For the last four years, the Virginia Tech Hokies have been able to rely on A.J. Hughes to be their punter as the Indiana native averaged 41.0 yards per punt over his four years. Hughes became a fan favorite for many, and now heads to the NFL with the chance to compete for a spot on one of 32 NFL teams.
Meanwhile, Justin Fuente and the Hokies are already looking for the long-term answer at punter with backup Mitchell Ludwig being a senior in 2016.
That answer may be one of America’s top punting prospects.
Army All-American Bowl punter Marshall Long of South Rowan High School in China Grove, North Carolina received a scholarship offer from special teams coordinator James Shibest on December 23rd. Virginia Tech became the second program to offer Long joining Army while many programs have offered him a spot as a preferred walk-0n.
Long already has a top two with the Hokies and Georgia who is one of the schools that have offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on. However, the Bulldogs just added former Virginia Tech RBs coach Shane Beamer as their special teams coordinator. Beamer’s decision on whether to offer Long a scholarship or not could be significant in his college decision.
With the Hokies having a scholarship offer already on the table, Virginia Tech seems to be the frontrunner to gain Long’s commitment. One factor that should help the Hokies is the fact that James Shibest coached 2013 Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hornsey. Shibest is a proven special teams coach that knows how to develop top punter from his time at Memphis and previously in the SEC.
However, Georgia will be tough no matter what with Shane Beamer also being one of the top special teams coaches in the nation. The SEC brand of Georgia may help while both schools are relatively close to Long. Both programs also have first-year head coaches that have had different types of success with Justin Fuente’s program building at Memphis, and Kirby Smart being Nick Saban’s right-hand man at Alabama.
Right now, the Hokies seem to be the favorites for Marshall Long largely due to the scholarship offer that is on the table. However, this could change a lot now that Georgia has Shane Beamer in place at their special teams coordinator.