Spring football is not too far away for the Virginia Tech Hokies after the Justin Fuente era got off to a great start in year with a 10-4 record that included the Hokies’ first ACC Coastal title since 2011 and was the Hokies’ first 10-win season since 2011.
Entering this spring, the Hokies have a lot of momentum coming off a 24-point comeback win in the Belk Bowl over Arkansas along with bringing in one of the best recruiting classes ever for Virginia Tech football. Several members of that impressive 2017 class are also already on campus and have a chance at pushing for playing time next fall in a multitude of ways.
There are a couple guys who missed out on this list that also should be interesting including Kalil Pimpleton who will be a guy to watch in the slot and could also contend for playing time as a return man in 2017. With that said, here’s our countdown of the top 3 early enrollees to watch this spring.
3. TE Dalton Keene
With Bucky Hodges moving outside to wide receiver, the door opened for other tight ends to earn playing time with Chris Cunningham earning some playing time and having 4 touchdown receptions on 6 total receptions while guard Colt Pettit was also used some at the TE spot later on in the season as a blocker, showing the Hokies really weren’t settled on a tight end.
Entering this spring, there is definitely opportunity for anyone to have a big spring and claim the starting TE job and while Chris Cunningham starts with the lead, Dalton Keene has the potential to take that job from him. Keene is a great athlete and definitely seems like a talented playmaker for the future that will have a productive career in Blacksburg whether he earns playing time this year or not.
Keene was seen as a versatile athlete that could have played multiple positions on either side of the ball, but comes in as an athletic tight end that will be used in a traditional tight end role not like Bucky Hodges who was a WR for the Hokies last season. With the Hokies willing to use a converted offensive lineman in Colt Pettit at TE some last year as well, it seems clear that Keene will have a great opportunity to earn some playing time especially with him already being on campus.
2. CB Caleb Farley
There’s been plenty of debate about whether Caleb Farley would end up at WR or CB but it appears that Farley will get reps at both with it seeming likely he starts at CB given how Farley at least has some WR experience from time spent preparing for all-star high school games at WR.
Personally, I would prefer to see Farley at wide receiver only as Farley has tremendous athleticism and despite playing QB in high school, there was talk that he was the best WR at the Shrine Bowl all-star game that takes many of the top recruits from the Carolinas. Farley has a tremendous combination of speed, size, and athleticism with his high school tape looking like a cheat code out of a video game.
However, Farley will bring tremendous length, speed, and athleticism to the cornerback spot that could make him push for some time as a backup next season. With the Hokies only having one true cornerback from the 2017 class in Bryce Watts, Farley definitely has lots of potential to earn playing time and become a starter in the near future at the cornerback spot if he can adapt to the demands of the position.
Virginia Tech is in an interesting position with Farley as he’s proven he can play wide receiver yet his size and athleticism along with the Hokies only getting one cornerback commit are pushing VT to giving him a shot at CB. If it works, Farley could even play some as a backup CB but if it doesn’t, expect Farley to make a quick move to WR where he could also push for playing time next fall.
1. QB Hendon Hooker
When you have an opening at quarterback with the favorite being a redshirt freshman, the early enrollee at QB will always have a shot and almost always end up at the top of this list as in this case. While Josh Jackson is undoubtedly the favorite and the man I expect to win the starting quarterback job, Hooker comes in ready to compete for the job and is definitely the top challenger to beat out Jackson for the job.
For a true freshman to earn a starting quarterback job, it’s just about necessary for that QB to arrive in the spring, which Hooker has done with the North Carolina native making a last-minute decision to do so after Jerod Evans’s departure to the NFL.
Hooker is a very intriguing athlete that dominated the competition in North Carolina on the way to winning a state title this past fall. Hooker is definitely a dual-threat QB with great size and is someone that projects to be a very dangerous mobile threat, helping his chances at earning the job as a freshman.
There will be some challengers for Hookier as he will have to adjust to the increased level of play while also having to learn a new playbook that is likely much more complicated than anything he had to learn in high school. At this point, it seems unlikely that the starting QB job goes to anyone other than Josh Jackson but if there’s one guy who could definitely beat him out for the job, it’s Hooker.
Bonus: P Oscar Bradburn
As a bonus, we are including punter Oscar Bradburn who is the one early enrollee that seems the most likely to earn playing time next fall with Bradburn being projected as the Hokies’ starting punter in 2017 after Mitchell Ludwig elected to not return for the 2017 season. The Australian was an off-the-radar addition for the Hokies that no one knew about until the Hokies revealed their on-scholarship early enrollees in mid-January.
Since popping up on the recruiting radar, Bradburn has been ranked as the third best punter by the 247 Sports Composite and fourth best punter by 247 Sports in the Class of 2017. James Shibest has had success with an international, specifically Australian, punter before while at Memphis when he coached 2013 Ray Guy Award winner and Australian Tom Hornsey.
Bradburn is expected to be the Hokies’ starting punter next fall with the spring presenting a great opportunity for James Shibest to coach him up and prepare him for next fall. If Bradburn does struggle though, we could see preferred walk-on Jordan Stout come in over the summer and push him but based on what’s been said about Bradburn, the Hokies seem to have their punter of the future in Bradburn.