Hokies continue Camping World Bowl preparations in Florida

Quotes from Sunday's news conference
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente quotes

By Jimmy Robertson

ORLANDO – The Virginia Tech football travel party, including players, coaches, support personnel, administrators and select family members, arrived in Orlando on Saturday, and the Hokies took to the practice field Sunday morning at a local high school, as they continued their preparations for Thursday’s Camping World Bowl game against Oklahoma State.

Unfortunately, several talented players stayed on the sidelines because of injuries, with the most prominent being receiver Cam Phillips.

Virginia Tech announced Dec. 19 that Phillips would not be playing in the bowl game because of sports hernia – an injury that ultimately ended his collegiate career.

“It’s been really, really disappointing,” Phillips said while standing on the sideline watching his teammates practice. “Just having my college career cut short by one game, one chance to give it all I’ve got for my teammates. A big game like this against a good opponent, I think … it’s just an extra opportunity to go against good competition. All in all, I’m cheering my guys on, and I think they’ll get the job done.”

Phillips suffered the injury back in August and played through it throughout the regular season. He served as the leader of the Hokies’ offense this season, finishing with 71 catches for 964 yards and seven touchdowns.

He underwent surgery Nov. 28 – just days after the Hokies extended their winning streak over UVA to 14 games.

“I felt I had to play and suck it up and tough it out as long as I needed to, and then I just felt after that UVA game that it was the right time, with the long break that we would have preparing for the bowl game,” Phillips said. “I just thought that was the right time for it, but the timetable [for recovery] ended up being longer to come back.”

Phillips hopes to be able to participate in postseason all-star games and potentially the NFL Scouting Combine in the coming weeks and months.

“That’s the plan depending on how I feel,” he said. “If I’m not 100 percent, I’m not going to put myself out there, with this being an important part of the next process. If I can’t do that, I’m still going to rehab and do everything I can to put a good showing out there for the next level.”

Here are some other notes from Sunday:

• Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente met with a couple of members of the media following practice, and he fielded the question about Phillips’ possible replacement. Phillips finished the regular season with 71 catches, while the receiver behind him in second, Sean Savoy, caught 39.

“Whoever else is up,” he said. “Hezekiah [Grimsley] has continued to improve and come on. Sean has continued to get better. I’ve been pleased with Eric [Kumah] and Phil [Patterson] as the season’s gone in terms of being more dependable and reliable players, and we’ve felt more comfortable putting them in. We need for them to continue in that kind of manner.”

Phillips’ injury means the Hokies enter this game against the Cowboys without their leading rusher (Travon McMillian; transfer) and receiver. They also go in without two starters on defense (Terrell Edmunds and Vinny Mihota).

“It’s an opportunity for those young guys to continue to develop and continue to get better, and we’ve seen some of that,” Fuente said. “It’s been a positive experience. We’ve got some guys out on both sides of the ball, and it’s going to take a really incredible team effort from everyone in all three phases of the game to give ourselves a chance in this one.”

• Fuente also received a question about the hiring of a 10th full-time assistant to the staff. NCAA rules now allow programs to do this, and some head coaches already have made announcements, though Fuente is not one of them.

“I think it’s nice for us to get more guys full-time jobs and more young people opportunities because it will trickle on down, obviously, so that will be nice,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s any great secret to it. You just figure out what you need and how it fits into your current staff and try to go from there.

“I always think about the staff as a puzzle and trying to fit the right pieces together. Now we have an extra piece, and we’re trying to figure out what exactly we need to add to our staff and try to find a piece that fits that puzzle.”

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