Fuente: ‘I hope we’re able to play’

BLACKSBURG – Uncertainty is the most popular word in college athletics these days, and Justin Fuente continues to deal with large quantities of that, as Virginia Tech prepares for its season opener Saturday night against NC State at Lane Stadium.

In a 30-minute video news conference with media members, Fuente still wasn’t sure who would dress out for the game against the Wolfpack. A COVID-19 outbreak within the team led to the Sept. 12 cancelation of the Tech-Virginia game and resulted in the Hokies taking four days off from practice. Tech returned to practice last Wednesday, and both players and staff members are scheduled for testing on three separate days this week.

“We will not have a full roster,” Fuente said. “I hope we’re able to play.”

Fuente later said that he didn’t want to come across as an alarmist. He simply wanted to be honest about a situation that changes daily, if not hourly.

“I think we’re all living in a test-by-test world,” he said. “We’ll see as they come. Hopefully everything works out fine, and it all works out. I’m not trying raise alarm, but I’m also just being honest with the situation we’re in. We’re trying each day to see where it’s at, and hopefully we’re on the right side of where this thing is trending. I’m not positive one way or the other where we’re at, and I’ll know a little more as the week goes on.”

The pandemic aside, Fuente also addressed numerous other topics related to his football team. Here are some takeaways from the news conference:

• Fuente said last week that the planned on starting Hendon Hooker at quarterback and that Braxton Burmeister also would see playing time – a testament to Burmeister’s body of work over the past six weeks. Though he didn’t divulge the specifics in terms of reps, he said that the plan remains in place to play both quarterbacks.

“Yes, that’s the plan, and yes, that’s an ongoing process of how that’ll exactly work,” he said. “It’s going to be all hands on deck. We’re going to need everybody to find a way to have success. I would say how that looks will change from day to day based on the information we have.”

Fuente has not played two quarterbacks in his career, so he lacks a first-hand perspective. But he said he wasn’t stressed about the possibility.

“I kind of lean back on what we said when we talked about this earlier was how good I felt about these guys’ performance,” he said. “Makes me feel better and maybe not stress about it nearly as much. It’s just a different feeling when you’ve got guys that have gone out to practice and not played well on a consistent basis and you’re trying to figure out what to do. That’s not the case here. That eases my anxiety about the situation quite a bit.”

• The football program released its first depth chart of the season and true freshman Keonta Jenkins was listed at the No. 1 spot at the boundary safety (rover) position. Fuente suspended projected starter Devon Hunter indefinitely last week, and that left the Hokies with two true freshmen – Lakeem Rudolph being the other – at the boundary safety spot.

“Losing Nasir [Peoples] hurt us,” Fuente said of the injured defensive back. “He really had made huge strides, just headsy, smart, and working his way into becoming a very good football player. He’s also one of those guys that’s pretty versatile and could slide into several of those spots. That’s created a little bit of urgency with those young guys.

“We do still have some young guys on that depth chart that can play multiple positions. We are a little bit thin, and we’ll have to do a good job as we go through the season hopefully being able to cross train guys in those five defensive back positions to be able to play a couple of different spots.”

• The juggling on the offensive line continues, and the depth chart revealed Brock Hoffman being listed as the No. 1 center, with last year’s starter, Bryan Hudson listed as the No. 1 right guard. The starter at right guard last season, Doug Nester, was listed as the No. 2 right tackle behind Luke Tenuta.

“I feel like, just off the hoof, that’s the more natural spot for those guys,” Fuente said. “I have no problem sliding Doug inside as well. That’s where he played last year. We already know this – we will have to be versatile and be able to move guys around. I’m thankful we have as many guys as we that have played and, at times, played well. I think those are the natural spots in a perfect world, but I also believe that they’ll be mixed around a little bit.”

• Justin Hamilton and his wife celebrated the birth of their third child last week, but he didn’t have time to celebrate too much, as he continued to prepare his defense for the Wolfpack. The game marks his first as the defensive coordinator at Tech after Fuente tabbed him as Bud Foster’s replacement last December.

Fuente, a former coordinator himself, offered some advice to Hamilton, telling him to be himself.

“The biggest thing is you’ve got to make decisions that you think are best, and you can’t be hesitant,” he said. “If you feel like blitzing or playing coverage or whatever the call is, you go and lay it out there, and know that I’ve got your back.

“He’ll be prepared. The staff will be prepared. He’ll be absolutely fine on gameday.”

• The ACC announced Monday that Virginia Tech’s Oct. 3 game at Duke will kick off at 4 p.m. and can be watched on the ACC Network.

By JIMMY ROBERTSON, for Hokiesports.com