Coming out of high school in Florida, Chris Cunningham was likely hoping for offers from the Sunshine State's three power 5 programs including Miami.
Whether Miami was a dream school for him or not is unknown but when Cunningham showed interested in the Hurricanes, Miami rebuffed him. The reason for that rejection, they felt Cunningham was too small to play in the ACC.
However, not every school in the ACC thought that Cunningham was too small to play tight end.
Cunningham received 22 offers including 11 from schools in power 5 conferences. Virginia Tech was one of five ACC schools that disagreed with Miami's assessment and offered him. In the end, the Hokies were able to sign him as a part of their 2015 class.
After redshirting in 2015, Cunningham showed that he wasn't too small for the ACC last year. Chris Cunningham had a limited role, but made the most of it with 6 catches for 48 yards including 4 touchdowns. Cunningham became a red zone specialist with a knack for getting open in the end zone. Cunningham may not have caught a lot of passes, but the ones he did catch made a difference.
This season, Cunningham's role has changed with him working mostly out of the slot as Dalton Keene is used more as a traditional TE. Cunningham hasn't put up big numbers, but he had his best game last week against Duke with 3 catches for 48 yards.
Through eight games, Chris Cunningham only has five catches, but just about all of his catches have been for big gains. Cunningham is averaging an impressive 22.6 yards per reception (113 receiving yards), showing how Cunningham has been able to find ways to get open or has had well-designed plays called for him.
Cunningham's struggled to receive consistent playing time in the first half of the season, but the past two weeks have suggested that Cunningham will have a more regular role going forward including against Miami this week. Going into this game, Cunningham will be playing with a little extra emotion due largely to his past history with Miami on the recruiting trail.
Cunningham clearly hasn't forgotten what happened on the recruiting trail three years ago and has allowed that to motivate him to be an ACC-level tight end. So far, Cunningham has shown that those Miami coaches were inaccurate with their prediction on whether Cunningham could play at this level.
Last year, Cunningham had an 11-yard reception against Miami in the Hokies' dominant 37-16 win over the Hurricanes. However, Cunningham was also limited with most of his snaps coming in the red zone.
This year, the Hokies are using Cunningham a lot more, and he should receive a good amount of playing time against Miami. Cunningham likely knows that this is his best chance yet to make a statement even though the Miami coaching staff has changed since his recruitment.
Fuente may look to play Cunningham more given his extra motivation to prove himself against Miami. However, that may also make Fuente more watchful to make sure Cunningham is still playing with discipline and not losing control of his emotions.
Cunningham has played in big games before and VT as a whole hasn't had issues with a failure to control their emotions, but it's something Fuente will likely still have an eye on as he would in any big game.
When Saturday night arrives, Cunningham will be playing with a chip on his shoulder, looking to spoil Miami's best season in a long time.
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