Fuente talks quarterbacks, Peoples and more in news conference

BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech head football coach Justin Fuente spent much of a pre-practice news conference updating media members on the quarterback situation, as the Hokies geared for a Friday afternoon scrimmage in preparation for the season opener against West Virginia on Sept. 3.

Friday’s practice will mark the 10th of the fall for the program. The scrimmage will be the second one of August, and Fuente expects it to be more nuanced.

“When we scrimmaged the first time, it’s not very long,” he said. “It’s less than half of the practice. It’s all normal down and distance. It’s base offense versus base defense, and you line up and play.

“This one is a little better evaluation tool. Obviously, every day at practice is a great chance to evaluate, but this one, we’ll get into truly being penalized for mistakes or ending up in long yardage for poor execution. I’m looking forward to it.”

Scrimmages certainly provide an opportunity for Josh Jackson, AJ Bush and Hendon Hooker to separate themselves in the battle for the starting quarterback position. Fuente has remained consistent in saying that he and the staff have no predetermined timetable set to name the starter.

Fuente does like the way in which the trio continues to work and improve. He also likes their attitudes.

“There is a ‘team-first’ mentality with them right now, which is a good thing, a positive thing for our entire group,” Fuente said. “When you have a competition like this, and we used it several times last year with Brendan Motley, it’s nice to hold those examples up to the rest of the team because everyone is going through their own competition and their own ups and downs with their play as how to handle those adverse times. Motley was a fantastic example of that, and we needed him at points during the season last year. Whichever direction we go, we’ll need the other guy or guys at some point during the season as well.

“The first thing that stands out is that they are pulling for each other, and they’re trying to set a good example for the rest of the team. The second thing is they’ve made strides from a physical standpoint. You can just tell. Some of them are younger kids that, in Josh and Hendon, still have some maturation just from a physical standpoint, and they’ve certainly done that. And they’re more comfortable. You can see that. That’s visual. That’s easy to see that from the spring to the start of camp. They’re more comfortable out there.”

Fuente also noted that, as the trio improved and became more confident, their unique individual skillsets started to emerge. That allows him and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen to begin thinking about the specific offense that they want to run with each of the quarterbacks.

“When you look at AJ, he’s as good of an athlete as we have on the team,” Fuente said. “I think Hendon is going to be like that, as he gets bigger and stronger, and Josh is a good athlete. But those guys, AJ, in particular, has a little bit more of that – just speed. And so there is a certain difference there.

“So I guess my answer is yeah, we’re starting to kind of filter those things out and talk about if player A is the quarterback, would we want to focus a little bit more on doing these things, and if player B, focus a little more on these things.”

Here are some other highlights from the news conference:

PEOPLES DOING WELL

Steven Peoples put up incredible numbers at Galax High School in Southwest Virginia as a tailback, and he has been working exclusively at that position during August practices. A year ago, he bounced from fullback to tailback, and the 220-pounder even worked in some H-back roles, but the staff decided to keep him at tailback, and the move appears to be paying dividends.

“He’s solely working at tailback, which I think has helped Steven,” Fuente said. “Last year, we were trying to fill that H-back role, and we did a little bit with Chris Cunningham, a little bit with Sam Rogers, a little bit with Steven Peoples, and then later in the year, Steven started working a little bit at tailback. So I think him working exclusively at tailback has helped him. I’ve been really pleased with him. He’s got great pad level, he’s an explosive player, and he’s strong as can be. He’s a good, tough hard-nose runner, so I’ve been pleased with that move or that decision and Steven’s response to that decision has gone well.”

Peoples rushed for 60 yards on 16 carries a year ago, scoring a touchdown. He also caught two passes, including one for a score.

BURDEN HAPPY WITH ODU ADDITION TO SCHEDULE

Virginia Tech announced July 28th the addition of more games against in-state foe Old Dominion to its schedule. The Hokies already were slated to play seven games against the Monarchs, and officials from both schools agreed to six more. Of those, four will be played in Norfolk – which is fine with running backs coach Zohn Burden, who grew up in Virginia Beach, recruits the area for Tech and once coached at Old Dominion in two different stints.

“I will forever be grateful for helping start that program,” Burden said. “I’ll always have my hand in it in some shape, form or fashion. It’s also home for me, and I’ve got a lot of friends on that staff. We keep in touch. It’s always good in this profession when you can see other schools that you’ve previously worked at have success and you get a chance to play against those guys.”

HOLSTON IN THE MIX FOR PLAYING TIME

Freshman running back Jalen Holston has worked his way into contention for playing time this season and continues to battle Travon McMillian, Peoples, Deshawn McClease and D.J. Reid for possible playing time. Holston ran for more than 4,000 yards in Georgia and faced quality competition, so his learning curve hasn’t been as steep as others.

Of course, it also helps that he’s 220 pounds.

“He’s tough. He’s downhill,” Burden said of Holston’s running style. “He brings a different kind of element as a young guy to our room. He’s also a leader, and it’s tough to be able to come in as a true freshman and actually lead by example. He doesn’t say much. He just works hard. I think that’s big for our room and for other guys to see that.”

GROUP CELEBRATES 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF FIRST PRACTICE

A group of seven former Virginia Tech football players from the Class of 1971 attended Thursday’s practice to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first college football practice as a Hokie. The group consisted of Dave Bailey, Perry Tiberio, Donnie Cooke, John Ivanac, Larry Kushner and Jack Simcsak.

They continued a recent tradition of players returning to campus to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their first practices – a tradition that started roughly six years ago. Last fall, players from the class of 1970 came back.

In 1967, the Class of 1971 enrolled at Tech and participated in their first practice under then-head coach Jerry Claiborne. They wound up being Claiborne’s last senior class, as he departed after the 1970 season.

The contingent of seven took a tour of Tech’s facilities and also met with current head coach Justin Fuente, while sharing stories about the days of yesteryear in the process.

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