On Thursday night, Virginia Tech head coach Brent Pry, senior director of player personnel Mike Villagrana and assistant director of strength and conditioning Jarrett Ferguson joined Zach Mackey and Mike Burnop on Tech Talk Live at McClain’s at First & Main. They discussed last week’s win against Wofford, the upcoming game against West Virginia, how they prepare for a Thursday game and other topics.
This season, Tech Talk Live will air on Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET across the Virginia Tech Sports Network.
Happy with the Wofford game offensively?
Definitely some improvements in a couple of areas. We were able to extend drives, work the clock, convert third downs. I’d like to see us do a little bit better in the red zone and convert touchdowns rather than field goals. It’s good to see our field goal place kicking unit do so well.
You talked last week about challenging receivers. Was it nice to see the younger guys step up?
Yes, number one, we need that as an offensive unit. As I’ve said all along, there’s some guys that were candidates. They needed to come along, and I think that was the first game where you got to feel what some of those guys were all about. I’m happy for them personally, and obviously need it for our unit. When you think about Jadan Blue, he caught over 160 passes at Temple. He’s just been banged up, and Christian Moss kind of the same thing. Those guys both emerged and had monster games, made some really good catches.
How about Jadan Blue on third-and-19, goes for 29 yards to get the first down. Real nice grab, went up for it short-handed, he catches about everything that’s thrown to him. He’s battle-tested, he’s mature, he’s a worker. He’s had some things go on in his personal life, and when he got to VT, it slowed his progress down. Then he had a minor injury, that was another hurdle. He’s overcome quite a bit to get to this point, and my plans and his plans are he just keeps getting better from here.
On Grant Wells throwing over 300 yards and no interceptions:
That’s a good example of what Grant’s all about. He can be patient, read coverages, make accurate throws, I’d like to see us do a bit more of that.
Kicker Will Ross has been solid, couple of 40-yarders in that game. How about his play so far this season?
I’m pleased with Will. He’s done a nice job. He won the job in the preseason; he and John Love had a pretty good competition for that spot. I think it made them both better. He came out of that thing and he’s running with it.
It was a bit sluggish to start the third quarter. Was it something Wofford did defensively?
I’m not sure. They did a nice job all day long, they tried to bottle us up, had a good plan to stop the run, but it sputtered a bit coming out the gate. Both sides to a degree. We have to be better than that.
How was the 11 a.m. kickoff?
I just thought our fan base was phenomenal. For that place to look like it did, and to be filled up like it was at 11 a.m., or just prior to, very happy to see that. Our kids enjoyed it. It didn’t feel like 11 a.m. to anybody in that stadium. The atmosphere this week will be absolutely incredible, off the charts for West Virginia coming in.
Do you remember much about those games when you were a graduate assistant here?
That’s a great series. Growing up in West Virginia, I know a lot about that team and that program, had followed it for years. I was excited when I was here in the 90s and we were squaring off against those guys, always somewhat competitive games, obviously one that everyone looked forward to even back then.
How is that team different than they were last year when you look at the film?
They’re very explosive and athletic. They do a nice job distributing the ball, their quarterback’s a good player, he’s an accurate guy and a game manager. They have some wideouts that make the 50/50 catches, they have a tandem at running back. I really like what they’re doing there. They’ve got an agile guy in [Tony] Mathis, they have tight end CJ Donaldson. They list him at 240, he might be 250. He is a physical hard-nosed runner, version of the young man from Wofford.
How do you like the matchup of your secondary against their bigger receivers?
It’s a great challenge. Our guys have to play well. We have to make some plays out on the perimeter. They’re going to make a play or two, they’re good players who take enough shots. They’re going to merit some catches, but at the same time we have to make the plays. I think Armani [Chatman,] Dorian [Strong,] and Brion [Murray], those guys have decent size. Dorian has some length, Brion has some length, Armani is a nice size. We have to get body on body for these guys and compete like crazy on the perimeter.
What are your impressions of JT Daniels and how he runs that offense?
He is an accurate QB, he’s played in some battles. He was a highly recruited guy, he’s confident. A couple of our guys played in some high school all-star games with him, he is just a competitor. Good arm, good arm strength, he fits this offense very well.
What has stood out to you from the tape you’ve been able to watch on West Virginia?
Those games could have gone either way very easily. They were right there with Pitt, had the ball at the end, chance to go tie it, had the lead a few times. The Kansas game they were out front for most of it, and Kansas tied it up in the third quarter. It went round and round. They had every opportunity to win both those football games.
Will there be a lot of recruits here even though Friday is a school day?
I think most of that will be done on TV. We have around 15-20 coming, we’ve been real fortunate these first two home games. We’ve had a really nice recruiting group come in, good prospect group. We’ll have some of the local guys come over, but it’s tough on Thursday nights. They do their game prep with their team after school, and some of them across the state are playing games Thursday nights. I don’t anticipate the number to be high, but I think they’ll be tuned in on the television.
How has the process gone along of getting ready for this short week?
Obviously, we’ve emphasized it, we talked about it before Wofford. The fact we are playing three games in 13 days, they had to start really taking care of themselves and looking at the big picture. The recovery process started post-game Saturday, we got the film graded, all the quality control work done. We were able to rock and roll on West Virginia come Sunday. We’re having shortened versions of practice; we’re not going out there in full pads. Plenty of jog-through and walk-through, making sure we want to be the fresher team.
Games like these could come down to the return game:
We got some guys that are pretty explosive back there, whether it’s Keshawn [King] or Chance [Black], we have some guys that can do that. DJ [Harvey] made a little hay on punt return. He did a couple and made a few guys miss. We didn’t block very well, that’s been an emphasis this week. We are a block or two away on some of those returns from hitting them. It’s about everybody trusting everybody. They’re going to make their blocks, run the ball where it needs to be, don’t throw a block too early, be able to stay on it and stay clean. We’ve done a great job protecting the ball on special teams, had little to no penalties. We have to do a nice job of getting a bit more production out of the return itself.
What is your role at Virginia Tech?
It has evolved in terms of recruiting. We have a huge department of ten different people. Each person has a different role when it comes to recruiting, from marketing, to personal, to compliance, to operations. Everybody has a role. I delegate that for the most part and, we meet every day with our guys and talk about agenda, objective, what we want to get done. As far as roster management work with Coach Pry, and our needs, or potentials needs now or potential needs in the future. That’s basically a summary of what I do.
How did you manage having 130 recruits at the Boston College game?
I have a great staff. First of all, I have a couple of guys here, Lino [Lupinetti,] Alex [Jones,] Rob [Branch,] Camie Cole Nations is here, they do a phenomenal job with that. So you have 130 recruits there, but they also have guests, so we used about 180 tickets that game day and it was our first time doing it. There were a bunch of hurdles to get over, but it was an awesome experience. I think the recruits and their guests had a really good job but again, it goes to the staff that I have in my department, they did a phenomenal job.
What do you take the recruits through on game day? What will they see around campus?
We treat it as if a kid is never going to be able to come back again. We want to make sure that experience is great for them. When they get there, it’s customer service, it’s first class, and we try to make sure that they see a little bit of everything from on campus, to inside the facility, and obviously the game experience. When they get on campus, they come through the end door, that’s where we have registration. Then go through a faculty belt where we give them hand, weight, and arms measurements and all that stuff. Then they get to take a little picture with the start jumping sign, then they go eat, and then from there, our coaches mingle with them.
We take them to the Hokie Walk, we have a little section blocked off where Coach Pry gets to walk by them, shake their hands and meet their families. Then they go back and the coaches come and mingle with them again. We take them out on the field, get to meet Coach Pry at the 50-yard line, which is kind of neat for the kids. Then we take them over to the stands. They have good seats, too. In summary, that’s what they experience.
Do you miss being a special teams coordinator? And is that something you think you’d do again?
No, I love what I’m doing now. When I pivoted, I was coaching for about six, seven years, and then I got to Penn State. It kind of opened my eyes in this field. I always wanted to run my own department. I’m lucky and blessed right now where I’m at and what I’m doing, I have a great team. Honestly, the guys that I work with, the coaches that I work with, the support staff, everybody checks the boxes. This is a place that you want to end your career, be here forever. I don’t miss coaching and I was always tired. I never liked the X’s and O’s part of it. It’s always about the Jimmies and Joe’s. So that’s what I’m focused on now.
Who are the different people in your department?
Lino, who was here with the previous staff, we were lucky enough to keep him here. He kind of heads the department when it comes to personnel. Evaluations and stuff like that. He does that, he also has a big hand in the marketing part, does a great job. Also in the personnel part is Alex Jones, who I brought with me from Marshall. He helps with personnel. Glenwood Ferebee, he was a coach in North Carolina, was coaching with me at Hampton. He also does personnel, he has a great field for the relationships when it comes to North Carolina and Virginia coaches.
Rob Branch who we hired, he’s been around, he’s done a great job. He has a good feel, he was on the road. He was a coach, so he has a good feel for that part of it as well, which helps. Then the operations part, which is a huge part, you have to be a Swiss Army Knife. When it comes to recruiting operations, compliance budget, all that stuff is Camie Cole. She came from Marshall, was an intern for me at Mississippi State, does a phenomenal job for me.
There’s Jalyn Ballein, she does a phenomenal job with on campus visits. Anytime a person comes on campus, it’s like a wedding. So you have to put up a wedding and everything is scrutinized. Then you go back, and you spent a whole week working on this wedding. There’s always that person at the wedding that says, ‘those napkins are terrible’ or ‘that fan was awful.’ You know what I mean? Then you go back, you look at how you can get better and be more efficient.
She deals with all of that. She deals with all the visitors, last minute ads, photoshoots, all that stuff. We all collectively do that. But she runs that part, which is a huge part. She does a phenomenal job. We have a marketing part, Zack Lantz, you have Serena Rodriquez who does a phenomenal job when it comes to graphics. All those graphics you see through social and recruiting, that’s what they do primarily, and they do a phenomenal job doing that.
On playing defensive end and tight end for West Virginia in 2005 and scoring a touchdown against Virginia Tech:
I think it was one yard. You know how you have scouting reports on the other team? I wasn’t even on the scouting report. I was coming in there on short yardage plays, but they stuck me in and actually I got a penalty because I wasn’t supposed to be in the play before, so I was getting ripped by my coach. Then they threw me in there to play action and then Pat [White], if you guys remember him, he could have just ran the ball away, but he dumped it off to me. They were never thinking that this big, slow guy was going to go out for a pass and pass it to me. I knew that was probably going to be my only catch and pass, it was a touchdown. It was a cool memory of talking to Coach Beamer, Coach Foster about that too. It’s funny reminiscing on that but that was a good time, fond memory for my family as well.
Do you have many recruits coming on campus for this week’s game?
We have a handful guys coming in, 40 guys, mostly local in surrounding states. We try and reach out to a bunch of local high schools and make sure we take care of them, and they come in and it should be a good day for the recruits.
How do you sell Virginia Tech to the recruits?
There are different ways that we go about it but I think the main thing right now is our staff, we want to get back to the blue collar, the Beamer days of recruiting. Finding the right fits. There are four or five stars but he might not be a perfect fit for our program. When we’re talking to these guys, these young men, we’re preaching to the genuineness, we’re going to take care of them on and off the field, and we mean it.
A lot of times you run into coaches and it’s just coach speak and they’re being a salesman. When you talk to Coach Pry and our staff, he comes off as genuine. You walk out of his office and you know that he’s really going to have my back, I can trust this trust this man and the staff with my son for four years. That’s what we’re really preaching right now because everything else sells itself. The stadium, the academics, the campus community, that’s easy. The staff, the people, the men that these families are going to leave their children with, that goes a long way, that genuineness and that’s enough.
What did you do to counteract the quick week?
We try to keep it as normal as possible. We came in on Sunday, we’ll do our normal training regimen where we have our development group, and then we train our two groups, our offensive and defensive group for the week. That’s pretty much going to be our tough, heavy lift. Then we try to go through some type of regeneration stuff that’s going to help the guys recover and get prepared for the Thursday night game. We try to allocate that stuff throughout the week to help our guys recover and be ready for the game. We can’t go through a full week of training just because of the time constraints. Our developmental guys at least get two lifts in this week. Our Varsity guys get one in. Then we just crank it back up again for next week.
How has that changed the weightlifting part of it, do the guys still max lift?
That’s the same, we still have a testing period there at the end of the summer. It’s a little different from the Coach Gentry days. We break it up, where [in the past] we would max middle of the summer on certain lifts, like the squat, and then come back toward the end of the summer and hit the bench press. The cleans, the jerks, stuff like that, the vertical jumps, we would do that stuff. They’ve done a great job of cycling it through the summer, and then at the end finishing up and testing those guys to see where we’ve come from the winter.
How specific does it get with each individual player’s individual lifting regimen?
We’ll go through and do some assessments. In January when I came in, we all got together and we did some assessments. My FMS training, our FMS assessments, we go do some screening to see if there’s any deficiencies in their body as far as having any shoulder mobility issues, hip mobility issues, and then we try to get our sports scientists to write out a plan for us to implement for those guys throughout the winter and spring. Then we come back and reassess that deal again in the summer and get back on track to see what we need to do to help these guys.
You played back in 1998-2001, you had some great teams, the national championship team. Is it disappointing to not see the fullback position anymore?
When I first came back to Tech in 2006, I did an interview and the article was called “The Death of the Fullback” so I figured it was over with then. If you do miss it, you see some schools still implement a fullback, they’ve gone to a hybrid-back to where guys kind of a fullback and tight end. You still get to see it some, but I’m always going to enjoy watching like the smash mouth football. It might be a little boring but man it gets the job done.
Who are the guys who are putting on some big numbers?
You have to look at Dax Hollifield. He’s one of the guys that is an extremely hard worker, he can put some weight around. He’s really big on the power clean, hang clean, really good technique for him on that deal. He squats a lot. I’m looking at like, he’s at 350 range for cleans, well over 500 on squat. You look at [Josh] Fuga, Mario [Kendricks,] and [Norell] Pollard. Those guys throw some weight. Johnny Jordan, another big guy. These guys are throwing some weights around. When you look at the skill positions, the running backs, they’re throwing around a lot of weight. They’re pretty good.