Fuente, Virginia Tech, look to turn things around in 2021
Virginia Tech won 19 games in Justin Fuente’s first two seasons, in 2016 and 2017. The program has gone 19-18 in the three years since, putting Fuente’s name at or near the top of the various and sundry hot seat lists out this summer.
“After our first two years, I had a very honest, really good conversation with Whit (Babcock), our athletic director, talked to him. We won 19 games in two years. I said, Whit, you didn’t bring me here for these past two years, you brought me here for what we’re about to go through,” Fuente said Wednesday at the 2021 ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte.
The program that Fuente inherited from the legendary Frank Beamer was, Fuente said, “not in good shape.”
“We were in the process of building facilities. We had some issues on our roster that were going to take time to get through. We’ve now completed many of those facilities. We’re now adding, expanding our support staff for our players and recruiting. Now starting to get into having an older team,” Fuente said.
“I really felt great a year ago about exactly where we were and what we were doing and the status of our football team, a variety of factors have affected that. But I still feel the same way. I’m really excited to see this football team play and kick this season off,” Fuente said.
The 2020 Hokies finished 5-6, the program’s second losing season in three years, after a run dating back to 1992 in which Tech didn’t have a single losing campaign.
The team loses leading rusher Khalil Herbert (1,182 yards, eight TDs on the ground in 2020) and the guy who started the season as QB1, Hendon Hooker (1,339 yards and nine TDs passing, 620 yards and nine TDs on the ground), but Fuente will build around his new QB1, Braxton Burmeister (687 yards, two TDs through the air, 182 yards, two TDs on the ground in 2020), who he calls one of the top three or four athletes on the team.
The defense was the issue last year, in the first season under coordinator Justin Hamilton. The Hokies D ranked 10th in scoring and 12th in total defense in the ACC in 2020.
“I think we were just holding on last year,” Fuente said. “Our mission was to find a way to play last year. I mean, we went through that early in the year. I felt like we did everything humanly possible for us to play. Across the country, there’s probably people across the country that, as the year went on, did everything they could to not play. That was just how we approached it. We got to find a way to get this season in.
“Our kids did that,” Fuente said. “They showed incredible resiliency through the entire process. Most of our focus was about how can we patch this thing together so we can have available guys so we can go play.
“Certainly, hopefully, as we move forward, that will not be the case this year. This is a case where we can focus on the more fundamental things of team and give ourselves an opportunity to win,” Fuente said.
Story by Chris Graham