A head coaching transition can be tough for veteran college football players to handle, particularly when they have grown used to playing for a legend. But Virginia Tech first-year head coach Justin Fuente appears to be developing a positive rapport as he takes the reins following the retirement of Frank Beamer.
“Coach Fuente has been awesome,” said senior fullback Sam Rogers. “Something he said right away that stuck with me – he wasn't going to tear anything down that Coach Beamer started. He was starting with the foundation. It's awesome to play for a guy who has that mentality. He's bringing a whole new level of enthusiasm and tempo to him. It's awesome to have him around. Can't wait to keep playing for him … honestly, it has been a smooth process. Picking up the offense, obviously (was) a new adjustment. But football is football. You're going to have similar schemes no matter what you do.”
Redshirt senior defensive end Ken Ekanem initially expressed reservations about playing under a new coach after four seasons in the Virginia Tech program under Beamer, who the NCAA Division I’s leader in career wins before stepping down. But Fuente – whose Memphis teams won 19 games over the previous two seasons – quickly set his mind at ease.
“We had meetings with Coach Fuente, each one of us on the team,” Ekanem reported. “He emphasized what he's going to implement at Virginia Tech, how he's going to continue Coach Beamer's legacy, stuff like that. That got me very excited. We got into winter workouts, stuff like that. You could tell there was a big difference in the tempo of everything. Everything is done with a sense of urgency. That got me really excited about going into spring ball. Spring ball was very up-tempo as well. I'm excited to see what our new offense can do.”
Earlier this month, Fuente invited the Hokie seniors to his home for dinner.
“That was a great time,” Ekanem said. “We got to bond as seniors, bond with his family, three lovely daughters. Good time with them. They gave us a tour of the house.”
As Fuente puts his own stamp on the Virginia Tech program, he vows to remain mindful of tradition. That commitment has already been displayed by Fuente’s decision to retain veteran defensive coordinator Bud Foster and other members of the previous staff.
“With Bud Foster staying, it was pretty big for myself and other defensive players,” Ekanem said. “Bud Foster was my recruiter. He did a great job recruiting me. I'm just happy that he was able to stay. Also Coach (Charles) Wiles stays as the defensive line coach. Fortunate and blessed to have my position coach and recruiter and defensive coordinator.”
Fuente said his approach is based on a genuine appreciation for Virginia Tech’s football history and potential for continued success.
“I believe in paying great respect to the things that have happened in the past,” Fuente said. “There's no reason for us to do anything other than that. We should celebrate Coach Beamer and his accomplishments. There may never be another person in Virginia Tech history that means as much to that school at Coach Beamer, and we should celebrate that.
We also have an obligation to build on what he has done. I have an obligation to do that in the best way I know possible. That does not mean doing it exactly the way he did it. That means paying great tribute to the way he did things and understanding there was a fantastic foundation there of core values, and let's build on it through our own core values.”
2015 In Review
Frank Beamer’s 29th and final season as head coach of the Hokies was not the picture performance Tech fans have been used to throughout his successful career in Blacksburg...Tech lost starting QB Michael Brewer in the season-opener against Ohio State for a five-game stretch and All-American CB Kendall Fuller for the season after game three...The Hokies lost five games by 10 or fewer points and at one juncture were 3-5...But as it has done so often in the past under Beamer, Tech pulled itself together, winning four of its last five to finish with a 7-6 overall mark and 4-4 in the ACC, while also going to its 23rd consecutive bowl game...Beamer finished the way he should, winning his 280th career game — sixth most all-time among FBS head coaches — in the bowl game (Independence) and stadium where he and his Hokies began their 23-game bowl streak, one that the NCAA recognizes as the nation’s longest... On Nov. 29, just after Tech’s regular-season finale, the Hokies hired former Memphis head coach Justin Fuente to guide Tech football into the future...Fuente did a marvelous job at Memphis, inheriting a team that had been 5-31 and posting a 19-6 record in his final two seasons...As for Tech in 2015, Brewer returned to throw for 1,703 yards and 13 TDs in eight games, completing 58.3 percent of his passes, mainly to sophomore WR Isaiah Ford, who led the ACC in receiving yards (1,164) and TDs (11), and finished tied for third in the conference in catches (75)...Tech’s ground game improved as its offensive line gained experience and freshman TB Travon McMillian ran for 1,042 yards and a 5.2 yards-per-carry average......Ford and DT Luther Maddy were each voted first-team All-ACC...TE Bucky Hodges (40 catches) was a second-team selection and McMillian and DE Dadi Nicolas were third-team picks.
Virginia Tech loses just eight starters, three on offense, four on defense and P A.J. Hughes...Offensively, Brewer, TE Ryan Malleck and T Wade Hansen departed and on defense, Tech will be without three key members of its D-Line in DE Nicolas and DTs Maddy and Corey Marshall as well as ILB Deon Clark...One person the Hokies will not be without is highly-regarded defensive coordinator Bud Foster, whom Fuente made a priority of retaining.
The Hokies’ schedule include a meeting with Tennessee at the Bristol Motor Speedway and Tech’s first meeting with Notre Dame.
The Hokies No. 1 priority in spring drills and this fall will be to settle on a starting quarterback with last year’s backup, Brendan Motley and JUCO transfer Jerod Evans as the two prime contenders...Both have the ability to make plays in the running and passing game...Motley started six games last fall when Brewer was injured and threw for 1,155 yards and 11 scores...Whomever emerges will have a veteran offensive line in front of them with four returning starters in T Jonathan McLaughlin, Gs Wyatt Teller and Augie Conte and C Eric Gallo....T Yosuah Nijman came out of spring leading at the open tackle spot...McMillian, Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams all return at TB, while Sam Rogers returns at FB...Ford heads up a receiver corps that includes WR Cam Phillips (49 catches) and TE Hodges...PK Joey Slye also returns after making 23 of 30 FGs....Defensively, Foster will look to LB Andrew Motuapuaka, who had two defensive TDs a year ago...He should pair with LB Tremaine Edmunds...Though Tech lost three starters upfront, there are several others who return with significant playing time...DE Ken Ekanem returns after making 8.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks...Woody Baron and Nigel Williams open at the DT positions, but they will get competition from Steve Sobczak, Ricky Walker and massive Tim Settle...Vinny Mihota was ahead at the other DE spot...Tech returns five people who started at least five games in the secondary, including Greg Stroman, Terrell Edmunds, Brandon Facyson and Chuck Clark, who was Tech’s leading tackler with 107 hits.
Numbers & Notes
2 - Virginia Tech LB Andrew Motuapuaka recorded two defensive touchdowns in 2015. Motuapuaka returned a pass interception 18 yards for a score against Furman and returned a fumble 34 yards for a TD against Boston College. In his career he has three returns for touchdowns, two by fumble, one by interception.
4 - When Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller was selected 84th overall in the third round by the Washington Redskins in the 2016 NFL Draft, he became the fourth Fuller brother to be drafted into the NFL. Older brother Vince was a fourth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2005. Corey, who was selected in the sixth round by Detroit in 2013 and Kyle, who was tabbed on the first round by the Chicago Bears in 2014, have also been drafted.
8 - Virginia Tech C Eric Gallo is one of eight ACC pivotmen who have been placed on the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list. The Rimington is given annually to the nation’s top center.
40.2 - Justin Fuentes’ Memphis football team averaged 40.2 points per game, ranking 11th nationally. By comparison, Virginia Tech averaged 31.0 points per game.
227- Virginia Tech WR Isaiah Ford had 227 pass receiving yards in the Hokies’ 55-52 win over Tulsa in the Camping World Independence Bowl. Ford’s total was the most by an ACC receiver in a single game last year and came on 12 catches.