A Different Dude: Diamond-in-the-Rough TE/DE Wilfried Pene Joins Hokies' 2020 Class from France

Bonjour Blacksburg! France native Wilfried Pene is bringing his love of football from across the pond.

Of all the high school football stars that put pen to paper and signed with the Hokies on December 18, no one has a story like Wilfried Pene's.

Pene came to the United States in 2018 from Tours, France, a town about two hours outside of Paris. The 16-year-old packed up his things, left his family, and set out to follow his dream of playing American football. He landed at a prep school in Connecticut, St. Thomas More.

"I chose to come to the U.S. because I just fell in love with football," Pene said with the help of a translator. " I saw football when I was 16 years old, and I loved it. When I played in my first game in France I said, 'yes, I love this sport. I need to play it at a high level.'"

Pene, a 6'3" 235lbs. tight end, was an under the radar recruit from the start. In fact, the Hokies were the only major program that extended a scholarship. Pene received other offers from Central Michigan, Rhode Island, and Monmouth. The 247Sports Composite ranks him as a 3-star (0.8206), and he was selected to the All-New England Team both years he played.

Pene landed at St. Thomas More with an assist from the staff at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. Pene initially sent his limited film to the latter, but St. Frances doesn't have a foreign exchange program. However, they helped put him in touch with St. Thomas More.

Fast forward a year, and Pene began to develop into a legitimate weapon not only on offense, but as a defensive end. His coach his senior season, Jason Manson, was a bit skeptical of this French foreign exchange student who could spark the offense. Then he saw Pene show up to summer practices.

"He's a relentless worker, and a super competitive kid," said Manson. "In his mind, there's no limitations on what he can do. He wanted to play every position all of the time."

There was a fear in Manson's mind that implementing a new system would be difficult for Pene, a young man who had already just taught himself English the year before.

"I heard he was big and athletic, so I thought defensive end would be a better position for him, just because it's a bit easier to grasp the instincts at that position," said Manson. "But we came in this fall, and we started up a new offense. So, we sent him some PowerPoint slides because he was still in France, and I really thought he'd struggle learning a new system because it was a little more advanced than what they did before. But he came in, I want to say two days late into camp, he didn't miss a beat. He understood everything we were talking about. So, I was really shocked at how he learned it really all on his own."

Watch this touchdown reception and the great awareness Pene demonstrated. The quarterback was flushed out of the pocket. Pene broke off his out route and found the open space within the QB's line of sight. Many receivers in that scenario might simply continue their route or cut upfield. Pene did a nice job of feeling where the defense was, and to use a soccer reference, made a run into open space against their grain.

The New England region isn't a hotbed for talent, and is a recruiting trail less traveled. Pene noted he was frustrated by the lack of attention and exposure during the recruitment process.

"When we lined up against teams like St. Frances and National Christian Academy, he was really productive," said Manson. "So, he thought that since those guys he was going up against had big-time offers and he was productive, that he should be getting some big-time love. Virginia Tech was the first big school to really pull the trigger. Some other big ones had looked but never really pulled the trigger."

Pene was spotted on the Hokies' radar by running backs coach Adam Lechtenberg and special teams / tight ends coach James Shibest. Lechtenburg coached with Manson at Central Connecticut State in 2010, and the two have kept in touch since. Lechtenberg was impressed with what he saw on film and took Shibest with him to Baltimore to see Pene play against St. Frances Academy.

"I spoke with the tight ends coach and the head coach," said Pene. "They seem like good guys and good coaches who love to coach. So after speaking with some players I decided to sign."

Pene first heard about Virginia Tech while watching college football videos on YouTube. He'd watch old games to understand the vibe of college football.

Beyond his aggressiveness and athleticism, Tech's coaches might have been drawn to Pene because of his willingness to block on the outside. The Hokies' offense often requires skill players to block screens and sweeps on the perimeter.

Pene also does a great job of high-pointing the football and catching with strong hands. This limits drops and puts him in a better position to tuck and run after the catch.

Pene is a true project prospect. He has the raw athleticism to play at the Power Five level, and enters into a great situation in which he is not expected to contribute right away. Although his impact may not be seen on the field for a few years, Pene is an embodiment of everything the "Hard. Smart. Tough." mantra represents. He's shown how much all of this means to him on and off the field in a way that not many teenage kids would even dream of.

"When I saw how he had learned the offense on his own and he practiced, I knew we had something special," said Manson.

"That dude's a little different."


Thanks for the article. I'm pretty dang excited to see if Pene pans out.

On the other hand if he does become a contributor be prepared for the commentators to hit us with 'Did you know Pene is French?" every time the dude makes his first reception of a game.

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


"Why gobble gobble chumps asks such good questions, I will never know." - TheFifthFuller

We can add that to the Hokie Football Bingo Drinking Game

He also is a pretty good high school wrestler from what I've heard.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

VERY good wrestler

I like this. In my limited experience, wrestlers are better tacklers and generally more physical than your average bear.

But is he SMARTER than the average bear?

From the 2018 VT-uva game-"This is when LEGENDS are made!"

And will he upset we have a lunch pail, instead of a pic-a-nic basket ?

Sounds like a bit of a project, but it would work out very well to set up the depth chart. If he takes a red-shirt year and can become a starter in two years he would be all set and ready to fill right it when Gallo is graduating.

I am also hoping the fact that there are probably less than 10 French players in all of college football and may have never been one in the NFL gives him a drive to prove a player from France can be successful at the highest level.

I am not sure what to do with my hands now

Looks like he almost fumbled in the last video.

Has no shot in our offense!

Heisman Candidate. The next Charles Woodson. Start coming up with nick names now.

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If he's a reliable receiver and isn't referred to as "The French Connection", what are we even doing with our lives?

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Not gonna lie, really wanted to name this article that. Thought that naming an article after a famous drug heist movie may be a tad...unprofessional.

If he turns into a pancake machine we can call him "Casa-block-ya". Deal?

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When he liberates the Commonwealth Cup from Charlottesville with multiple scores, he'll be "Charles TD Balle" (pronounced like Charles de Gaulle).

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I'm also partial to "the Legionnaire".

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Think he could be developed into a James Mitchell-esque role in our offense. I hope it works out for us/him.

Pene said with the help of a translator.

Sam, do you have any more insight into his level of competency/grasp of english? Conversational/semi-fluent? I watch a lot of european soccer, and it's not uncommon for players to still use their native language in interviews/press conferences sometimes despite knowing their club's primary language because of a very understandable confidence reason. It appears based on context he can read english just fine.

He speaks English fluently. Apparently, he taught himself when he decided to come over to the US. We could talk casually in English, but obviously it's a bit more difficult to articulate and answer questions that don't use basic jargon. I had a friend at work who's fluent in French help me out during the interview.

From talking to his coach, I don't think language barrier was ever an issue on the football field. Seemed to grasp everything very well.

I actually envision him in the Dalton Keene role. His (potential) versatility and willingness to block makes me think he could develop well in that H-back/TE spot for us.

Is coronavirus over yet?

I envision TnT checking out his pass rushing abilities before things get too far along.

His coach seemed to think he was a better DE than TE, for what that's worth. I think he's coming in at the "big, athletic, and can catch a football" position. We'll see what the staff does with that. Since Fuente's been here, that's been the H-Back position (Rogers, Keene).


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How is the Charlottesville hs talent pool?

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Pene for your thoughts, French......

My wife takes the kids and leaves the house while I watch my Hokie games.........nuff said

That's another article for another day, but I bet it's coming.

"the Hokies were the only major program that extended a scholarship." Shibest is very well paid, I'm anxious to watch him coach up this kid. Let him RS and gain 30 good pounds and let's see how good a TE coach Shibest is.

I think it's safe to say Shibest has been the best position coach under Fuente so far. The TE talent at Tech has been really good under him. I think he's gonna really enjoy getting to work with Wilfried over the next few years because from everything that I've heard he's a great student of the game.


Agreed. No coincidence he was one of the only guys Fuente brought with him that had previous P5 coaching experience.

You could also argue he's under performed as a Special Teams Coordinator. But as far as my complaints about the staff go, I don't have big complaints about Shibest.

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I think Tech's been fine on Special Teams. When Greg Stroman was back there he was a threat to take it to the house every time. And the kickers have been above average as well. I don't think you're going to see #BeamerBall anywhere in college football unless some rules change. It's very very tough to block punts now.

Going by SP+ rankings, which as I understand focus mostly on starting field position, I think Special Teams SP+ ranking has been outside the top 50 every year he's been here (will look up when I'm off mobile).

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Below are the SP+ special teams ratings & rankings for Virginia Tech by year starting in 2016:
2016: +0.4 (49th)
2017: +0.9 (31st)
2018: +0.4 (57th)
2019: +1.4 (28th)

We haven't been necessarily elite at special teams like the peak Beamer years. But, our worst year on special teams was about average.

"That move was slicker than a peeled onion in a bowl of snot." -Mike Burnop

So we'll call that on par? Adequate? Good enough not to lose?

It hasn't been as electric of a phase as it could be, or has been. But, it certainly has been better than both the offense and defense at many points during his time in charge.


Hokie Club member since 2017

He's also like the 7th highest paid ST coach in the country. So we are paying top dollar for his position for avg results.

In a world where we have a huge assistant budget this isn't really noteworthy, but in the reality where each time we hire staff positions we are told we can't afford elite position coaches because they are too expensive, then it's a little more frustrating that we are paying our ST coordinators so much to be "on par."

Do those other ST Coordinators have other coaching responsibilities? Not disagreeing, just curious how much of his salary is for ST Coordinator and how much is for TE Coach.

"Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our heart with tolerance."
-Stan Lee

"Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."
-Ron Swanson

"11-0, bro"
-Hunter Carpenter (probably)

1. Bob Gregory, Washington β€” $550,000 (Asst HC, LB coach, ST Coord)
2. Larry Porter, Auburn β€” $525,000 (TE coach, ST Coord)
3. Chris Partridge, Michigan β€” $500,000 (Safeties coach, ST Coord)
4. Danny Pearman, Clemson β€” $480,000 (Asst HC, TE coach, ST Coord)
5. Jovan Dewitt, Nebraska β€” $475,000 (OLB Coach, ST Coord)
5. Coleman Hutzler, South Carolina β€” $475,000 (LB Coach, ST Coord)
7. James Shibest, Virginia Tech β€” $445,000
8. Mark Staten, Michigan State β€” $438,000
9. Jay Boulware, Oklahoma β€” $435,000
10. Jeff Banks, Alabama β€” $434,000

I had to look all these up individually, but you get the point. ST Coordinator pretty much always pulls double duty. Shibest is not unique, but he is paid by his friend Fuente the same that elite programs, blue bloods, or much richer programs are paying their ST coaches.

Edit: I should have just read further down the article... Direct Quote below.

Every one of the coaches listed above has positional responsibilities in addition to coaching special teams. Tight ends (Porter, Perman, Shibest, Banks) was the most popular position β€” and we'd bet is the most common across the entire sport β€” but safeties (Naivar, Partridge) and linebackers (Gregory, Dewitt, Hutzler) also had multiple entrants. Boulware also coaches Oklahoma's running backs. Gregory also has an assistant head coach title.

Thanks for the quick reply.

"Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our heart with tolerance."
-Stan Lee

"Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."
-Ron Swanson

"11-0, bro"
-Hunter Carpenter (probably)

i feel like we're a good kick returner away from being in the top-10 though.

"Why gobble gobble chumps asks such good questions, I will never know." - TheFifthFuller

What did you think of King's returns? Do we assume with some extra time bulking up he can run through some tackles he may not have been able to as a freshman, along with more experience, or do you think we need to find someone else?

Like a transfer RB or aggressive TE maybe?

This is going to be great for the ACC.

I dunno. I thought King did a pretty good job, but he also didn't do it all season. Was just wondering if Gobble Gobble (and others) were happy with his performance or would like to see someone new filling the role.

he was he best we saw last year. i always get nervous about opening up an important player to more risk of injury like that.

"Why gobble gobble chumps asks such good questions, I will never know." - TheFifthFuller

But it seems to be how to get the best results.

This is going to be great for the ACC.

59 teams blocked a punt, 20 teams blocked 2 or more punts, 5 teams blocked 3 or more, with Cincinatti (4), and Houston (5) at the top of the list for 2019. Houston had 5 blocks on only 57 punts faced. Cincinatti faced 75.

It's definitely still possible to be good at this, and we haven't been. We haven't been good at returns since Stroman either.

Even in Beamer's heyday of blocking, teams learned that we were good at it and moved the punter back and changed their protection schemes to avoid it. It got a lot harder for us to block them, even though we still did on occasion.

I don't watch enough other teams/games to know, but I think there have to be a number of considerations. I would imagine if a team knows the opponents' punter doesn't get the punt off quickly, they would try more aggressively to block one, if they line up really good protection, that might dissuade a team from trying, having a really good return game might get you to focus on great returns over trying to block them. Some of it has to be having a guy that is fast enough off the blocks to get to the punter. If we don't have a lot of burners on the team and the fast guy is the returner, that might mean you don't have a guy quick enough to get to the punter. Maybe our quick guy(s) aren't careful enough in practice and Shibest is worried about a penalty, which is always way less favorable of an outcome than blocking a punt.

Also, that's just this past year. I went back and looked. As of January, 2018, we finished that season in a 3-way tie for number 1 at 5 punts blocked.

So last good ST blocking year was 2017, a season which still was majority Beamer guys? Particularly on defense.

I couldn't get to the 2018-19 season statistics (not sure what's up between my work computer that blocks some sites and my ipad, which doesn't always play nice with certain features). Some of the statistics pages I'm looking at looks like the number of blocked punts may be their punts blocked rather than that they blocked someone else's. Sometimes it's very frustrating trying to find prior season statistics for more obscure stats...

I couldn't find blocked punts for college other than for this past season. I feel ya.

Yeah, I'd like to have more than 2 data points. Only 2 doesn't make me very confident in drawing many conclusions.

I always loved the blocks when Beamer was coach. Just found this article:

Virginia Tech blocked a staggering 138 kicks in the Beamer era and scored an equally staggering 55 special-teams touchdowns --20 on punt returns, 20 on blocked punts, nine on kickoff returns, four on blocked field goals, one on a fumbled kick recovery and another on a fumbled kick return.


Amusing that it was for a Dallas paper, but still a good summary and a couple great blocks for reminiscing.

This kid would have ended up being a hell of a Left Tackle for Beams.

Gobble Till You Wobble

Dure. Intelligent. Fort.

He is a Dude.

They serving snails and smelly cheese at west end now? πŸ€”πŸ˜‰

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:
β€œI served in the United States Navy"


Sign me up. Been eating snails since I was a 7 yr old in Morocco and can't even imagine the quisine VT offers now vs our offerings in the '70s.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

It was the '80s for me, but I sometimes reminisce about scrod night in Schultz. And end of quarter steak night. Not that the food was good β€” it wasn't β€” but that we survived it, together. Those were good times, sigh.

"Tajh Boyd over the middle . . . and it's caught for an interception! Michael Cole, lying flat on his back, ARE YOU KIDDING???"

Bienvenue! Vive la Virginia Tech!

His name reads like a redneck pasta dish.