Fuente tabs Jackson to be the starter versus WVU

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech head football coach Justin Fuente and his staff have seen enough in the battle for the starting quarterback position, as Fuente on Monday tabbed Josh Jackson to be the starter for the Hokies’ season opener against West Virginia on Sept. 3 at FedExField.

The decision came nearly two weeks ahead of last year’s quarterback decision when Fuente and the staff named Jerod Evans the starter roughly 10 days before the 2016 opener against Liberty. Many expected a similar scenario this time around, but Fuente and the staff decided to move forward with Jackson at the helm.

“I didn’t go into it with a date, with an expectation of when it would happen,” Fuente said of the quarterback decision. “Just feel like this is the right time. If I’m not mistaken, last year it was much later on because that was a different scenario. So we take each one of these individually and try to make the best decision we can.”

Fuente cited several reasons as to why Jackson won a three-way battle between junior-college transfer AJ Bush and freshman Hendon Hooker, who enrolled in January. In short, Jackson had been the most consistent of the three, both in spring practices and in the first 11 practices this August.

“He’s continued to improve in terms of his ability to deliver the ball on time. He’s got a pretty good understanding of what we’re trying to get accomplished, [and] like I said, a great demeanor,” Fuente said. “There’s competitive spirit there — not that there’s not with the other ones, but the word that comes to my mind is, day in and day out, he’s been the most consistent in terms of the things that we talked about, the kind of three criteria that we talked about before this camp started that we were looking for – taking care of the ball, expected outcomes and then how we feel. In those three categories, we feel the best about Josh.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound redshirt freshman from Ann Arbor, Michigan, will be the first freshman to start a season opener since Michael Vick in 1999. He was in contention for the starting job last season – the one that went to Evans a little more than a week before the Liberty game. Jackson wound up taking a redshirt year, as the staff elected to go with Evans and Brenden Motley as the two primary quarterbacks.

The extra experience obviously gave Jackson an edge over the other two candidates, as he possessed an extra spring practice and a full fall over Bush and Hooker. His understanding of the offense and the intangibles of being a coach’s son – his father, Fred, worked as the running backs coach at Michigan for years – meshed well with his athletic ability and enabled him to separate himself.

“Whatever it took – 11 practices, I think – within the last two to three practices, it was starting to lean that way,” offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said. “It wasn’t something going into it that he had separated himself. I really felt coming out of the spring [that] I didn’t know between all of them, to be honest with you. So it was a toss-up going into it.

“He executed, and he took care of the ball. Ultimately, that position being able to play well and give our team a chance to win is what is at the top of the list for us.”

Jackson enrolled at Tech in January of 2016 after a standout career at Saline High in Saline, Michigan. As a senior, he threw for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, while also rushing for 470 yards and eight scores.

He found out about being elevated to starter in a meeting with Fuente and Cornelsen roughly 30 minutes before an already scheduled 1 p.m. news conference with media members.

“I think just working hard and trying to be the best I can be every day and always studying the playbook and defenses and everything like that is what gave me a shot at it,” Jackson said. “I felt I was playing well throughout camp. I thought I was doing a good job. Like I said earlier, we were sharing reps and things like that, but I think I was putting myself in the right position to do so [win the job]. I felt good about camp so far.”

Tech continued August practices Monday evening, with a scrimmage planned for Wednesday and Fan Appreciation Day scheduled for Sunday – exactly two weeks before the Hokies kick off the season against the Mountaineers.

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