March 21, 2016
Hokies set to open 2016 spring practice
New coach Justin Fuente eager to work with a squad that returns 15 starters from the Independence Bowl
Full transcript of 2016 pre-spring news conference

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente quotes

Virginia Tech coordinator quotes

BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech’s football coaching staff has accomplished quite a bit in the nearly three months since Justin Fuente assumed the head coaching duties.

Only now, though, do they get to coach football on the field.

Virginia Tech opens its spring practice on Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the practice field adjacent to Lane Stadium. The Hokies will be ushering in a new era, as Fuente takes over for longtime coach Frank Beamer, who retired following the Hokies’ victory over Tulsa in the Independence Bowl. For the first time since March of 1987, Beamer will not be on the practice field when the Hokies start spring practice.

Fuente isn’t so much anxious about replacing a legend such as Beamer. He’s more excited about getting to know his team.

“[It’s] the chance to finally hang a whistle around your neck and get out there and get practice organized the way you want it,” Fuente said Monday in a news conference held Monday. “I know it’s going to be new and I know there are going to be bumps out there organizationally and we’ll comb through those things. We’ve already have begun to, but we’ll comb through enough probably to drive the staff crazy, but so everyone knows where they’re supposed to be so we can move at the tempo we need to move at.

“I think everybody’s just anxious to finally get to go do what we love to do. Like I’ve said many times, I think it’s the best time of year for any football coach. There are no games. It’s all about individual player development and team development. There are no scout cards or scout teams. It’s just good vs. good and trying to create an identity and develop some players.”

The coaching staff and the players are ready to start practicing for another reason – Fuente’s strength and conditioning staff, along with the coaches, have been coordinating 5:30 a.m. to develop a culture and an attitude. All were happy to see those end.

“I think they’re ready to practice,” Fuente said. “Quite honestly, they’ve had enough of the offseason and the grind and they’re ready to go practice. I know, as coaches, we’re looking forward to it. Just watching our coaches work together as they put the finishing touches on the installation and scheme and those sorts of things that they’re trying to get ready for us to be productive as possible at practice.

“I thought the kids attacked them [the workouts] pretty well and did a pretty good job. Obviously we moved away from, as we got closer to practice, it being as difficult with us getting ready to go practice football, but I like the way the kids went about their business and the way they worked. I’m cautiously optimistic they understood the tempo and the level of toughness that we’re going to need to move up to the standards that have been set before us.”

Fuente and his staff have a list of objectives for this spring, but at the top is player identification and roles. In other words, he wants to find out which players fit in best at certain positions.

The Hokies return 15 starters from those who started in the bowl game, so they have a good nucleus in place. But finding the remaining starters and also finding depth is critical. After all, Tech has lost some critical players to injuries the past two seasons (e.g. Michael Brewer, Shai McKenzie, Marshawn Williams, Luther Maddy, etc.).

“One of our goals for our kids is to identify themselves,” Fuente said. “They’re auditioning for roles whether it’s special teams, starting middle linebacker or starting quarterback or backup or whatever it is – for our kids to identify themselves and for us to a great job of evaluating those things.

“I think as a team we’ve got to learn how to practice, how we’re going to practice. I think that is no small feat. I would imagine for the past several years they’ve had crisp, clean practices and we want to make sure we’re on the same page with what tempo we’re operating at. A major part of this is continuing to instill our foundation and mindset and how we want the program to go forward big-picture wise and also to facilitate leadership and develop young players. A wide-ranging set of parameters there, but we’ve got a lot to do in only 15 practices.”

Finding a quarterback probably looms as the most important priority. Brenden Motley returns after starting six games and Dwayne Lawson played in five games last season. Jérod Evans and Joshua Jackson, two prospects who enrolled in January, will take reps as well.

“I think they all deserve an opportunity, but that being said, guys will earn more reps starting from the first day,” Fuente said. “It’s those guys that display the knowledge base and the ability to execute the average play on a consistent basis … those reps will increase for them and decrease for others.”

Tech will practice on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays will be later in the evening because of class conflicts, while Saturday’s practices will be in the morning.

The Hokies conclude spring practice April 23 with the annual Maroon-Orange game, which will kick off at 2:30 p.m.

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