The days of waiting anxiously around the fax machine on National Signing Day seem to be pretty much over.
At least, there wasn't much drama in Blacksburg Wednesday, with Virginia Tech's 2021 class locked in for weeks now. The Hokies didn't add a single new player after the early signing day in December, ensuring no changes for a class ranked by most services toward the bottom of the ACC.
"It's been over for a long time for us," Fuente told reporters. "The first signing day has become the signing day....We have moved on for some time."
If anything, Fuente's biggest news came via the transfer portal, rather than traditional recruiting methods. In landing Texas A&M QB Connor Blumrick, Clemson DT Jordan Williams, Maryland OL Johnny Jordan and Vanderbilt S Tae Dailey, Fuente was able to address several pressing needs via the portal.
And between those transfers and his 2021 class, he said he has a total of 13 early enrollees to work with in the offseason, noting that he's "never had this many people in our program in the spring."
"Quite honestly, I expect this team to be good," Fuente said. "We have guys coming back at every position."
If he's right, it may well be due to the impact of those transfers. Landing Williams, in particular, was a big win for the Hokies — not only does the 6'4", 310-pound DT add a ton of size to the defensive line, but it must be nice for Fuente to steal away a Virginia player that Tech heavily recruited coming out of high school.
"He's just jumped in, and having some of that knowledge of him has helped us," Fuente said. "Obviously we have not been real big at defensive tackle, and that's been part of what we need to do. He certainly brings that first and foremost...He's a large man and he moves well."
On the offensive side of the ball, Blumrick could give the Hokies another option at QB, or the chance to move him around some. Fuente said he came highly recommended from Aggies OC Darrell Dickey (who goes "way back" with Fuente, apparently), particularly because he's "played several different spots" for A&M. Blumrick spent much of his time on special teams last year, in fact.
But Fuente certainly made it sound as if Blumrick would also get a shot at quarterback, especially after the room thinned out a bit with starter Hendon Hooker's departure. Fuente did not address the circumstances of his transfer except to say that he "wasn't surprised at all" to see Hooker go elsewhere.
"It's a unique situation with our QB situation, and Connor has played," Fuente said.
If Dickey led the Hokies to Blumrick, then it was former co-DL coach Darryl Tapp who connected Tech with Bailey. Tapp encountered the safety during his days as a Vanderbilt assistant, suggesting he could similarly beef up the team's experience in the DB room.
"We have a few older guys in the safety room, but a large number of young players are entering the room for the first time," Fuente said. "I really feel like Tae is a guy that's hungry to win, a guy who can not just play but add some depth and experience, and help us bring some of these young guys along."
Fuente is eager to bring all those players into the fold this spring, though he concedes he still has very little idea of what the coming weeks will look like.
He said he's planning for spring ball "with a pencil," considering there's so much left to be worked out by the NCAA and ACC — teams normally have 34 days to conduct 15 practices, but what if Covid cases force a pause? That's just one of the issues he's waiting for clarity on, but he expects to hold spring ball in the same mid-to-late March timeframe as usual.
"We've got the schedule written down in pencil and we know we need to be ready to adapt if things change," Fuente said.
A Defensive Shake-Up
Despite questions about his job security as the 2020 season ended, Fuente didn't call for a substantial staff shake-up in the offseason. Instead, circumstances forced his hand a bit.
First, LBs coach Tracy Claeys retired on Jan. 13. Then, Tapp landed a job with the San Francisco 49ers a few weeks later.
That forced Fuente to act quickly to fill two important vacancies in roles supporting a still-new defensive coordinator in Justin Hamilton.
One decision was an "obvious call, an obvious choice," Fuente said: promoting former player Jack Tyler to linebackers coach. He'd already spent time as a Tech GA and quality control coach, and Fuente felt the 30-year-old has a "bright future in this game."
"You don't want guys that pine to be the coordinator, you want guys who prepare and understand the big picture of things, and he's one of those guys," Fuente said. "I don't usually make those decisions that quickly, but this one was a slam dunk, a no-brainer. I'm glad he stuck around and he's a great example of hard work and perseverance, getting this opportunity."
Losing Tapp, a former player himself, was perhaps a tougher blow. Fuente said he was "awfully proud of what he did in a short time here."
Luckily, Fuente knew another Hokie who needed a job. He said he's remained close with J.C. Price during his Marshall days, noting that the schools often held joint practices together, so he "knew pretty quickly that J.C. would have interest in coming back."
Price will be both co-DL coach with Bill Teerlinck and the team's new defensive recruiting coordinator, a role Tapp would've filled had he stayed in Blacksburg. Fuente recently elevated RBs coach Adam Lechtenberg to the same position on offense, arguing that his own time as an offensive coordinator taught him the value of having assistants who can take charge of recruiting efforts to leave other duties to the coordinators.
"The way recruiting looks different now, there needs to be someone else in that room that has that on forefront of their mind," Fuente said. "As a coordinator, you can get tunnel vision. You're evaluating, preparing for spring, studying other people...There needed to be somebody else in that room that wasn't the coordinator that could help facilitate that side of the ball in a group effort."
Every offseason brings change, and perhaps the most regular changes are position shifts along the lines and in the secondary.
Even just a few weeks into the offseason program, Fuente said there's already been some shuffling. For instance, rising sophomore Lakeem Rudolph is moving to the "boundary or backer position," because he's already "outgrown" safety, Fuente said.
Then there's rising sophomore Derrell Bailey, who's moving from the defensive line over to the offensive side of the ball.
"It's just for Derrell's long-term benefit," Fuente said. "We think he'll be a really good offensive lineman."
Part of the decision was driven by need, as well. Fuente admitted that he's a bit concerned about depth on the line, particularly after the departure of once-promising prospects Doug Nester and Bryan Hudson, a development he called "very disappointing." He said he'd also be open to adding another offensive lineman before the season, should some scholarship room open up.
The defensive line isn't exactly brimming with depth either, but Fuente said he still felt comfortable moving Bailey over because of the development of some other young prospects. In particular, he pointed to rising sophomore Justin Beadles as one to watch.
"He put on 20 pounds, he's changing his body every day," Fuente said. "Beadles knows it's going to be a process for him. We didn't take him for what he was, but for what he could be, if he continues to stay the path. He looks like a different person just from a physical standpoint, but still a very young, inexperienced player with a long way to go."