BLACKSBURG – It was a bittersweet evening on the turf of Worsham Field for two Virginia Tech football players in the 13-10 loss to the Duke Blue Devils. One set a school record (under coach Frank Beamer), while the other returned to the field for the first time this season.
Over the past decade, Tech has turned out a number of high quality defensive backs, including a couple of Fullers – Vinnie and Kyle. But the youngest one of the bunch, freshman Kendall Fuller, is starting to make his name known across the nation as well.
The Baltimore, Md., native intercepted three Duke passes to become the first Tech player since Jayron Hosley to intercept three passes in a game. Hosley intercepted three Russell Wilson passes at NC State in 2010. Wilson now plays for the Seattle Seahawks.
With the effort, Fuller set a Tech freshman record for interceptions in a season with five, passing the previous mark held by both teammate Brandon Facyson (this season) and Eric Green (2000).
“The kid played a tremendous football game,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “That’s what we signed him for, and he really showed everybody what he’s all about. He had some great breaks and did a great job with his coverage concentration.”
The other Hokie who couldn’t enjoy the evening despite making it back to the field was Antone Exum. The redshirt senior played in his first game since earning the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl MVP honor last December. He suffered a knee injury in January and underwent reconstructive surgery.
“Once I got out there, I felt comfortable,” Exum said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’m one of the most confident players you’ll ever see, and once I got out there, that’s how I felt.
“After the first play, I realized I’m in it now, and I’m back.”
Exum recalls being targeted just once during the game and helped the Tech secondary hold Duke quarterbacks to just 7 of 25 passing for 107 yards, none of which were completed in the second half.
“I was definitely surprised that they didn’t come at me more because that’s what I was expecting and preparing for,” he said. “There wasn’t too much open on my side of the field today, so I guess they just acted according to that and it worked.”
Exum had not missed a start in 2011 or 2012 and has been with the team for this, his fifth season. He knows all too well what one ACC loss means and isn’t about to let the younger guys start doubting the rest of the season.
“This is definitely disappointing,” Exum said. “But we aren’t out of the hunt. We need to keep playing and keep improving and correct some of the things we did wrong. We need to make sure that we put it in the guys’ heads that it’s not over. If we win out, we’re right back in it.”
Last season, the Hokies had to win out to secure a bowl bid (their last two regular-season games) and their last three to end the season with a winning record. Winning out the rest of this regular season is the easiest path back to the ACC Championship game, as Tech, despite the loss, still controls its own destiny for the 2013 season.
For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_Football).