Virginia Tech’s spring football practices have come to an end. Newcomers learned the playbook, new schemes were added, and competition battles began to take form.
Head coach Justin Fuente has long talked about creating depth at every position, and one position where he’s always looked to do that is wide receiver. However, with the Hokies heading into the summer, the wide receiver room is one of the smallest in terms of players ready to contribute.
That was only exacerbated when Changa Hodge was lost for the season with a torn ACL at the end of the spring. Last year, Hodge saw action in nine games and caught three passes for 25 yards in his first year with Virginia Tech after transferring from Villanova.
“Changa won’t be able to play this year, but he’s already had his surgery and is on the road to recovery,” Fuente said. “It’s a tough deal. He’s been incredible. I always marvel at some of these young people that work so hard and have a setback. I’ve talked about this with Caleb Farley, and I feel the same way with Changa. He’s been so positive after this. You go in there to try to make them feel better, and their outlook or their positive outlook makes you feel better. I hate it for him, but he’s already on the road to recovery and getting better.”
Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson return to headline the wide receiver corps, but beyond them there are a lot of unknowns. It could open the door for some incoming freshmen like Da’Wain Lofton and Jaylen Jones who have picked up things quickly over the course of the spring.
“They [both] showed some glimpses of being able to help us pretty quickly,” Fuente said. “Aptitude and the offense and technique, and also skillset wise.”
Another name that Virginia Tech fans hope to see making plays on the field this year is Jaden Payoute. Payoute was a highly regarded four-star recruit out of Richmond. After redshirting in 2019, he was expected to make a name for himself in 2020 and openly drew the praise of Fuente during the fall.
Then, it all came crashing down. Payoute broke his ankle toward the end of fall camp and missed the entire season. Now, he’s continuing to recover and work himself back to 100 percent.
“It was hard at first, but being around my teammates, they kept my spirits up. They kept me going,” Payoute said. “It was frustrating not being out there, but I was doing everything the doctors told me to do. Going through the rehab stuff. That’s the main thing I’ve been focusing on.”
Payoute didn’t practice with the team this spring. Instead, he did certain drills on the side and studied film on his favorite players like Jerry Jeudy, Deandre Hopkins, and Keenan Allen so he can model their attention to detail when he returns. He’s continuing to build off the strides he took last year in the fall before he went down with the injury.
“Last year during fall camp, I feel like everything slowed down for me,” Payoute said. “I could play at my speed and get adjusted to the playbook. I felt like mentally wise I was ready, but things happened. Just have to be patient and wait your turn.
“Physically, I should be ready for the fall. After the spring, just go harder into rehab and I’ll be ready for the fall, 100 percent.”
If Payoute is at 100 percent for the fall like he expects, it would be a big boost for a team lacking playmakers on the outside. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder has all the physical capabilities of a standout receiver.
Payoute says he hasn’t measured it lately, but he had a 43-inch vertical in high school and even jumped over a Krispy Kreme stand one time. He was also a state champion in the 100-meter dash during his junior year of high school.
“It goes back to high school,” Payoute said. “I’ve always been able to jump. Even in elementary school, I would just jump over people for fun. That was the thing I would do at recess. I’ve been doing it my whole life.
“My strong suit is using my speed and physicality. I feel like I’m just working on honing my receiving skills. There’s always stuff to work on, but I feel like I’m a physical, fast receiver.”
Parker Clements Climbs into Potential Starting Role For Virginia Tech
During the spring, freshman Parker Clements has worked with the ones as right tackle and could be in position to join an experienced starting offensive line in 2021.
Clements came to Blacksburg last year and spent the season adding muscle and gains to his already 6-foot-7 height.
“My first weigh-in when I first got here was 267 [pounds],” Clements said. “Right now I’m in between 300 and 304. I’ve definitely gained a lot since I’ve got here with the strength and nutrition staff.
“Just putting the meal plans together. I got on creatine. I’ve seen a lot [of gains] since then. Just listening to the strength and nutrition staff and putting in work every day is the biggest component.”
With veterans like Brock Hoffman, Lecitus Smith, Luke Tenuta and Silas Dzansi returning to the forefront this year, Clements has a chance to become the talented youngster of the group. In the meantime, he’s become a sponge, taking in all the intricacies of what it takes to be successful from those players around him, including Christian Darrisaw last year.
“Tenuta and all four of the old guys that we have now have definitely helped a lot,” Clements said. “Being with CD last year and practicing with him. He’s very impressive… the way his hips are, his ankle mobility. He just seems like he can slow the game down a lot, and that’s one thing that I aspire to do one day. It just looks easy for him out there.”
Whether Clements becomes a starter or not in 2021, he’s already asserted himself and he’ll receive his fair share of action with the way offensive line coach Vance Vice has been known to shuffle his unit. After all, it’s what comes with the territory of being on the Vice Squad.
“I feel like I had a pretty good spring,” Clements said. “Coach Vice and Coach Fuente are always going to put the best five out there on the field. I’m not thinking too far ahead on anything. I’m just doing my best to get better and see where that takes me.”