On Wednesday night, Virginia Tech football head coach Brent Pry, men’s basketball head coach Mike Young and wrestling head coach Tony Robie joined Zach Mackey and Mike Burnop on Tech Talk Live at McClain’s at First & Main. They discussed the current landscapes of their programs and what the upcoming season will bring.
The Virginia football game is almost sold out:
We’d love for it to be a sellout. As a sign to our recruits, to our players, to everybody what this place is all about.
How was Tucker Holloway’s play vs. Georgia Tech:
It was awesome. Tucker’s a great young man, great family, hard worker. Started buried on the depth chart, worked his way up, he’s one of those guys who is always out there doing something after practice. We have to get a little bit more of that going on, but he’s a great example. He’s one of those guys I would call culture driving. It’s everything that you’re trying to get the guys to understand, he’s doing it. The extra effort, the attention to detail, going overboard on communication, his mentality, its everything. I was very happy for him and at the same time, I wasn’t surprised.
How many games has he played? Will we see him more at wide receiver?
He has one left as far as his four games where he could still redshirt. We had a couple of conversations this week, he’s had conversations with his family. We’ve talked with Coach Mines, we’ve talked with Coach Holt, what this would look like moving forward. This is a decision from all of us. His family is going to be very involved in this, I want them to be.
In the end, all we can do is say, “Tucker, this is what it would look like moving forward for the next couple of weeks.” For me and for our team, we want to do everything we can to put our best foot forward, close the season out the right way, and develop. When we take the field again next September, we’re as good as we can be. Tucker is going to be a big part of that and we’ll have a conversation Sunday after game four is burned on what it’s going to look like.
How do those conversations go?
There are so many conversations like that, in roster management, the guys that are considering the NFL, somebody that is considering the portal, do you redshirt a guy or do you not? You have to involve their village, their people, their support system. That’s important to them, that’s the folks that they’re listening to besides us. What I want to do is make sure we give them our honest feedback, our evaluation, our perspective, what we think is best for them and how it looks for our football team.
How have the Sunday night scrimmages been?
They’ve been great. That’s something that we started doing a long time ago at Vanderbilt with James [Franklin]. It’s been very important to the process and developing players, and even more so right now with not being bowl eligible, we’re going to amp that up and get more snaps, more time devoted to that. We committed a lot of time to that in the open date, got to evaluate a lot of guys, get them some experience, so it’s been really good.
When was the last time you did not go to a bowl game?
My last year at Memphis, 2009.
What do you do when you are not in a bowl game?
There is not a lot of time in there, to be honest. The NCAA implemented a four-day dead period, so when we get them with the UVA game, there are four days where there is no recruiting by anybody in the country. That time is supposed to be allotted to conversations with your players, the guys that are contemplating going to the NFL, guys that are contemplating going in the portal, and also recruiting the transfer portal.
I’m not sure if four days is the right number or not, but we’ll be in the office having those meetings. I’ve told guys, if it involves us jumping in the car and driving to see a parent and doing things like that, we’re going to work very hard at managing our roster and making the right decisions for the team moving forward.
How was Bruce Arians speaking to the team?
Fantastic. Rodney had a hand in helping us get him there. He’s just a regular guy. That’s the first thing that stood out to me. You’re talking about a Super Bowl champion and everything he’s accomplished in his career. To talk to him, he’s so approachable. He’s so genuine, the way he spoke to our team, no nonsense, similar message to what they’re hearing from us every day. I was so happy to have him want to be part of it. He really believes in Virginia Tech, a strong passion for this place and a strong passion for Virginia Tech football. The door is always open for Coach Arians.
A Hokie for ʟɪꜰᴇ.
— Virginia Tech Football (@HokiesFB) November 8, 2022
Many good things happened in the Georgia Tech game, but it fell apart in the fourth quarter:
It’s hard to hear. I mean, we lost the last three games by eight points. We’re not doing enough to win the game. It’s been one thing or another. The last two weeks to have the type of lead we had, going into the fourth quarter, that’s about the confidence to do it and a closers mentality. We’ve been talking to the team a lot about that. There are things we did in that fourth quarter that just aren’t indicative of who we are. We have to play to our potential and minimize the self-inflicted wounds.
Walk us through what happens on the field from the third to the fourth quarter.
Everybody gets together and we’ve kind of made a rally cry, fourth quarter, let’s go, doesn’t matter what the score is, where it’s at, let’s go do what we need to do to win the game and close it out. The guys are together, they get it. There are some things going on with, ‘Are they pressing to make a play to win the game? Are they confident enough to win the game? Are they doing the right things and focused in that moment?’ We’ve talked about a lot of things. In the end, it all goes back to me and the leadership and having them in the right mindset.
When you’re up like that, ‘How do we win this football game as coaches and players?’ I told them again, I said, ‘The lessons we’re learning are invaluable. The things we’re going through, the adversity, if we’re just taking those things in, absorbing it, owning it, and learning from our experiences, then, we’re going to be okay. When we make excuses, or we stiff-arm, or we don’t recognize where we’re not good enough, that’s where the problems start.’ Right now, this team has been awesome that way. They have been awesome. We had two great practices. For a team, that’s 2-7, the way they worked yesterday, and the way they worked today, you wouldn’t know that if you walked out there.
How hard is it from a culture standpoint to get that finisher mentality in the fourth quarter?
It’s confidence. It really is. It’s continued to be aggressive, playing to the level that got you there, that got you that lead. Right now, when you look at the first three quarters, we don’t look like the same team in the fourth quarter. We’ve looked at fatigue, we’ve looked at things, we’ve got some depth issues we’re battling and dealing with and trying to manage. At the same time, it’s about playing with a level of confidence, and playing at that high level that got you to that point, because we don’t look like the same team in the fourth quarter. We did it for two weeks that we looked like earlier in the game.
How about that video of the 2023 recruits that committed?
Yeah, that group has been outstanding, you talk about a bunch of truly committed players that are hanging in there with us. It’s not just them, it’s their families, guys that are right for Virginia Tech. I couldn’t be more proud of them. We’ve got a good group of guys coming in here to help us do this thing. That’s going to be important, recruiting is half the battle. As much as I love this class that’s coming in, I’ve already told them, we’re going to go out to this 2024 class and try and beat you out. Just so you understand.
Jason Brown has donated some of his NIL money to pediatric cancer research:
I’m very proud of Jason. He’s a selfless young man. Obviously, when you’re the backup quarterback, and you want to be the starter, your attitude, he’s been great. He’s supportive of Grant [Wells]. He prepares every week like he’s the starter, I have a lot of confidence in Jason. What he’s doing with this organization, and what he wants to do with any money that he makes, just a super selfless approach, and I’m very proud of him. It’s important to him. The video that went out was great. It was on the Jumbotron, it was on social media. That’s the type of team we want to be.
How do you go about the transfer portal?
Like I’ve mentioned before, we want to build this thing with high school players from our footprint, the last class, this class, it represents that. At the same time, you do have to fulfill needs. We’ve got four days after the UVA game where we are going to be in some heavy meetings and working through things. Having conversations with our roster management is at the top of the list right now. You never used to have to worry about it, not anywhere like you do now.
Sometimes it’s going to be about keeping a guy, retaining a guy, and other times it’s going to be about, ‘Well, he wants to go do his thing, so let’s go see who’s available. You’d like to trade out an old guy for an old guy. If you lose a veteran, get a veteran. In some cases, you may be able to say, ‘Okay, I feel pretty good about this redshirt freshman stepping into a role. Personnel discussions, depth charts, that’s going to be the world we’re living in there for a couple of months.
What impresses you about the Duke run game so far?
Well, there’s several things. They have a quarterback that’s a very good runner, they gameplan that way. They also have two tailbacks that can do the work, make people miss, run through tackles, and I think they’ve got a very nice offensive line. Their left tackle, number 62, is arguably the best tackle I’ve seen in the league this fall. They got it going on. They have the right makeup to run the football well.
Their quarterback Riley Leonard is most of their offense:
He’s a good game manager, makes good decisions. They have a lot of read schemes in their offense. He’s either handed it to the tailback, pulling it and running it, or pulling it and throwing it. He’s making good decisions right now. He can make you miss. He can also run through tackles, and then he can throw the ball and be accurate with it.
Duke has a solid turnover margin. How important is it to hold on to the football?
They’ve been good that way, in just turnover margin. Offensively, defensively, both sides of the ball, they’ve done a good job that way and that’s one of the reasons they’ve got six wins to be honest.
Plus 14 in turnovers and they’ve forced 19 fumbles, recovering 15 of them. They have around 50 tackles for loss and 24 sacks:
They went down to Miami. There were eight turnovers by Miami in that ballgame. That’s about three games worth. They do a nice job. Coach Elko is a defensive guy. I think he has a good group over there, has a safety playing really well for him. They’re sound and they complement each other. Their offense complements their defense, their defense compliments their offense.
Looking at Duke’s schedule, they could’ve been undefeated easily:
They’ve done a nice job. I think they’ll go 0-1 this weekend. Outside of that, can they beat Pittsburgh? Yes. Can they beat Wake Forest? Yes. They have a little momentum right now. I talked to the team after practice about let’s go earn some respect. You want respect? We’ve been so close. This is a six-win team, at their place. You’re the underdog. This is how you go get it. They know if we put it all together, we’re more than good enough to win this football game. That’s the mindset that we have right now.
It’s tough early on to get scouting reports and information. Is it better now that you have some tape to use?
Yeah, but I like ours a lot more than Coach Pry. I cannot imagine playing a game without scrimmaging. We had the opportunity to scrimmage twice. We had Liberty and Richmond, which are great tune-ups, and just kind of working out the kinks here. It’s hard getting film on those first couple. I was at the mid-major level for a long time and that’s the only advantage they have over us. They’re coming to our place. They’re doing all the travel.
The one advantage they have is they know we can’t get tape on them. That’s not going to get out. Now, tomorrow night against Lehigh, they played Syracuse, who’s not playing all zones, so we got something out of that film. We know more about their personnel. They have a number of returning guys, so a little bit easier. Sunday against William and Mary will be a little bit easier again, in that regard. Just do the best you can.
Sean Pedulla didn’t have great scrimmages, but he played really well Monday night:
He likes those lights coming on in Cassel. He likes the Cassell Guard. All you good people here, filling those stands. They all do. We all do. I do. I thought he had a good look, I thought he moved very well. He was upside-down in the two scrimmages; I can’t say that I had any concern whatsoever. Just a bit of a rut and we had a little heart to heart, you figure it out work, you work yourself out of it. That’s what he did. That’s what good players do. He’s certainly a good player.
How about Grant Basile’s performance debut?
I think Mike Burnop could have hit some of those threes, he was so wide open. It was like target practice, but it’s a tricky little coverage at the top of the floor and Basile can really shoot it. Now, we come in with Justyn Mutts tomorrow night and for the rest of the year, I don’t ever want to coach another game this year without Justyn Mutts. We can do some high-low things with Basile at the top. Basile is a gravity guy, they edge closer to him because of his ability to shoot.
Obviously, he was fired up to play in that building in front of our great fans, and he didn’t disappoint. Now, fellas, he gave up 28. You score 30, but you give up 28, that’s plus two and that’s not very good. He’s going to have to get better defensively. Let’s just say very politely and completely trying to give him confidence, I’ve really encouraged him over the last couple of practices to be a better defender. I would never raise my voice at Grant Basile or anybody else. I think we’ll see a better level of performance on the defensive end from our boy tomorrow night.
How about Justyn Mutts? What is different about his game this year?
I want everybody to understand that he did nothing wrong. I don’t want that to be taken the wrong way. He was suspended and I was afraid he was going to be suspended for three games. A couple of his friends that were going through the same process with him were suspended three games, they played in an additional showcase event that Justyn didn’t participate in. When that news came around late August that he had been suspended for one game, I was overjoyed. Sign me up. I’m good with that. He did nothing wrong. I encouraged him to participate in the event because there was going to be a number of people there to see him play.
It was a lot of heartburn. It was a lot of uneasy moments. All last spring, he had all of his classes online. That guy’s got 19 degrees. He moved to Las Vegas. He moved out there for the spring, and he’s working out with all those people, a lot of Notre Dame kids were there. A lot University of Texas kids were there, and they’re with their agents. Keve Aluma came through his gym for three days.
He’s just playing and working on his game. He’s different, he’s better. It’s not going to be anything glaring. It’s just his ball skills are better. He looks like a million dollars. We need more of him. As Coach Pry would say, “He’s long and he can guard.” He’s the best defender I’ve ever coached. Long Arms, big hands. He comes back with just the best attitude and so excited to be back in Blacksburg to play in Cassell tomorrow night. His first shot might end up in Fairlawn, but I know he’ll be fired up.
How was the student section Monday night?
It hasn’t been always been like that. I brought my team here in 2002, I think my first year as a head coach. We beat a really bad Virginia Tech team and I don’t think there were 2000 people in there. That was created before I got to Virginia Tech. I don’t know what initiated it, how it got going, but that student section, they’re unbelievable. That’s nine o’clock on a Monday night and they are rolling, I’m so appreciative.
That energy, I’ve told everybody before I’ll tell you again, I can’t tell you how many people, coaches, prominent coaches in our league, have stopped me on the road and said Cassell Coliseum is the hardest place for us to go in and play. It’s the hardest place for visiting teams to win. We all know it. I know our fanbase, I know the Cassell Guard takes a great deal of pride in that. I’m telling you, Grant was silly. I made him check and make sure he had his jersey on, make sure his shorts were on, I was afraid the boy was going to go out there in his underwear. He was so fired up to get out in front of that crowd and it’s fun. We get to do it about 16 more times this year.
How about Lynn Kidd and the minutes he got?
He’s coming into his own. In athletics, kids come along at different intervals. I don’t project this kid’s a four star, I don’t care. That means nothing to me. Let him run his own race. He wasn’t ready to go last year. His basketball IQ, not great. He needed more time to film room. That boy was around all summer and he worked his brains out. He was up in our office every day for 15 minutes, 45 minutes, hour, hour and a half, watching film. He’s asking David Jackson for extra work in the weight room. He worked out religiously.
He’s got great hands. He’s built like a statue. I’m so proud of him. I don’t say much to him anymore. He’s got it. Now let him grow, let him grow and live through some mistakes. That’s where you get to when you’re in his situation, is you have the opportunity to play through some things as opposed to last year, he makes a mistake, you jerk him out because Aluma’s sitting there. This kid’s ready to play and he’s ready to help us win games and I’m thrilled for him.
What have you seen out of Lehigh?
Evan Taylor, number five, is a very good player. He could play in our league. He had 20 on Monday night against Syracuse. Built to score, good looking young man, 6-6, Cattoor will have the lion’s share of the responsibility guarding him, we’ll have to do it as a group. Pretty good size on the front line, we should have a decided advantage there. I think their other guards, 22 and 13, are good basketball players. This will be a more difficult to test for us than Monday night was, we’re going to have to play a good ball game. I think we’re ready to do just that.
David Jackson has had lots of time with recruits and players in the offseason:
He does a phenomenal job. I can’t imagine there’s one better in the country. He has his hands on them a lot more than anybody else. What he pours into them, not just in the strength and conditioning area, but what he’s pouring into them in terms of teamwork, in terms of selflessness, in terms of humility, in terms of playing the game the right way. Because he played here, they know that he knows exactly what he’s talking about when he talks about X’s and O’s and specifics of the game. He’s remarkable. We are really, really lucky to have him. I’m telling you, he loves this place. You know that he loves Virginia Tech. He is a Hokie through and through.
What’s been going on recently?
We hosted an event up at Roanoke College last week in the Southeast Open, which was pretty successful, we had about 350 participants. We had eight champions, wrestled pretty well, we had some young guys, some true freshmen that really stepped up. Three true freshmen won an event. We’re excited. It was a good showing, it was good to be able to get our feet underneath us before we go to Columbus, Ohio on Friday and take on the fourth ranked team in the country in Ohio State. It was a good season opener for us.
What are your expectations going into this season?
I feel really good about our team. I’ll say that much. I think we have a good blend of some older guys, that have had a lot of success at the national level. Obviously with Mekhi Lewis who’s been first and second at the NCAA’s, having him back is huge. He’s a huge point scorer for us. Him combined with Hunter Bolen, Bryce Andonian, and Sam Latona. Then we’ve got a group of guys in the middle that are knocking on the door, Hunter Catka, Andy Smith, Eddie Ventresca, who I think are guys that are capable of making that next step and being on the scene nationally.
We have a group of really good freshmen, we have two true freshmen in particular, Tom Crook from Tampa, Florida, and Caleb Henson from Atlanta, Georgia, who are both already ranked in the top 20 in the country as true freshmen. Those are guys we’re really excited about so. As far as the expectations are concerned, we’re always in it to try to win ACC titles. Our goal is always to take a trophy home from the NCAA is and get in the top four, which is never an easy task. I think we’ve got a team if we wrestle well, at the right time of the year, we’re certainly capable of doing that.
What’s the upcoming wrestling schedule?
We have Ohio State this week, they’re ranked fourth. Then we have Missouri, they’re ranked sixth in the country. We have Cornell at home at the Moss Arts Center on January 6, I think they’re ranked fifth in the country. We’re not messing around this year. We got our work cut out for us.
That’s a cool event at the Moss Arts Center:
Yeah, it’s an awesome event. If you’ve never been out to the Moss Arts Center for a wrestling match, it’s something you have to check off your checklist of sporting events. It’s probably the coolest venue for a wrestling match that I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a lot of fun. I know our fans love it. Our guys love it. The opposing teams that come in and wrestle against us, they love it as well.
You just signed a top-five recruiting class in the country:
We’re excited about it. We have five kids ranked in the top 100 in the country. We have a heavyweight out in New Jersey who’s going to play football here as well, his name is Jimmy Mullen. He’s the number six overall ranked recruit in the country, number one heavyweight in the country. We have a kid named Sonny Sasso from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, his brother wrestles at Ohio State. He was an NCAA runner up at Ohio State. He picked Virginia Tech over Ohio State, among some other big schools as well, and was looking at Penn State and Oklahoma State. That was a huge get for us as well.
We’ve added a few other pieces, a kid named Rafael Hipolito, who’s actually a world champion Jujitsu guy. He has been wrestling for three years and took fourth at the biggest national tournament in the country. He’s tremendously talented. We have a bunch of good guys, I think six in total. A bunch of guys that I think will contribute and develop into being great college wrestlers. I think the biggest thing about this class is we’ve got great athletes, probably is athletic as a class as we’ve had. We have three two-sport guys. Once they dedicate themselves to wrestling full time, they’ll have the chance to be fantastic for us.
Any plans to wrestle at the baseball field again?
I think about it every year and then I just think about how lucky we got with the weather. It’s going to be hard to duplicate that again. If the stars line up, it has to be the right weekend. It has to be the right opponent. We would certainly entertain doing that again because that was a really cool event.
How does the ACC look for wrestling?
I think it’s as good as it’s ever been. I think there’s as much parity as there’s ever been, I think there’s probably four teams that are capable of winning the ACC championship, obviously, Virginia Tech being one of them. NC State, as usual, has a really good team again this year. I think Pitt and UNC have definitely upped their game. They’ve recruited well, Pitt has a bunch of transfers that have come in.
It’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be entertaining. It’s going to make for some great home dual meets and some fantastic action once we get to our conference matches. We’re excited about it. Winning an ACC title is a big deal for us, it’s something that’s important to our program. It’s definitely high on our goals list. I think if we wrestle well, we stay healthy, then we have a good chance of making that happen.
It seems to always boil down to NC State and Virginia Tech:
It has been the last several years, that’s for sure. We’ve kind of gone back and forth. They probably have gotten the better of us in recent years, although we’ve done a little bit better at the national tournament. They’ve got a great program, they recruit very, very well. Great coaching down there. I think the rivalry between us and NC State has made both programs a lot better in the process. We’re excited. We have them at home this year, we actually open up with them. They’re our first ACC match this year. That’ll make it a little bit interesting as well.