From Socks to Sacks, Virginia Tech's New QBs Look to Adjust in a Hurry to Earn a Starting Spot

Two of the three QBs vying for Tech's starting spot this spring are new to Blacksburg, but Justin Fuente is counting on them to adjust quickly.

OC Brad Cornelsen offers JUCO transfer A.J. Bush some pointers in spring ball. [Michael Shroyer]

The Hokies offer plenty of amenities for their football stars, from state of the art TVs and virtual reality for film study to the nation's largest indoor practice facility — but transfer QB A.J. Bush was most excited about the socks.

Bush got a taste of the life of a Division I football player during his two years at Nebraska, so the quality of Tech's facilities and support staff isn't wildly unfamiliar to him, necessarily. But after spending the 2016 season at Iowa Western Community College, he says he's regained an appreciation for the small perks at an FBS program.

"When I got to Iowa Western from Nebraska, I asked for a pair of socks and they told me, 'You've got to go to Dick's,'" Bush joked in his first spring media appearance Tuesday. "So when I got here, it was like, everything is here for me to use and better myself."

QB Hendon Hooker is similarly new to Blacksburg, but, as an early enrolled freshman, he doesn't have quite the same experience as Bush with the physical demands of the college game. After a fitful night of sleep before his first practice, Hooker found out the hard way that Justin Fuente and company are a bit more intense than his high school coaches.

"I was trying to push myself, and didn't get any rest the night before, so I just passed out," Hooker said.

But he says it wasn't until the team's first full-contact scrimmage that he got to truly feel just how demanding the college game can be, courtesy of DB Terrell Edmunds.

"He introduced himself to me pretty well," Hooker said. "I was going straight up the middle, and he was right there for me."

Whether it comes down to footwear or physicality, Fuente is counting on these two new QBs to get acclimated to his offense as soon as possible. With Jerod Evans making the surprising jump to the NFL after just one season in maroon and orange, the head Hokie is hoping for a robust competition this spring to shed some light on who exactly should take the reins at quarterback by the time the West Virginia game rolls around.

Yet he's also keeping close tabs on the development of redshirt freshman Josh Jackson, who dazzled coaches so thoroughly last fall that Fuente decided to make the QB competition a three-man race with just a few weeks to go before the season kicked off. Jackson may still be pretty new to things, having never taken a live snap in college, but Fuente is still counting on him to be the experienced signal caller in the room.

"He's no longer the wide-eyed freshman in there," Fuente said. "He has a good understanding of what we're trying to accomplish, and that's important."

Jackson credits his time watching Evans for that particular advantage. He especially remembers watching the famously competitive former starter on the sidelines as the Hokies went down 0-24 to Arkansas in the Belk Bowl, only to come roaring back in the second half.

"He's a very confident guy, and his confidence never wavered throughout the whole game," Jackson said. "He just kept calm and kept getting ready for the next play and next series, so it was very cool to watch, just how he was persistent and just kept working and getting after it."

Still, he concedes that the coaches made it clear that he would redshirt last season, which certainly affected his preparation process. While he still tried to work as hard as he could "just in case something crazy happened," it sure seemed like a good bet that he wouldn't be seeing the field at least until Evans graduated.

That changed in a hurry when Evans announced his NFL intentions.

"I'd say we were all pretty surprised when Jerod left," Jackson said. "When he did leave, I just thought, 'Now I'm the older guy and I just need to work earn myself a job.'"

Accordingly, Jackson says he does his best to help Bush and Hooker better understand the offense, though he notes that there are still some moments when he needs to ask OC Brad Cornelsen for help.

But he's also needed to adjust more to running Fuente's offense full-time, which naturally calls on the quarterback to carry the ball a good bit. Unlike Evans, he might not have the frame to be a bell-cow back — but at 6'1", 211 pounds, he's not small either.

"I'm not 6'4", 230, so that's a little bit different," Jackson said. "But I can get the yards that we need. I'm not that big of a guy, but I think I can run the ball pretty well."

Naturally, the increased focus on the run game impacts how he thinks about throwing the ball as well. Fuente says he's been working with Jackson on "some things mechanically to help him deliver the ball a bit quicker," and the redshirt freshman says that's directly connected to the speed at which he needs to make decisions in Fuente's offense.

"With the speed of the game, it's really ramped up," Jackson said. "With how we have (the run-pass option), I just need to step in and throw, get the ball out as fast as we can."

Bush has noticed the difference, too. While Nebraska presented him with more of a "West Coast offense," he's also needed to adjust to the differences inherent in Fuente's scheme.

"It's more of an emphasis on being a dual threat here," Bush said. "At Nebraska, you use your legs, but it's more about getting all the way through your progressions. This one is more, one, two, three and then the legs is one of your progressions. I think that's the biggest thing."

Hooker says he's had to put a similarly high premium on learning the offense, but does admit that his ability to take part in spring ball has proven to be a "huge advantage" so far. Beyond just learning the system, though, he credits the extra practice time with helping him get comfortable with the prospect of leading an offense as just an 18-year-old.

"It's like a family, they've all just accepted me," Hooker said. "If I give them a play, then they listen, which is big, coming from being the oldest on the team to the youngest."

But the ever-secretive Fuente won't tip his hand on when the team will render a final verdict on which QB seems best suited to the system, declining to commit to announcing a starter by the end of spring or even setting any timetable on the process.

"I don't ever set a timeframe to make a decision," Fuente said. "Obviously, some decisions have deadlines, but there's only one deadline here, and it's by the time the first huddle trots out there in the first game. Whenever it happens, it'll happen. We'll continue to evaluate them."

As part of that evaluation process, Fuente says the staff will continue to look at how each one of the quarterbacks "do what we ask them to do." Rather than getting tied up in the stats each may put up, he says he prefers to study how each one follows his coaching in the moment.

"Regardless of the outcome of the play, a completion of 10 yards or whatever, I want to see that he do what we ask them do, making the key reads based on what he saw," Fuente said. "It doesn't always manifest itself in a completion or a good drive or a touchdown, but as far as evaluating what they're doing, I think it's a good way to go."

So far, Bush says he's fully on board with Fuente's methods. Despite earning interest from Baylor and Oregon, and an offer from Texas A&M, he chose to come to Tech after seeing how Fuente groomed Paxton Lynch into a first-round pick.

He may not have the same experience as Jackson in the system, but he's ready to prove that he's earned those socks the Hokies have so graciously provided, and more.

"Of course I came up here to play, I wouldn't be at this level if I wasn't trying to play," Bush said. "I just see light at the end of the tunnel. It's the opportunity to go get it. No time to waste."

Comments

These three seem to be working together well. Bronco would definitely play all three.

"with all due respect, and remember I’m sayin’ it with all due respect, that idea ain’t worth a velvet painting of a whale and a dolphin gettin’ it on" - Ricky Bobby

I assume you mean in the fall, as Bronco doesn't believe in spring football.

If you're reading the above post and thinking, "is this guy serious?!?," you can safely assume I'm not.

Well, all three of them would do hard things together in their spring festivities.

Let's be honest here. He doesn't really believe in fall football either.

"How the ass pocket will be used, I do not know. Alls I know is, the ass pocket will be used."
- The BoD

Oh, how we love Bronco.

The Utah fans started up a twitter push when it looked like Bronco might leave BYU. I think we should embrace this:

#extendbronco

.
"Step on a crack, break Miami's bak"
- ThatOneGuy

"Hurricanes are uncontrollable and the models predict continued chaos"
- Eshiben5 (probably)

They would make a great 3 on 3 hoops squad.

He'd love Bush most of all as he's about the same age as a freshman QB he had at BYU.

Where does Lawson fit in though?

Never crimp your blasting caps with your teeth. - Dr Haycocks

Its always 110 Holden...said every mining engineer ever.

I just see light at the end of the tunnel.

When that tunnel has 66,000+ cheering Hokie fans at the end of it, it's awesome. Believe me, A.J.

On Saturday morning, I will be running out of that tunnel.

Did you win the spring game auction?

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

I wish. 3.2 for 32 run is Saturday morning. The path for the run goes through the tunnel and around the field to go out the opposite side. There will probably be 8-10 thousand Hokie Alum, friends, and family on the run/walk. If you haven't heard of the commemorative run, you can google it, sign up and attend.

Almost makes me want to take up exercise

It can be walked.

Walking is exercise.

I forgot about that. Going to have to wait till the kids are older to head back up for spring games weekends.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

My wife and I will be there too. The 3.2 is a borderline religious experience for me.

Suggested viewing:

3.2 for 32 from Travis Lu on Vimeo.

Look for a TKP shirt sighting around 2:40.

The Orange and Maroon you see, that's fighting on to victory.

You can't be doing this to me in the middle of a work day Fencer.

Outspoken team cake advocate. Hates terrapins. Resident Macho Man Gif Poster. Distant cousin to Dork Magic. Frequently misspells words.

3.2 for 32 run is Saturday morning.

The last time I did the 3.2 for 32 was in 2008. Coincidentally that was probably the last time I ran.

Sometimes I like to leave off the /s just to mess with people.

whats it up to now hokie fireman? I saw me and you were the only 2 to bid but that was like a week in haha. I haven't checked back. not much of a point until closer to the day! wish I had a buddy to split it with me. but whoever wins is going to be in for an awesome experience. my pockets aren't as deep as id like. if (or more likely when I lose) I will be finally joining TPK though. so its a win win in the end. but Ive been slacking.

#Bapn ain't EZ

Wanna win put boobie in! Let boobie spin coach!

I didn't bid. If I did it would be for sitting with Beamer.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

I think all three want to play and all three will do what they think is best to make being the starter happen. This is what completion is all about. I put my trust in Fuente, Cornelsen, and the other coaches to put the best player on the field.

Go Hokies

Cryogenically freeze me until September, please.

he chose to come to Tech after seeing how Fuente groomed Paxton Lynch into a first-round pick.

Fuente's QB whisperer reputation certainly carries some weight, but this is more evidence that draft picks matter. NFL success doesn't seem to matter, only getting drafted early.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

I mean Paxton Lynch is getting paid a lot of money to hang out in Denver right now, so I get it.

Too bad the the No Fun League takes all the fun cities activities to do. Vegas players can't appear to support or endorse a casino, Denver no weed.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

yeah, heaven forbid NFL players use legal, holistic pain management practices rather than pill popping and injections...

May just be my nature, but I wish we'd hear more about one QB pulling away. I never believe all the hype around all 3 playing at a similar level.

I believe that even if there were one quarterback that was pulling away from the others, we wouldn't hear about it from Fuente. I doubt he'll ever "officially" name a starter at all...it'll be fan guesswork until our first offensive series next fall.

Well, at the minimum, I hope that one quarterback that is pulling away will get the majority of the 1st team reps early. Need to build that 1st team chemistry.

Thought it was interesting that Bush had an offer from A&M and garnering interest from Baylor and Oregon, that shows me that most coaches weren't all that concerned about his JUCO stats.

In Sam Rogers we trust.

Yeah crazy, right? When he signed I assumed Fuente was just looking for a serviceable backup.

Concerned that if Bush wins the job, Jackson might transfer?

Beamer Brawl

MUST. RESIST. URGE. TO MAKE. LAWSON JOKES.

I see this as a milestone, good job. How 'bout three claps and a Rick Flair?

.
"Step on a crack, break Miami's bak"
- ThatOneGuy

"Hurricanes are uncontrollable and the models predict continued chaos"
- Eshiben5 (probably)

You make jokes about him and the next thing you know he leaves.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

Concerned that if Bush wins the job, Lawson might transfer?

fixed that for you :D

They all sound like upstanding young hardworking men, hopefully they all stick it out and keep fighting for playing time instead of pouting and transferring if they do not win the starting job initially...

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

Watched all of their interviews from the media session on Tuesday. All three are very well-spoken and seem like great guys. Really pulling for all of them, I think any would make a great leader for us. Starting to become more and more intrigued with Bush. I really like his story, and he sounds very motivated since this will be his last shot. I can't wait to get a good look at all of them live at the Spring Game.