As a freshman wide receiver in 2018, Tre Turner took a lot of notes from the veterans in the room. In his fourth year at Virginia Tech, Turner has embraced more of a leadership role, particularly becoming more vocal.
“I feel like me being vocal, doing what I do everyday, helps the room,” Turner said. “It’s really just me translating what I learned to them [younger receivers] because I won’t be there to tell them that all of their college careers.”
The Greensboro, N.C. native is one of the reasons why the wide receiver room is “heading in the right direction,” according to head coach Justin Fuente. Kaleb Smith (redshirt sophomore) and Tayvion Robinson (sophomore) are two of the other factors that have influenced that group in a positive manner.
“When you start to talk about Kaleb Smith and Tayvion [Robinson] and Tre [Turner] as guys to learn from and how to practice and go about things every single day, that’s what excites me about the mentality in that room,” Fuente said. “I haven’t always been thrilled with the mentality in that room since I’ve been here, and it’s headed in a really positive direction, led by those older players.”
Smith, a Bumpass, Va. native who represents the wide receiver room on the team’s leadership council, originally committed to play at Wake Forest. He decided to follow his dream, however, and chose to attend Virginia Tech instead. He joined the team as a walk-on back in 2017 and was put on scholarship in 2019.
In two seasons, Smith’s caught 17 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. It’s more than the stats, though. He’s made a difference as a leader.
“I’ve seen the change of culture in our room for the better,” Smith said.
Same goes for Robinson. A Cox High School product from Virginia Beach, Robinson was Tech’s leading receiver last season. He noticed he’s matured in all aspects of his game over the course of the spring and summer.
“Now that I’m an older guy, I realize that I have to carry myself in a different way in practice, the weight room, training,” Robinson said at Tech’s media day. “It’s definitely fun, I’m definitely still learning even though I’m an older guy.”
Turner said he had a day in the offseason where he had an attitude and was down. He immediately saw the affect his mood and body language had on the room, and he had a self-realization.
“It can’t be about you, you have to bring that same attitude every day to really spread it through the room so we can all have the same mindset,” Turner told himself. “If they come in and see the guy they want to talk to and learn from everyday, if they see that he’s not trying to talk to anybody and that he’s not there that day, it’s going to be harder for them to learn and do what they want to do everyday because they’re not listening and I’m not giving them tips or motivation to go through practice.”
In the past, Turner said there seemed to always be some distraction floating around the room, from drama or injuries to playing time. Some days, players didn’t want to practice. There were too many different minsets.
Now when Turner walks in the wide receiver room, it’s a completely different vibe.
“You flip the script,” Turner said. “Whatever you had coming into the day, wipe it away, you’ve got football right now. After practice you can think about that again, but when you come into the building to come to work, that’s our mindset now.
“This year, we’ve set the standard in the room and we all come in and attack it everyday. … I can see that improvement based off of my first three years.”
That message has translated to the younger players, who Fuente and Turner raved about. Jaden Payoute enters his third season in Blacksburg but hasn’t played a snap at receiver due to injury, while true freshmen Jaylen Jones and Da’Wain Lofton have impressed in such a short time. All three are listed on Virginia Tech’s two-deep ahead of the season opener.
“I love the fact that those guys [Jones, Lofton and Payoute] have worked their way into it,” Fuente said. “It says a lot about all three of them. Jaden’s had tremendous adversity in his short time here, the other two pups have just been fantastic. They were here in the spring. I hope they can make contributions on special teams to start with and help us spell those other guys and not see a drop-off in production and execution. I’m really excited because they have a couple guys [Smith, Robinson and Turner] in front of them to learn from.”
“What’s impressed me about this young group of receivers is that they all want to work, they all want to learn,” Turner said. “The ones that came in the spring, they learned everything so fast and they kept wanting to learn more. You can move them around to different spots and everything. … When you can move guys around to different positions and they’re that young, it shows promise for that group and I like where they’re headed.”
There’s more depth at the wide receiver position this year in Blacksburg, and the group is in a better place. It all stems from the leadership of Turner, Smith and Robinson.
“I love this room more than I ever have,” Turner said. “I actually want to come work with these guys because we all want to learn, we’re all getting better every single day.”