As the Season Approaches, Justin Fuente Wonders Whether He'll Be Able to Field a Team Against UVA

The head Hokie admitted to some frustration with the uncertainty surrounding this coronavirus-tinged season.

Justin Fuente is tasked with managing practice right now without any sense of what the season will look like.

Justin Fuente says he's a bit of a "basket case" these days, and who can blame him? He still isn't sure he'll actually be able to field a team when this highly unusual season kicks off, just over two weeks from now.

That's not to say that the Hokies have been completely hobbled by coronavirus just yet, though Fuente will say the locker room has seen some infections, especially as students have returned to Blacksburg. His more immediate problem is figuring out just how many cases of Covid-19 his squad can absorb before he feels compelled to throw in the towel — and he says the ACC hasn't exactly been helpful in setting clear standards, even though the season is nearly underway.

"I have no idea what the requisites are to play or not play a game. No clue," Fuente told reporters Wednesday in an unusually candid session with the media. "I don't mean to be flippant, but I just don't know. I don't know who makes the call, how it all works...And here we are, a few weeks before we play."

Fuente allows that it's a difficult decision for the conference and individual schools to make, but his frustration is with the lack of consistency. Witness N.C. State pausing all its football activities a week ago, thereby delaying Tech's season opener, only to agree to resume practice Monday.

The head Hokie admits he's not sure how he'd make a similar decision, if he was presented with the sort of spike in cases the Wolfpack witnessed. And when pressed if he felt ready to play a game at this very moment, Fuente sounded very much like a man who harbored grave doubts about the whole prospect of pushing ahead with football this year.

"What does 'can you play a game' mean?" Fuente said. "Can you line up 11 people out there? Can you field a team? Or how competitive are you going to be? So can we play, yeah. But there's all that gray that I think it's hard to figure out right now and answering that part of the question is more important than 'can you play?' Yeah, you can, absolutely, but at what point do you reach the point of it not being very safe?"

Fuente observed that it's about "the health and safety" of his players, at a certain point. Not just the crucial question of whether the team can compete without spreading a deadly disease, but whether he'll be forced to start playing athletes who "aren't ready to be out there to begin with" as case numbers rise. He notes that the ACC hasn't given him guidance on matters like, say, whether he should press ahead with playing if he'll be relying heavily on walk-ons or scout team players.

"Do those guys count? Is it position-related?" Fuente said. "I don't know the answer to any of that right now."

For now, at least, it seems these are hypothetical questions. Fuente said the team has yet to see the worst-case scenario of an entire position group all being infected at once. And many of the players to test positive have been asymptomatic, saving them from some of the worst health consequences of the virus.

But he said that cases on the team have been rising in line with cases on campus, with Tech reporting a 1.8 percent positivity rate, as of Monday. Those numbers have crept consistently upward as students have returned to campus, and Fuente expects the team will inevitably see more cases too.

"I'm not blaming it on the students, it's just a fact," Fuente said. "There's more traffic in the streets and longer lines at Chipotle, it's part of the deal."

He's advised players, of course, to limit contacts with other students. RB Jalen Holston summed up his routine thusly: "Football, school and repeat."

But Fuente acknowledges it will be difficult for players to cut off all contact with their peers, especially when they're at home. And he said he didn't feel comfortable with taking more extreme measures on living arrangements, such as telling players of the same position group they can't live together for fear they'll infect each other.

In these uncertain times, Fuente said he's trying to remain cognizant of the emotional effect of this constant Covid vigilance on players. He notes players are each being tested three times a week, meaning that there are three chances each week for some seriously tense conversations with medical staff: "There's a little bit of strain that comes with that," he admits.

"The fact that things could get taken away any time makes you anxious," said RB Khalil Herbert, a grad transfer from Kansas. "But we're hoping for a chance to play."

Blackshear and other new faces join the RB room

All that uncertainty aside, the Hokies did get a small bit of good news this week: Rutgers transfer RB Raheem Blackshear got the NCAA's stamp of approval to play right away this year.

"Coach Fu came to me with a big smile on his face and the whole (RB) group was excited," Blackshear said. "He said, 'You better get ready to play.'"

Indeed, Blackshear should figure into the RB rotation prominently next year, and even pick up some receiving duties. In his 27 games at Rutgers, he ran for just over 900 yards, but also caught 80 passes for just over 800 yards, and he figures to continue to be a dual threat at Tech.

He said he's worked some in the slot this fall, modeling his game after versatile backs like Christian McCaffrey and D'Andre Swift, a friend of his and fellow Philadelphia native. And Fuente was certainly bullish on his potential to contribute early and often, suggesting he'll get a chance to return kicks right away (and perhaps spell Tayvion Robinson on punt returns too).

"His intelligence makes him unique," Fuente said. "He's almost obsessed about getting things done correctly. He will literally badger an assistant coach all the way out onto the field to understand what he'll be doing because it's important to him to get it right...Those guys are fairly unique, guys who are intelligent and have the burning desire to get things right all the time. It can make him pretty fun to coach."

Of course, he'll have lots of competition too, considering he's not even the only transfer joining the RB room. There's Herbert coming from Kansas as well, plus Marco Lee, a JUCO transfer. And that's to say nothing of sophomore Keshawn King, who showed flashes last year, and senior Jalen Holston, back at full speed after recovering from a broken ankle.

"Raheem, he's a speedster, quick, just cutting on a dime," Holston said. "And Khalil, I wanna say he has the ability to make cuts and the vision to make cuts before a play is even happening."

But with so many new faces, Holston provides some consistency. He says his ankle started to feel normal again this spring, and with a new jersey number, 0, he's ready for a fresh start.

"Jalen stepped up to be a leader, he took over the room," Blackshear said. "Jalen's like the big brother of the room right now."

An empty Lane for UVA?

The impending season has been turned upside down in so many ways, and the schedule is no different. Instead of closing the season, the battle for the Commonwealth Cup is first up on the horizon.

And this week's news that fans will be barred from tailgating at Lane Stadium means that new arrivals to the team will be treated to a considerably more subdued edition of the rivalry game this year. There's still no telling exactly how many fans will be allowed inside Lane, if any, though some sort of capacity limit looks certain — cardboard cutouts will likely be the main attendees the players see.

Now the team is left to adjust to the likelihood of playing in a virtually empty stadium for what should be the most raucous game of the year. Herbert said the team has already started scrimmaging and practicing in an empty Lane to prepare, but that doesn't mean it'll be an easy adjustment.

"I hate it for our fans, but I understand it," Fuente said. "We're in unprecedented times and everybody is making sacrifices and that's part of it...We know it's more than just a game here at Virginia Tech. It's an experience, it's camaraderie; it's like a vacation. People plan weddings around it."

Fuente joked that he has no plans to place a cardboard cutout of himself in Lane for the opener, though he has heard that vigilant watchers might spot Michael Vick's likeness in the makeshift crowd.

Without fans, that means it's up to the players to generate some sense of the stakes of the game internally. Even for the new additions to the squad, that should be little trouble a year after suffering a loss to a hated rival like UVA.

"They've got something we want to get back," Herbert said.

Injuries and absences

Covid aside, Fuente said he does have a few other notable absences to deal with on defense.

First, there's Nasir Peoples, who Fuente said is now out for the year after suffering some sort of non-contact knee injury. The redshirt sophomore hasn't played much early in his career, but Fuente said he was working at safety and figured to make an impact this year before the injury.

Otherwise, Fuente said the team hasn't seen much in the way of notable injuries. There is the matter of starting DE Tyjuan Garbutt, however, who did not join the team at the start of fall camp while dealing with an undisclosed family matter.

Fuente said that not much has changed in that department, noting that Garbutt is "going to school but not with the team right now."

"I saw him yesterday, he came out to practice, so he's around," Fuente said. "But he's not with the football team right now."

Comments

Excellent write up. Looks like we will need another DE or two to step up this season with it looking like Garbutt will be out for much or all of the season.

Amaré Barno is now officially listed as DL on the roster after taking reps at DE during camp, so there's at least one more potential contributor.

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

Lots of options, but we need someone to step up.

Jaylen Griffin
Zion Debose
Eli Adams
Emmanuel Belmar

Now Barno, and maybe Pollard can slide outside in certain looks, but I haven't heard anything concrete about who is sticking out.

We know who Belmar is... can be blocked regularly... We know who DeBose is, as he has been in the program for 4 years now... Garbutt is a huge blow. As the anonymous ACC coach said, "their front 7 on defense doesn't scare you"- I couldn't agree more.

I am expecting Reed and Belmar to start. I have no idea who is next up. I am hoping Debose delivers and Griffin (who I have heard nothing about this fall) can step up. The freshmen will probably need to be used some.

Call me a doubter that Barno can contribute. He has great length, but nothing on his JUCO film showed me he would make an easy transition to DE.

I hope Wooten can come in and deliver some pass rush in specialty situations.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

French - have you heard anything about Alec Bryant? Any idea if he could push for playing time?

Elite level work, welcome back, Koma.

Bet you didn't know Koma was a 2 star recruit coming out of High School!

Joe saw something in him and now look at it.... 5 star write-ups!

Great read.

I'm amazed that the ACC (and other organizations) have completely failed to contingency plan for COVID. This has been a thing for 6 months now, and NOBODY in power even thought 'hmm maybe we should issue guidelines for rosters?' Or maybe that was intentional...

Twitter me

If the ACC has a policy in writing they can't change it on the fly to protect certain teams seasons. But that's just my Tobacco Road conspiracies. Like why doe N.C. schools have 6 representatives of the committee picking the new conference commissioner?

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

To be fair, que gif, all levels of society are pretty much hedging their bets on this thing. Except the NBA.

Hedging your bets is when you simultaneously invest (or prepare for) into two (usually) mutually exclusive outcomes. Hedging your bets requires you to think through all possible outcomes. The ACC is not doing that.

Twitter me

Spoken like a true investor or gambler or maybe a little of both!

Fixed for Fu:

People should plan weddings around it.

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

longer lines at Chipotle

Coach knows whats up.

Entire team unable to play due to explosive diarrhea. Thanks Chipotle

MacGruber would approve of this comment.

And no line at Moe's. I wonder what's up with that?

Whatever. It was one bad year.

Seasonal Brew means High ABV for football season and standard the rest of the year.

Better service

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

Touche

Whatever. It was one bad year.

Seasonal Brew means High ABV for football season and standard the rest of the year.

if nothing else, I just hope we get to play UVA and get our Cup back...

It's always darkest before the dawn ~ Thomas Fuller

This was an excellent read, thanks for putting it together. As uneasy about football as I am for this fall, i'm starting to get hyped up.

Editorial note: "Jalen stepped up to be a ladder, he took over the room," should probably be "leader" unless this is a context i am unfamiliar with.

Holy crap. I appreciate Fu's candor...but, yeah, as has been mentioned here already, this doesn't exactly paint a rosy picture of his outlook on the season in regards to the ACC's capabilities in handling things.

At this point, with the B10 calling an audible on the start of their season and aiming for later in the Fall now, you gotta wonder if maybe they've been using this time to try and build up some kind of contingency plan. I know that's wishful thinking, but still, maybe someone, somewhere was using the downtime wisely...?

“Also, a microwave has never danced it's ass off to Jackie Wilson.” - AssPocketFullOWhiskey

If by later in the Fall you mean Spring?

I was just going by the rumors, mainly what Dan Patrick was talking about earlier today in relation to the rumblings he's hearing from his sources/sauces about an October 10th restart date being kicked around for their conference.

“Also, a microwave has never danced it's ass off to Jackie Wilson.” - AssPocketFullOWhiskey

Wasn't that yesterday, and didn't the Nebraska AD come out and say it wasn't true?

There's always a lighthouse. There's always a man. There's always a city.

He was explaining the reasoning behind that particular date being discussed today, and with the sauces DP has in the industry, I've gotta believe where there's some smoke, there's a little fire. Especially since that start date would mean they're still included in the CFP conversation, as long as they hit that mark.

“Also, a microwave has never danced it's ass off to Jackie Wilson.” - AssPocketFullOWhiskey

Ah Spring: Winter's Fall.

Seems like there would be some NCAA or ACC-level guidelines that all teams would be adhering to.

Sort of stupid for there not to be.

I agree that there should be some guidelines in place and that it would be stupid if there aren't any. At the same time, the way 2020 has gone so far, I would not be at all shocked to learn that there aren't really any guidelines for everyone to follow...

It's always darkest before the dawn ~ Thomas Fuller

I'm pretty sure NCAA football covid rules are like the pirate code rules: "they're more like guidelines"

HH4455

Oh, I get it. Like with waivers.

I don't understand- if the teams cases are in line with the college, then 1.8% of 85 scholarship football players is 2, if rounded up? Wouldn't seem to be a big number - the team must have a much higher number if there's concern, and it must go across multiple positions.

Yeah but if they are following what has been said should be the standard, then everyone that had contact with said player would have to quarantine for two weeks. Which honestly would be a lot, likely the entire position room of said player.

However, it appears there are zero guidelines given so honestly who the hell knows.

There are more than 85 kids on the team. Between 100-125. Plus are they counted student staff?

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

That's still around 2... rounded up for 100, and around 2, rounded down for 125.

If we're using 1.8% of course.

Leonard. Duh.

Wasn't the last round of testing 15%?

Yes for that week. I cannot remember exactly, but I think the overall % was still much lower. The early weeks they were testing any student moving onto campus, but this past week they were mostly testing those with symptoms. So much fewer tests this past week which returned 15%.

Not even sure you can really compare the positive test rates between football and student body, because the football team will be tested much more frequently, while the student body will mostly be tested only when symptoms occur or for contact tracing.

Ive heard double digits

Recruit Prosim

It was 15% at VT last week so that makes sense.

I would bet we have 12-15 positives so far or he wouldn't have mentioned it.

I bet the student population is probably also not getting tested as often. Most of the payers who popped positive weren't showing symptoms. Had they not been required to be tested frequently its highly unlikely any of them would have sought out a test and therefore would never have counted in the official numbers. Not to COVID THREAD this but this is probably very true of the general population as well that there are far higher percentage of the population who contract it without ever knowing it/being tested

he didn't feel comfortable with taking more extreme measures on living arrangements, such as telling players of the same position group they can't live together for fear they'll infect each other

That is absolutely something an Urban Meyer or a Nick Saban would do. And if winning is the everything, it's not a bad idea.

Also trying to wrap my head around what type of "family matter" would impact a kid that would go to his campus, go to classes, and show up at practice, but not actually play?? Interesting to say the least.

[mod edit: fixed formatting code]

If it's a sick parent, maybe he's splitting time between campus and home, depending on what he needs to do for classes or appointments at home. I don't think showing up at practice while he's in town is a big deal.

It's not much different than me telling my boss, "Hey, my wife's 34 weeks pregnant and I could get the Dad-signal at any time," or "my father's in hospice care and we don't know how much time he has". He is physically able to attend but you can't rely on him being able to play long-term.

I have no sauces that these things are accurate but that's what occurs to me to give you some examples.

Click here to destroy wall.

Also trying to wrap my head around what type of "family matter" would impact a kid that would go to his campus, go to classes, and show up at practice, but not actually play?? Interesting to say the least.

It's a family matter. You don't have to wrap your head around it unless you're part of the family.

truth

Agreed. I'm a big VT fan, and our starting DE is on campus, taking classes, and around the team but not playing. Hmmm why would anyone on earth be curious as to what the situation is? I have no idea.

Maybe he's gotta work to support a growing family?

Perhaps, and that's my point. I'm not questioning his decision in ANY way, just curious as to what the issue is. And yes, I know it's none of my business ultimately.

His dad is very very ill and he wants the ability to go
home if needed, which he does relatively frequently. There's no way he could go through a hole season doing what he is doing now

That's so sad to hear, hope for the best

TKPhi Damn Proud
BSME 2009

Thoughts and prayers to his family.

please no coronavirus to our players...let's go Hokies

Hokies, Local Soccer, AFC Ajax, Ravens

I really just want Sept 19th to happen, anything after that icing on the cake.

Team cake. I like this guy.

Hokie fan | W&M grad

Red Velvet Cake is the best.

You must like the taste of red food dye.

No matter the outcome?
/s
*ducks*

"The fact that things could get taken away any time makes you anxious,"

My 2020 Season/Covid19 Challenge: only comment with Marvel memes.

My 2019 Season Challenge: only comment with Star Wars memes. (completed as of Nov. 29)

Great write-up! I am super excited about Blackshear and his versatility.

Also, I haven't seen anything about it yet, but I wonder if they will still play Enter Sandman for the players.

Could be worse.

I read the headline and thought this was about lack of institutional academic integrity, but nope.

My 2020 Season/Covid19 Challenge: only comment with Marvel memes.

My 2019 Season Challenge: only comment with Star Wars memes. (completed as of Nov. 29)

As the Cycle Threshold (CT) used in PCR swab tests increases, so do the number of false positives. I've read that Germany uses a CT of 30, while the USA uses a CT of 40, and many experts argue CT should be more like 24 to be accurate. Check out this article and the NYT article it references: https://www.conservativereview.com/news/horowitz-bombshell-nyt-report-sa...

gtofever

It is I, Leonard... Lord of the Downvote. I bring you a warning.

While your effort is indeed gallant and brave, dark days are ahead for your post. These are the non-COVID people. They will attack, and they are hungry.

Go away from this place in peace.

Leonard. Duh.

I laughed

Twitter me

So I get smoked for issuing a warning in a joking manner. Whatever, man.

Leonard. Duh.

No. You got smoked because you flirted with the line in about every iteration of the Coronavirus threads. Full transparency, you're not getting any benefit of the doubt.

Punishment for perceived, past transgressions is no way to run a railroad.

Good day, sir.

Leonard. Duh.

Speaking of railroads ... trains, here's a GIF of Pete Campbell getting punched in the face for acting like an asshole to the conductor.

Insert waytosetagoodexample.gif

Leonard. Duh.

You do realize it's his site that you use it for free, right? If he tells you to knock it off and you toe the line and get smacked for it, why would you then expect a pity party?

There's always a lighthouse. There's always a man. There's always a city.

I want zero pity, but I am always down to party.

Leonard. Duh.

Taylor, looking desperately throws it deep..HAS A MAN OPEN DANNY COALE WITH A CATCH ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE FIVE!!!!....hes still open

and now I'll be humming that cursed song the rest of the day thanks.

Directions from Blacksburg to whoville, go north till you smell it then go east until you step in it