Virginia Tech’s spring football season has come to a close. Scrimmages have been played, reps have been taken, new schemes have been installed, and depth charts are starting to take form.
It’s a welcome sight after the Hokies and all other teams across the country missed out on spring ball in 2020. For head coach Justin Fuente, it’s all helped him establish just how important practice can be.
“I’m awfully happy to have gotten as much uninterrupted work in as we have,” Fuente said. “We certainly needed it. I think we’re winding up a really productive spring in all three phases. It will be nice to get to the end of it and take stock in where we’re at and look at things both personnel wise and scheme wise as we point our eyes toward the fall.”
While there was still no Spring Game this year for Virginia Tech, the past 15 practices have offered players the opportunity to compete. It’s set a tone that the Hokies greatly missed out on in 2020…a tone that Fuente wants to push throughout the entire season.
For Virginia Tech, it created a bevy of issues last year with Justin Hamilton coming in as a new defensive coordinator along with a handful of new position coaches. Combined with the endless protocols surrounding COVID-19, nothing looked normal in 2020. Finally, the Hokies are getting a sampling of some normalcy again.
“It’s all encompassing,” Fuente said. “It’s everything from being on the actual physical field with your position coach to being in meetings, to getting to practice whatever we’re asking them to do. A total understanding of everything.
“It shouldn’t be understated. There’s a reason coaches all over the country talk about how important practice is, and that’s because it is. It certainly takes on a different meaning when you have things that change, whether that’s a position coach or coordinator or schematically or even personnel. It’s been really fun and enjoyable for competitive practices out there and given us a chance to teach without a game looming.”
Part of that process is bringing along some of the younger players who are learning a whole new system. The freshmen didn’t have that luxury last season, but this year they’re already seeing it pay dividends. Fuente specifically praised wide receiver Da’Wain Lofton and defensive back Jalen Stroman for their work while also mentioning wide receiver Jaylen Jones and defensive back Nyke Johnson.
“It was just such a unique situation,” Fuente said. “The whole freshman class basically missed fall camp. It was just the most absurd thing I’ve been through, quite honestly. And I don’t mean the rules we were following, I just mean trying to play games during all of that.
“Jalen Stroman is probably the furthest along of the young defensive players. I think it’s almost harder on defense for those young guys. On offense, you can teach a part of something and put a guy in to go do that and try to evaluate if he’ll be able to help you. That’s very difficult on defense… D Lofton has showed up. We made a concerted effort to get him the ball at times with the ones on the field.”
The work this spring has also afforded the chance for the quarterbacks to get more looks this spring. Braxton Burmeister will head into the summer as the expected starter after starting four games and passing for 687 yards with two touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns.
“[Burmeister] was a little bit of a continued victim of the circumstances from last year, too,” Fuente said. “I feel really good about him and his progress about where he’s at and the things we can do. He has a real good feel for pushing the ball down the field and he’s had a really productive spring.”
Texas A&M transfer quarterback Connor Blumrick was brought in this year to provide some depth at the position after Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson transferred. Fuente let him go live in the last scrimmage and was impressed with what he saw in different packages.
“Connor got in there and ran the ball pretty well,” Fuente said. “It looked like he enjoyed it. That was one takeaway from that, is that Connor is not afraid to get in there and go run the ball.”
Now, Virginia Tech will finish with player meetings, the conclusion of the Hard Hat program, and finals before heading into the summer. From there, Sam Howell and North Carolina await the Hokies for the season opener from Lane Stadium on September 3.