love to have him back. Another decision that he and his family will make, but he also knows that we have open arms. We’d welcome him back anytime. Hopefully there will be no choice.
On Isi Etute
I really saw a big athlete. He came for a junior day, maybe the last one that we had before COVID shut down everything and put us in a dead period. We got the new coaches who got a chance to see him and meet him. You could just see that this is a guy who is a bigger person but has the movement skills of a smaller person. Kind of just looking at the linebacker position for us, we need to have some young guys who are coming in who can give us some versatility. We’ve got some guys right now, but they’re getting older.
For him, he’s a guy playing out there in the 757, you have to be athletic. Just about every game is played in space. He’s doing that. We have a relationship with the high school coach. I’ve known the high school coach there since I was at UVA-Wise. Great kid, great personality, and the type of guy who historically Virginia Tech has had in the program that we have every incentive to do right by him to give him an opportunity to create roles for him so he’ll then go back and help us out there.
We see him as one of those inside two to start off. The thing about those guys is that we got to play with it a little bit this year. Those guys, they play there, they bump out a little bit in space, they’re blitzers, they’re cover guys, they’re man to man cover guys sometimes. If you have some time to play with systems or to get into some looks that you like on third downs, then you have an opportunity to put those guys on the edge or put them in there playing coverage, blitzing, disguising. We feel like he can bring us some of that with his versatility.
Anytime that your linebacker position can play coverage on tight ends, that helps everything. And running backs, that helps everything because now you can use DB’s as blitzers. You can use DB’s in extra coverage zones or you can play man defenses that allow you to get after the passer or get double teams where you need them someplace else. We feel like that versatility at that spot helps us a lot.
On making inroads with 757 coaches
I think that’s the intention across the whole state. I know before COVID shut us down, Coach Fuente had a plan for us to hit every school in Virginia. Have all the coaches spend time in Virginia to get out there and go do that. Obviously, we want to win the state. The state has become more populated with schools coming in since when I played. I know there’s a lot more now.
The most important thing we can do is do right by the ones on our roster. If we help them go from young men to grown men, if we help them get degrees, if we give them a good experience and equip them for what they need on the field and in the classroom and socially, then they go back and do the best job. They go back and talk about their experience and are probably more impactful in recruiting their peers than we are. If we can do that along with the coaches that are out there and continuing to build those relationships to keep it transparent, open and honest.
To understand with any coach, it’s not just in Virginia, there’s always coaches that are going to want you to take guys that you’re not sure you can take, whether it be numbers, this or that. With us, we may look at a lot. A coach may have a guy that you see and for whatever reason, it may turn out the way you or he would like it, and you have to be open and honest about that. I think that’s really important. That’s something that is really important to all of us. We understand how important it is to recruit this state, to get the best ones here. To treat them really well and do well by them, so they’ll go and help us.
On Divine Deablo
Oh man. Divine Deablo, if he’s not the best human being I’ve ever met in my life, he’s in a category of like three. He’s one of the best people where if you meet him, he’ll be one of the best people you ever meet in your life. He worked a couple summers ago at the rec center out in Christiansburg as a part of a curriculum for him with his school. The guys out here talked about him and what they said about him was what we see everyday, but it’s awesome to know that’s who he is everywhere.
He was a coach on the field. He was the example for players, young and old, to follow with his work ethic, with his unselfishness, with how quickly he learned things, his communication, with doing anything that was asked of him to the best of his ability. If he didn’t do it well, he’d be the guy after practice that would be working until he did it well. He did that every day. Every day that I was around him. After he got his interception, I was hoping so bad the other night that that would be our last play on defense, so he could finish it out that way. I gave him a hug and I told him I love him. I kind of had to pull back so I didn’t tear up.
The guy is everything you want as a player and as a human being. He trusted us too. There were some people that were kind of talking to him about maybe he should have gone last year. Maybe that would be the deal, and we had a good conversation about I feel like my own opinion that it would be better for you. Coach Fuente was a part of that, and he trusted us. I think that he’s put himself in a better position. For him, he’s the type of guy that you want everybody that was in his presence to understand how he got to be who he was. He was born with a great heart, but he wasn’t born a great player. He wasn’t born a physical specimen. He’s got natural gifts for sure, but he worked his butt off in every single way to get everything that he’s gotten. He is what Virginia Tech is about.
On Jermaine Waller
Jermaine Waller is a warrior. I knew in 2018 when we played at Pitt, Jermaine Waller had to play some and when he went in the game, Pitt was going right at him. It didn’t turn out too well. I know in talking to him after that game, he was rock solid. Some people that can ruin them for a career, especially at that position, and he was the same guy as if he would’ve been if he got three or four picks in that game. I knew that we’ve got something in the mental makeup.
Last year seeing his development and growth into this year, it was unfortunate. The North Carolina game, that was just such a unique circumstance with the DB’s and with what we had available and didn’t have. He was right there. He was ready to step on the field. The guy really hadn’t had time to practice or prepare since like July/August. He was working. He was working with the strength staff, working with the training staff. He wasn’t able to put the pads on to go practice, but he was ready. He went out and he gave everything he had.
Unfortunately it set him back a little bit… I think between the conversations with Coach Smitty, with Coach Fuente, with Goforth, with me, he trusts us and he knows we want him to get fully healthy. We know what he’s about. We know who he is and we love every bit of it.
He’s a guy that if he can get back to being fully healthy, which ask me and I’m not a doctor, but I think he’ll be fine and be able to get back. When that’s the case, not only is he going to be a great testament to perseverance, but he’s also going to be a leader. He’s a natural born leader. He doesn’t say much, but what he does say is no nonsense. You can trust what he says. He trusts what we say, and I think the story is going to end very well for him.
It was that it was going to be the same song and dance. It wasn’t my decision. I actually didn’t have anything to do with the decision. It was him listening to his body. Knowing that if he kept going out there, which mentally he could. Mentally he was strong enough to keep trying it, but he knew that it was probably going to be — he’d take one step forward and three or four steps back. He knew it was probably going to be the same thing because he just didn’t have enough time to prepare for what a season demands.
He was here. He was around his teammates, his was communicating, he was supporting, he was listening, he was learning, and I’m sure he was doing a lot of supporting outside of the building that we didn’t see. He was right in the locker room after the game the other night. He made it a point to be in there and celebrate with his teammates because that’s the type of guy he is. I know he’s hungry to get fully healthy and to prepare to get his body ready for what it takes and then come do it.
On Dorian Strong
Dorian is a great kid with a great family. In meeting them through the recruiting process, you could see he had a good structure around him. You also can see that physically he’s got some tools, but he needs to develop some. That was kind of the thought as he was coming in. When he can develop physically, he’s going to be a specimen, so to speak. His dad is an actual bodybuilder. Dad is really yoked.
You saw length, you saw athleticism. You saw at the camp we had him at, he was playing DB and wide receiver and he did both well. You saw a great kid. He was a great kid. He’s awesome to be around, awesome to talk to, and awesome to spend time with. It was very encouraging this year when he stepped out there, really the first thing that you saw was he’s a true freshman. He’s still trying to learn a lot about the game and that’s a tough position to do it at. His length is good, his speed is good, and his ball skills, his radius and being able to play the ball is good. He’s a willing tackler. He’s not fearful.
With that, I think the important thing is that he accomplished a lot this year, but there’s a lot left. The last thing I told him in the locker room was, ‘Hey, you had a great year. It was awesome to see, but you’ve always got to stay humble and stay hungry. That’s the biggest thing is be humble and be hungry. If you do that, then you’ll continue to develop.’
The relationship he has with Coach Smitty is a good one. Guys like Jermaine Waller will be really good, guys like Chamarri Conner will be really good to help him continue to work and grow and develop. I think he’ll watch this season and say, ‘I did some good things, but there’s a lot more I could have done and I want to be able to do that.’
On being encouraged about the way the defense ended the season
It’s definitely encouraging. For me, looking back at the Clemson game, the bye week prior to that, that’s when I kind of felt like these guys are turning a corner, not turning the corner, but turning a corner towards the buy in or the investment for playing really, really hard for each other. It was like the things started to click with that.
Obviously getting a bye week to be able to recharge is helpful, but I think even though one of the things I found interesting, we felt like we played alright against Clemson. Guys definitely played really hard, but the final score of the game was the same final score as the Duke game last year. The Duke game last year and the Clemson game this year, as far as there’s no moral victories, but when you assess what just happened when you watch the film, guys had a different feeling about it.
You don’t want to always be happy or whatever with a 45-10 loss, but when you see that it was a battle, guys played hard and played well, caused some things to happen, then that propelled us forward into the last week of the season where guys continued to build on that. That is very much encouraging. I think now it’s taking the good parts and the parts we need to get better and showing the capability, what we are capable of, but also showing on the flip side of that what we can be capable of, and where the difference is is consistency.
That’s consistently how we prepare mentally and physically and consistently how we prepare week to week when we’re in a season. With Coach, talking about balancing the practice, I don’t know that there is any type of blueprint or manual on that. I thought our guys responded really well. I thought they gave us what we asked them to give us. It was good. At the end, it was good to see guys finish strong. We talked all week about finish the race and they did that.
On defensive end signees – Mattheus Carroll and Cole Nelson
For Mattheus, he actually goes by Stretch to talk about the length. With Stretch in the recruiting process, every single time we talked to them, it was like he was taking a break from work or he was getting ready to go to work. All he did was work. He worked doing jobs that were really serving jobs at a grocery store supermarket. His family got to come here for a junior day. He got to meet our new coaches and it was a good blend. He was very meticulous in picking his school. He’s also been very focused for recruiting the right type of people here with the class or going forward. We’re very excited about the maturity that he brings. Physically with his ceiling, what his ceiling can be as he continues to develop. He’s a smart kid and he’s a hard worker. All he wants to do is come and go to work.
Cole, it was really similar in talking to him. When I first really became attracted to Cole was talking about his mom. His mom worked to put herself through school. She basically is self-made in every way with what she’s become and he’s seen that. He talked about how that’s an example for him and how he wants to live his life and what college is about for him. To hear young people talk like that, you know that it’s the right type of people and you know that’s the mindset you want in your program.
With those guys, obviously the physical capacity that they have with their size and their length, you just see the type of year Amare Barno had this year is an indication that length is good. Length helps you get off blocks, length helps you affect plays, you cover more space, and if you’re able to multiply the number of guys you have with that type of length, then you’re able to cover more ground and defend more areas with the same amount of people. That’s been a point of emphasis and we are excited about both of those guys.
On Jaden Keller
From down there, his high school coach, I’ve known him for a while. Had some guys from that high school that I coached at UVA-Wise and understand the makeup of those guys. Coach Lechtenberg did a good job with them. The kid, he came up, another one who came up with his mom for a visit. Another one that is an awesome kid. All he wants to do is go to work. He’s got a good physical package.
There was a video down there from him in the Arby’s dunk contest that was impressive. Watching him run with the ball is impressive and watching him on defense is impressive. He’s a guy we really liked his natural ability and loved his willingness to compete. The type of program pedigree he has and one of those guys that you get him here and see what he does well. You start to build a position or a role around that and carve a niche for yourself.
Explosion, when you see kids that are explosive on film. For me, when you’re evaluating defensive prospects, everybody is going to have good plays on their highlights. You need to see are they accelerating through angles that they have, are they getting their body on people when they tackle them, or are they hesitant? Are they grabbing a body part and holding on? With him, you see that explosive capability. He’s a quick decision maker when the ball is in his hands too, which is encouraging. For him, we’re excited to get to work with him.
On Josh Fuga
A guy that was coming into it. He’s very passionate and he wants to be really good. He plays with that type of passion and that type of energy. He’s a guy that as he develops his skills, he’s big, too. Having a guy in there who is hard to move is good. What I see is that he did a nice job for us and he has plenty more that he can do. I would like to see him continue to develop his twitch and his explosion, his ability to fight off of blocks.
He’s a guy when you see him around his teammates, he wants to be really good. He wants them to be really good. He’s really smart. He’s making all kinds of calls and talking to them up front. That’s a plus, but he’s a guy who wants to do the work and he enjoys that part, so I’m excited to see where that work takes him.
On Amare Barno
I don’t know that surprised would be the word. We could tell. We saw last year, I know in bowl practice last year, he was playing linebacker and he chased down a quarterback run. I was kind of looking around with bug eyes to see if anyone else sees that. The first person I see is Coach Fuente with the same bug eyes that I had looking around as if to say, ‘Did anybody just see that?’
We knew he had that type of physical ability. I didn’t know whether or not he’d be as productive as he was this year that quick, but as he started to come along, you could tell that he was in the right spot for himself and he was coming into his own. The thing about him is that he was a warrior, too. He played through nothing major, but at that position it was a new toll on his body and he played through it. He was always there, always ready. Looking forward to seeing him continue to come into his own and develop at that spot.
On Alan Tisdale and Dax Hollifield
They did a good job this season. As the year went on, they steadily improved. In Alan’s case, for him, there was a lot of things going on with him. He had a child born, so there was that. He was in a spot where he was doing things that he was doing really well, then he’d be out for a little bit. Dax was playing the will and the mike spot. Rook was playing a lot of snaps. Throughout the week we were trying to get him the reps he needed but also the rest he needed.
My personal opinion is those guys did a really good job. As the year went along, they settled into their roles and their jobs. We made it a point of emphasis to take them off of their plates rather than put it on their plates. In Dax and Alan’s case, they both were playing a good amount of special teams. Rook ended up playing a good amount of special teams also. There was a lot going for them. In the case of Rook, he’s a coach on the field. Dax is a coach on the field and Alan spent a lot of extra time meeting and learning because he wants to become a coach in the field. He developed a lot mentally also. The work that they put in was encouraging to see and their production increasing over the course of the year was also encouraging to see.
On newborn tips for Alan
He and I have talked a lot about parenting. I told him to get sleep when you can. He knew, he’s got younger siblings so he knew a little bit, but I told him it’s a little bit different when at the end of the day you can’t give the child back to its rightful owner when you are the rightful owner. He’s learning that, but I know it’s been awesome to see him in that role because he’s super proud of it and he wants to be a great dad which I think is awesome.