Fuente wants to see Hokies “keep pedal to the metal” in year two

Virginia Tech head football coach Justin Fuente speaks during the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival's Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast on Saturday morning at the Winchester Moose Lodge. Brad Fauber/Daily

WINCHESTER – It took Virginia Tech head football coach Justin Fuente just one season to reenergize a program and a fan base that had suffered through a handful of sub-par seasons prior his arrival last year.

Fuente, who took over for longtime Hokie head coach Frank Beamer, guided Virginia Tech to an ACC Coastal Division title in 2016 and a Belk Bowl victory over Arkansas to cap a 10-4 season and earn the Hokies a No. 16 national ranking in the final Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ polls.

The 10-win campaign was the first such season for the Hokies since 2011, prior to which double-digit victories had become the norm in Blacksburg. How important is it, then, that the Hokies avoid taking what could be perceived as a step back in year two under Fuente?

“I don’t know about all that. Each year is individual,” Fuente said prior to the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival’s Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast on Saturday morning, during which he addressed a sold-out crowd as a guest speaker. “We still have a long way to go in terms of building the program back to where we all want it to be, but it’s important that we keep the pedal to the metal and continue to work.”

He continued by saying this year’s Tech team has “an incredibly difficult job right now.”

“They’ve got half the people telling them that they can’t have success because all the good players are gone, and that’s not true. And then the other half of people are telling them that they’ll have success because they had success last year, and that’s not true either,” Fuente said. “So we’re in a unique situation and our kids have embraced that challenge and worked incredibly hard. We’ll evaluate our progress as we continue to move. I don’t know if it will manifest itself in more or less wins. We try not to look at it in that way. We try to look at it in how are we doing in our accountability? Winning’s kind of a function of doing things the right way on a consistent basis.”

One such player who will seek to help Virginia Tech continue to take strides under its new head coach will be Sherando High School senior Dylan Rivers, a four-star linebacker who made a flip in his commitment from Penn State to Tech in January and signed with the Hokies in February.

Rivers, at the time, cited his relationship with Fuente as one of the primary factors in his switch to the Hokies, and Fuente spoke highly of one of his newest linebackers on Saturday morning.

“The first thing is for such a nice guy he’s really a physical football player,” Fuente said of Rivers, The Northern Virginia Daily’s two-time defensive player of the year. “Got great size, lateral quickness, runs well, but for me I think the first thing was that he’s got a nose for the football and he’s physical. And then when you meet him and talk to him, the first time I ever talked to him I walked out of there and said ‘that’s the type of kid we have to get in our program. That’s the type of kid in Virginia that has to stay and go to Virginia Tech.’ Fortunately enough he decided to stay home.”

Fuente also said he expects Rivers to immediately contend for playing time once he hits the practice field in August.

“Oh, I think he’s absolutely gonna get a chance to play,” Fuente said. “I mean we’ll obviously see as the fall camp and everything goes along but he, along with several of our other young guys, they’re gonna have opportunities to get on the field very quickly.”

Virginia Tech wrapped up spring practice a couple weeks ago with the conclusion of the annual spring game on April 22. Fuente said that due to an “inordinate amount of surgeries” following the 2016 season, this spring was focused more on player development and evaluation, and he added that the coaching staff was able to answer a couple questions in regards to building depth at certain positions.

He said that non-X’s and O’s areas have gone more smoothly this year now that certain expectations have been set, and when asked what he felt was the reason for such a successful transition between coaching staffs a season ago, Fuente answered, “Frank Beamer.”

“I can’t say enough about him and how he has aided in this transition,” Fuente said. “There may never be another person that means as much to Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech athletics, Blacksburg and Hokie Nation as Frank Beamer, and that’s a wonderful thing that should be celebrated. And he’s absolutely welcomed us with open arms and aided in our transition. He’s kind of gone out of his way to make sure we don’t feel like he’s looking over our shoulder, and we try to go out of our way to make sure he knows that we would love to have him around.

“I’m not sure there will ever be another Hall of Fame coach as humble and as genuine as Frank. I’m indebted to him forever for how he’s handled me and my family through the transition.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com