After dismantling a conference foe, there's no shortage of players and fans excited to get back into the friendly confines of Lane Stadium this Saturday. But there's one man who may just be a little bit more "juiced" than the rest.
After a grueling 22-month rehab process and a two-week suspension to open the year, Marshawn Williams finally returned to the field against Boston College, and there's no doubt he was glad to start knocking off the rust.
"Maybe my first two carries I was a little timid," Williams said Monday. "After that, I realized my knee worked. I was just out there grinding after that."
Indeed, Saturday marked the culmination of Williams' winding road back from the ACL tear he suffered in late 2014. He admits that it was a process marked by many "early mornings" that had him questioning himself at times.
"It's to a point where you came to college to go to school and play football. When one of those is taken away, it's kind of hard to keep it all together," Williams said. "There were low points and there were high points, but that's with anything. Rehab was hard, it was really hard."
Williams struggled with his weight a bit when he first got to Tech as a freshman, and he added that he went through plenty of fluctuations when it came time to step on the scale once more, ballooning all the way up to 250 pounds before bringing things back down.
But now, he said he's even slimmer than he was back in his freshman season, and "blessed" to be able to strap on the pads once more.
Justin Fuente was also extremely pleased with what he saw from Williams against Boston College. Although he didn't give any update as to how the rotation at running back will work going forward, he does expect that Williams will be a factor.
"I feel good about the way he played and the way he had prepared," Fuente said. "Really, his two-a-days, the first time I really got a chance to see him play and really felt like he was full strength, I was pretty excited about it. Obviously he had a couple weeks there where we couldn't play him. I thought it was good that we got him a lot of work in there at the end with the second group. Because he needed to knock some of that rust off. I didn't see any rust, but I just know that it's not just the first game of the year for him, but it's the first game in some time.
"We'll continue to see how that rotation goes. I know you guys are awfully interested in who gets the carries and all that stuff. That's not really the central focus for us. We'll continue to teach the game plan and see how those guys practice. And how they practice usually dictates how we feel about them in terms of playing in the game."
Defensive tackle Ricky Walker, whose Bethel High School team played Williams' Phoebus High School frequently, was "very proud" to see his friend back on the field.
"That's my man Juice," Walker said. "We're pretty close. It was very exciting. Just going back to the high school days, the Bethel vs. Phoebus games on Friday night. Just seeing him run, I had to stand up and say, 'Let's go Juice. Let's go.' Bringing back memories."
Williams will get another opportunity to get back in the swing of things against an East Carolina Pirates team that's tripped the Hokies up two years in a row. Fuente and his new staffers might not have been around back then, but they seem to be well aware of the challenges ECU's posted Tech in the past.
"Oh they all know," Fuente said. "They know about that. There's not reason for me to — I can assure you East Carolina has the full respect of all of our players. We don't operate on revenge or those types of things. We operate on focusing on ourselves and making sure we do a great job preparing, self-teaching the process so we can give ourselves a chance to have success."
While it's true that he won't have to worry about his team "getting up" for this game, the even-keeled Fuente knows that he must work to keep the team focused internally this week. The Hokies earned a single vote in this week's AP poll, and when paired with the buzz around the team from the fan base after a 49-0 win, the potential for a let-down certainly exists.
"We talked about that, about how everybody's gonna tell you how great you are until this Saturday," Fuente said. "Then you have to prove (it), you have to go out and play. We try and address those things. Those external factors are things that we have to mature and understand how to handle. We're trying to explain to them that we live in an overreaction society. I'm not pointing the fingers at anybody. Everything's either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever, there's never any in-between."
Walker was more than confident that this team will not be overlooking the Pirates this go-around.
"Not even close," Walker said. "We know that this is a great team. They have our respect. We're just getting ready to face these guys. As you know the history, we've lost to them twice. They have our respect. We look forward to playing them Saturday inside of Lane (Stadium)."
Walker's confidence about the game aside, Fuente still has plenty of worries himself, including Eric Gallo's performance at center. Namely, he had less than a ringing endorsement to offer when asked about his relative comfort level at that position.
"Not comfortable with it at all," Fuente said. "Keep working it, try to get it worked out. But it's a process for us right now. That's about as much comment as I can give you. We're still working on it."
"Briefly about last week's game, I thought it was a great atmosphere. Fans did a fantastic job. We'll need that exact same energy and focus this week. Got a tremendous challenge in front of us. Got plenty to teach off of from the film from last week. Plenty of improvements to make to go up against an East Carolina team that's incredibly dangerous and talented. Got a fantastic tradition there. Obviously they beat North Carolina St. and last week they completely dominated the game against South Carolina. Had a couple turnovers in the red zone, otherwise, they'd be undefeated. We know full well what's happened the last two years. It's definitely got our kids attention. Obviously I have some familiarity with that league. Didn't play East Carolina too many times when I was at Memphis. But I know the quality of play that we're gonna be up against and the type of football players that we're gonna play against. Gonna have to have an incredible week of focus, attention to detail in all aspects of the game to give ourselves a chance to win the game."
ON WHAT HE TOLD JEROD EVANS ABOUT THE PASS IN DOUBLE COVERAGE TO ISAIAH FORD:
"Jerod knows that we're not supposed to throw the ball into double coverage like that. It's a minus on the grade sheet and a plus on the result sheet."
ON THE ATHLETIC ABILITY OF FORD TO TURN THAT PLAY INTO A TOUCHDOWN:
"It was nice. Obviously he went up and made the play. We feel good about Isaiah and our chances with him. Isaiah made a heck of a catch. I don't think we wanna just start chucking it to him with two people on him all the time, though."
ON THE BIGGEST THING THAT STANDS OUT ABOUT ECU:
"There's several things when you watch the film. First of all, this is a program with a great tradition that's won a lot of games. They have very good football players. When you watch them play, they're athletic defensively, they're moving it all over the place. They had over 500 yards of offense last week. Had a receiver catch 22 balls last week. They can hurt you in so many ways. They're just a very good football team. Overall incredibly athletic, well coached, and tough minded."
ON WHY CAM PHILLIPS DIDN'T PLAY MUCH AFTER THE FIRST SERIES:
"He played in the first series. I didn't like the way he played the first series. Guys, playing time is earned. I love Cam. Cam works hard and Cam's gonna be a good player for us. But we've gotta approach things with the right mindset. Doesn't matter what position, offense or defense. Gonna go with guys that are ready to execute. He responded in the right way. I like the way he responded. Gotta do things right."
ON HOW HARD IT IS TO BE CONSISTENT WEEK IN AND WEEK OUT:
"It's incredibly difficult thing to do. That's why you see upsets every week. That's why you see disappointing performances. These kids have other things they're going through in their lives as well on top of football games. Exams and girlfriend and family members and all those sorts of things. So maintaining your focus week in and week out, handling the emotions, the ups and downs, the bottom line is there's some games you play on an emotional high and there's some games you have to work really hard to get up for. But trying to lay the groundwork, it's 12 one-game seasons. Regardless of the outcome, you have to turn the page and throw all of your focus into the next game. It's the only way that I know to do it. Approach every Tuesday the same with the same level intensity, the same demanding demeanor that we have on the practice field. We're not gonna settle for anything less than our guys best. That's what I told them yesterday in so many words. If you think this Tuesday is gonna be any different than last Tuesday, you're wrong. We absolutely have things that we still need to fix."
ON THE EJECTION FOR TARGETING ON HOUSHUN GAINES:
"There's no recourse (for petition) for those things. It's a good call. I think it's the correct call. I don't think it was malicious in any way by House. It's a very tough play to coach, 'cause he's not allowed to block low. As a result of us legislating safety, which I fully agree with, there's gonna be some plays like that where guys lose the opportunity to play. That's just kinda the way it is. He could have lowered his target a little bit. We showed it to the whole team and talked about it. You don't like it, but there's not much you can do about it. I certainly understand our stance on safety."
ON THE PERFORMANCE OF MITCHELL LUDWIG AND THE PUNT UNIT:
"He did a good job in the red zone. It was nice to have some of those short fields. We worked really hard, we do it every Tuesday, on red zone punt, downing punts in the red zone. I think those are big plays. Our only criticism of our team is we didn't celebrate them enough. We didn't act like they were big plays. Those are, the feeling an offense gets when that ball bounces into the end zone and you know they are pulling it out, the sense of relief you get as opposed to when you down it on the 8-yard line or the 6-yard line is dramatic. I was proud to see us make progress in terms of our red zone punting. There's still quite a few things that we've got to work on in terms of punting. It's not all Mitchell. But we did do a good job. (We were) more efficient down there."
ON IF HE WAS HAPPY WITH BALL SECURITY THIS WEEK:
"We did a good job, absolutely. We continue to kind of draw the line in the sand and demand that we see visual evidence of those things going through our kids minds. Whether they're in traffic or in the open field. We saw great examples of that on film, taught off some of those on Sunday. Hopefully we can continue that. But for us to have a chance to be successful, we're gonna have to do a great job."
ON HOW THE DEFENSE HAS ADDRESSED THE NEED FOR CONSISTENCY:
"We started with practice yesterday, coming out and executing. We had a meeting. We all went together and (said) we've gotta come out (and) play hard and play fast. Gotta put this game behind us and get ready for the next one."
ON IF IT'S HARDER TO PUT A GOOD GAME BEHIND YOU AS OPPOSED TO ONE WHERE YOU DON'T PLAY WELL:
"Always ready to get back on the field. Just gotta come out and prove ourselves each week. Gotta prepare the same way. Last week I felt like we had a good week of practice, so this week I feel like we need to come out and do the same thing: have a good week."
ON IF HE'S FEELING COMFORTABLE:
"Oh yeah, they definitely do. I'd say this week definitely felt more natural. Actually, the first three games felt natural. I felt better out there. Feel like I'm getting my key reads better and just try to keep improving myself each and every week."
ON WHAT TEACHING POINTS THEY HAD FOR THE DEFENSE THIS WEEK:
"Just staying disciplined throughout the whole game. Get rid of some of the minor mistakes we had like offside penalties and things like that. We just gotta get better each and every week. Come out with the mindset to be the best."
ON IF HE'S IMPRESSED WITH THE ABILITY OF ISAIAH FORD:
"Oh yeah, definitely. We all know Isaiah Ford is definitely a big-time player. Definitely brings a lot to our football team. He's a hard worker also. Just really watching Isaiah play all the time."
ON IF THE ECU GAME LAST YEAR STICKS IN HIS MIND:
"Honestly, we're looking forward to this year. Put the game behind us last year. Of course we know we have to go out there and do this year. Right now we're worried about this week, preparing for the team we're about to play this week. Hopefully we can go out there and play Virginia Tech football and hopefully come out with the win."
ON WHAT STANDS OUT THE MOST ABOUT ECU:
"I think ECU's a big time program. Good team. We're about to face a great team. I think it starts with us. We have to prepare this week. Come out to practice each and every day. Prepare like a team prepared to go get a win, prepared to go 1-0."
ON IF HE'S CONFIDENT OR CURIOUS FOR HOW PRACTICE WILL LOOK LIKE THIS WEEK:
"I think we pretty much know what we're gonna get Tuesday. We're a group of guys that's ready to get out there. I think coming out Tuesday, I think you'll see a lot of guys with a lot of attitude. A lot of eagerness to get on the field and get ready for practice and get ready for a big time ballgame."
ON HOW GOOD IT FELT TO GET BACK ON THE FIELD:
"I was just blessed to be out there, happy more than anything to be out there. It's been almost two years. It's been a tough road to get back there. I was just happy to be out there, really. That's really what was going on in my head."
ON THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF A 22-MONTH REHAB EFFORT:
"What did you say, 22 months? I didn't even know how long it was. There were a lot of early mornings involved. A lot of being with my team and talking to them and talking with my family to try to just keep me into it. It's to a point where you came to college to go to school and play football. When one of those is taken away, it's kind of hard to keep it all together. There were low points and there were high points, but that's with anything. Rehab was hard, it was really hard. I got through it and just blessed to be able to still play."
ON HIS WEIGHT FLUCTUATIONS DURING REHAB:
"I got pretty high (weight-wise). It was up there. That was a lot with just not being able to run around. As soon as I started (being) able to run around, I got right back down. Now, I'm lower than I was playing freshman year. I feel a lot better. My weight went up and down a lot."
ON HIS HIGHEST WEIGHT:
"Like 250 (pounds). That next month, I was in the (230's). It didn't last very long."
ON WHAT HE FEELS HIS ROLE WILL BE IN THIS ROTATION:
"Travon's (McMillian) really good, Sam's (Rogers) good, Shai's (McKenzie) really good. You just compete in practice. I have no idea. That's something that would happen in practice, something that the coaches would decide. All of us are really good. We just compete every week and we have fun doing it. I don't know."
ON WHAT IT'S LIKE PLAYING IN FUENTE'S OFFENSE:
"I like it. Any offense that has a running back that you get into, you have to make it work in your own kind of way. I like it and it seems to fit all of us in it's own special way. It's a good offense. I like the fast pace. It's good for me. I think I can fit into it well."
ON HIS ROLE IN THE OFFENSE THUS FAR:
"It's a lot different than it was last year. Using more people. As long as you earn Coach Fuente, Coach (Holman) Wiggins, Coach (Brad) Cornelsen's respect and they trust you, they're gonna play you. It's all about how they feel about you. I feel like I'm fitting in pretty well so far."
ON THE DIFFERENCE IN THIS LAST WEEK'S PRACTICE THAT HELPED PREPARE FOR BOSTON COLLEGE:
"Two weeks ago wasn't where we needed to be, that showed. But last week we had a lot more energy, we executed a lot better. It showed on Saturday. We held onto the ball. That was a huge emphasis during the week. Ball security, that led to a win."
ON WHAT HE THINKS THE KEY TO BEATING ECU WILL BE:
"ECU, they're very good. They just had a big win against NC State. We know what they did the past couple two years (of) beating us. Just gotta approach it like it's any other game. We're ready for them."
ON HOW IMPRESSIVE FORD IS IN PRACTICE:
"He makes some incredible plays. I was talking to my dad the other day, I was like, 'I don't know how he makes those plays.' It's good to watch and learn from him. He helps me out a lot. He's one of my good friends. I love Isaiah."
ON IF HE'S SEEN HIS ROLE EXPAND ON OFFENSE:
"I think, for the most part, it gives me confidence and gives the coaches confidence, too. I'm just doing what I can to help this team out."
ON HOW HARD IT IS TO BE CONSISTENT WEEK IN AND WEEK OUT:
"It's very hard, being consistent at this level. Coach Fuente, he tells us to go hard every day so it will be easy on Saturday. We did that in the offseason, in summer. We did the hard work so it could be easy on Saturday. It's definitely hard, but this team, we're just anxious and hungry. We just plan to work on the week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Saturdays we go out and have fun and play."
ON IF HE REMEMBERS WATCHING THE ECU GAME ON TV LAST YEAR:
"I was watching it. It was rainy, number one. It was a hard, tough game. Came down to the end. It was tough. I definitely remember watching it."
ON IF HE'S CURIOUS TO SEE WHAT TUESDAY'S PRACTICE WILL LOOK LIKE:
"It's gonna be the same Tuesday as we had last week. Come out hard, giving effort, if you mess up, it's ok. Just go full speed, on to the next rep. That's what coach preaches, on to the next rep. Tuesday's are usually longer and more physical practice, but that's what football's about. That's what you need to prepare us for Saturday."
ON HOW THE DEFENSIVE TACKLE ROTATION HAS WORKED SO FAR:
"It's working fine. Coach (Charley) Wiles and Coach (Bud) Foster, they're definitely gonna get guys in if they need a rest. He's gonna rotate us in. They just want us to go in and execute. They don't want to see us fall off from the 1's to the 2's. They just want to see us go in, play hard, and just execute.