Hokies arrive in Orlando and ready for ACC Championship Game

By Jimmy Robertson

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Virginia Tech football coaches, players, support staff and various members of the administration arrived in Orlando on Friday morning, and head coach Justin Fuente’s first task before the Hokies take the field against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday night was one that he actually welcomed.

He received the ACC Coach of the Year trophy from ACC Commissioner John Swofford.

“I can’t tell you what a tremendous honor it is to be recognized as the ACC Coach of the Year,” Fuente said at a pre-championship news conference held at Camping World Stadium. “I really view this recognition as a team award. They don’t give these awards to the coaches that have bad teams.

“I can’t say enough about our coaching staff, our support personnel and our players that bought into everything we’ve been preaching to them. It’s [the Coach of the Year Award] a tribute to them and their work ethic and their desire to continue the tradition of Virginia Tech football.”

Fuente’s Hokies won the league’s Coastal Division crown in his first year after taking over for legendary coach Frank Beamer, who retired at the end of last season following 29 years at the helm. Tech enters the league’s title game with a 9-3 overall record and will play in the title game for the first time since 2011.

By most accounts, Tech has far exceeded expectations. The Hokies received just three first-place votes in the league’s preseason polling of media members and were picked to finish fourth in the division.

But the Hokies haven’t exceeded the expectations of Fuente, who came to Blacksburg after four seasons at Memphis.

He didn’t have any expectations.

“I don’t think that’s, at least for me personally, the way to go about it,” he said. “There are so many things that happen, so many things that are beyond your control – external factors that can occur that can either accelerate the process or decelerate the process.

“For me, it’s about establishing your identity and working toward that on a daily basis and getting to the end of the season and tallying up the wins and seeing how you did.”

Fuente said the Hokies still had a long way to go coming out of spring practice this past April. Yet he knew this team possessed the ability to win some games following the squad’s first practice in August.

“The most dramatic moment for me in terms of our improvement was the last day of spring to the first day of two-a-days,” he admitted. “To see the work that our kids had done in terms of understanding the scheme offensively and defensively and special teams-wise and the gains they made physically … that let me know that this is important to them because they had to do it on their own.”

Tech enters the championship game against the Tigers as double-digit underdogs. It faces an 11-1 Clemson team led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, and the Tigers average more than 40 points and 500 yards per game. They rank fifth nationally in passing offense (336.3 ypg), 12th in total offense and 17th in scoring offense.

“The bottom line is that nobody has stopped them offensively,” Fuente said.

It’s not as if the Tigers are shabby on the other side of the ball either. They rank eighth nationally in total defense, allowing just 307.9 yards per game.

But the Hokies aren’t that far behind statistically. Defensively, Tech ranks in the top 20 nationally in both total defense (19th, 332.2 ypg) and scoring defense (21.1 ppg), and the Hokies’ offense is on pace to be the school’s best ever in terms of total points and total offense.

Plus, Tech has played on big stages this season – the Hokies played in front of 156,000 fans at Bristol Motor Speedway and rallied to win in front of more than 80,000 at Notre Dame.

This stage shouldn’t be too big for this team. Whether the Hokies can overcome Clemson’s talent is the question.

“We know we have a tremendous challenge,” Fuente said. “We know we’re playing a well-coached, talented football team. But we didn’t do all this work just to get here. We still have work left to do. Our kids have prepared that way. We know we’ll have to play extremely well in order to get it close at the end.

“I’ve stayed away from the connotation that, ‘You’ve got nothing to lose’ because I don’t believe that. We’ve got a great opportunity and a great group of kids that have worked incredibly hard for this opportunity. Now it’s our job just to prepare and do the best we can.”

The ACC Championship Game kicks off at 8 p.m. and can be seen on ABC.

For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter and on Instagram @vthokiefootball Instagram

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