Virginia Tech officially has a date for its first opponent of the 2021 season. North Carolina will travel to Lane Stadium on Friday, September 3 for the season opener.
From now on, every day this spring and in the months ahead is preparing for that moment. It’s what makes the scrimmages and getting in the pads again so much more exciting for the Hokies.
“[The first scrimmage] was competitive,” tight end Drake DeIuliis said. “The guys looked good on both sides of the ball. I think that we’re a little more mature than we were last spring. A little nippy, a little fighting here and there, but it was a good day of competition for everybody.”
Per usual, the defense is ahead of the offense at this point of the season. In fact, those on the defensive side of the ball see that side of the ball beginning to form something special.
“Overall, the defense did pretty good,” linebacker Alan Tisdale said. “We ran to the ball, physical, communicating… The ones are looking pretty good, but there’s still room for improvement.
“Our whole d-line is crazy. Our defense is just crazy this season. I’m just excited for the first game, really.”
Either way, Virginia Tech is happy at this point to be on the field for spring practice.
“It’s been awesome,” DeIuliis said. “We missed it. You can only be in the weight room so much. We love lifting, but there’s some stuff that’s going to be handled on the field, and we’re finally getting a chance to compete with one another. Just being outside, it’s beautiful right now. It’s nice to be back out there for sure.”
Tisdale and the Weight Battle
The skill level and raw athletic ability has never been a question for Alan Tisdale. It’s his commitment in the weight room and with his diet to put on pounds and extra muscle needed to excel at the linebacker position.
In 2020, Tisdale was listed as 210 pounds, but he appeared even smaller than that on the field. Now, he’s bulked up and found himself in a comfortable spot with plenty of time to keep adding weight before the season begins.
“Right now I wanted to be around 215-220. Right now I’m 219,” Tisdale said. “I feel like I move the same. I feel good.”
With the addition of Virginia Tech’s new student-athlete performance center, Tisdale has all the resources necessary to truly make the change this offseason and continue trekking into unchartered territory weight wise.
“The ability to get into a routine and continue to eat, the fourth floor is certainly not going to hurt,” head coach Justin Fuente said. “It certainly helps a guy like Alan. He’s put on some good weight throughout this offseason, and he’ll need to continue to do it throughout the summer. He looks much better than he did at any point last year from a physical standpoint.”
For Tisdale, it comes with a more stable situation off the field. Last year, he was still adjusting to becoming the father in the midst of being a student-athlete. Now, there is more of a rhythm. There’s healthy habits that allow him to find some semblance of normalcy in such a busy season of life.
“The biggest thing is he has balance in his life right now between the baby and school and football,” Fuente said. “He seems to be in a routine, which you can imagine is hard to do when you’re that young and you’re dealing with grown up responsibilities. He has made tremendous strides from a mental standpoint. At times, he was just a little bit of an unguided missile. The guy could really run, and it was all over the place. This spring has been pretty evident that he’s much more comfortable schematically with what we’re asking him to do.”
DeIuliis Draws Praise this Offseason
College football has evolved over the years due to the design of the transfer portal, practically allowing free agency in the sport. A player isn’t getting enough playing time? Enter the portal and try your luck elsewhere.
Drake DeIuliis is one who has strayed from the trend. After being stuck behind guys like Dalton Keene and James Mitchell at the tight end position along with up-and-comers like Nick Gallo, DeIuliis easily could have moved on elsewhere and no one would have batted an eye.
Instead, he’s stuck through adversity and appears poised to claim a role in the 2021 season.
“I’m so proud of Drake,” Fuente said. “I’m proud because he’s had an interesting journey… He’s just continued to stay the course and is becoming a leader for us. He’s a well-respected guy. He’s picking it up. It’s taking time. He’s one of those guys who just has to be diligent in terms of understanding what we’re asking those guys to do because it is difficult. We ask those guys to do a lot. He’s a great example, in my opinion, of a guy who stuck it out, continued to work hard and now is reaping the benefits.”
“I can’t say that it was the most fun thing that I’ve done since I’ve been around here, but it’s definitely paid off in the long run,” DeIuliis added. “I’ve learned some lessons about sticking to it and keeping my head down and just grinding it out. It’s paid off this past season, and hopefully this season it will just continue to get better and better.”
It’s been a slow grind for DeIuliis, a redshirt junior. In his freshman season, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound tight end dealt with a hobbled hamstring and never made an impact. He then got buried in the depth chart the following years. The thought of transferring crossed his mind, but ultimately he decided to stick it out.
“It was a conversation with my parents about if I wanted to do it or not,” DeIuliis said. “I think that they helped me keep my head on my shoulders the right way and pushed through it. It would have been easy to go somewhere else, but I’m glad I stuck it out here with a great coaching staff and some great teammates. I’ll have those relationships forever because I stayed here.
“I love this place. This will be home until the day that I’m not breathing anymore. I think that helped, the team helped, and I think I was immature by wanting to take the easy way out, so I’m glad that I was pushed to stay.”
In 2020, DeIuliis made his mark catching four passes for 30 yards. Now, he’s expected to take an even larger step forward in a deep tight end room.
Virginia Tech often utilizes 12 personnel on offense with two tight ends on the field at the same time. Mitchell and Gallo can be spread out wide, leaving DeIuliis as the guy who could be called upon to block inside.
“We need depth at that position,” Fuente said. “It’s as important a position as we have on the offensive side of the ball, and having quality depth is imperative because we want to put those guys on the field. They’re so versatile and can do so many things. You can really benefit the team that it’s easy to play one, two, three, or five of them.”
It’s this healthy competition that is pushing the Hokies forward one day and one step at a time.
“I think that everybody is going to have a chance to contribute a lot in their own type of way,” DeIuliis. “It’s going to be really beneficial for everyone on the team.”