When Divine Deablo arrived in the spring of 2016, he had the potential to be a great receiver as a tremendous athlete with great size. It didn't take long for Deablo to impress the coaches as he emerged that spring as the top receiver behind Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips.
Going into last season, Deablo seemed poised to receive a decent amount of playing time even after the Hokies decided to move Bucky Hodges to WR. Throughout the offseason, many were sold on Deablo being an immediate-impact freshman as we said twice in stories on WR depth
and instant-impact true freshmen
However, Deablo's offensive role turned out to be nonexistent.
Divine Deablo barely played on offense and had only one reception for 8 yards in garbage time against East Carolina. By the end of the season, it became clear that Deablo was no longer the top backup with Eric Kumah briefly subbing in for Isaiah Ford during the Belk Bowl.
Looking ahead to the offseason, Divine Deablo still appeared to be one of the top future wide receivers. Deablo also showed that he had the work ethic to earn a role here especially as a very good special teams player that had 4 tackles and 1 forced fumble against Pittsburgh while wearing the #25 jersey in that game.
However, Virginia Tech made a move that surprised many when they decided to move Deablo over to the defensive side of the ball as a free safety.
Deablo did have some high school experience as a defensive back, but the move was kind of odd and made you wonder if the Winston-Salem native had a future in Blacksburg . The move also was somewhat odd also because of the fact that the Hokies had Reggie Floyd and Devon Hunter lining up to being the safety pair of the future with Terrell Edmunds being the established guy working at free safety.
Upon making the move, Deablo's jersey number gained some intrigue with Deablo wearing the same #17 jersey as Pro Bowler Kam Chancellor did while in Blacksburg. The comparisons between Chancellor and Deablo were also quite easy to make with both players being talented athletes that were at least 6'3'' who played primarily offense in high school.
Though many were (and are still) unsure if this move would work, Deablo put his head down and worked hard throughout the spring, proving that he is ready to fight to be a starting safety down the road.
Deablo had ideal size for a free safety at 6'3'' and 210 pounds but to successfully make this position change, you also have to have a high football IQ. The good news is Deablo is an intelligent player who was consistently praised through the spring for his football IQ by both Justin Fuente and Bud Foster a few times. Deablo also showed that he has a high football IQ last year by earning a spot on special teams and doing well at knowing his role and putting himself in position to make plays.
Despite what appeared to be a strong spring on all accounts, questions still remained about whether Deablo could break through to have a bigger role beyond what he's been doing on special teams. While the Hokies have Reggie Floyd set to start at rover this season and Devon Hunter as a future star, Deablo has shown that he has the potential to make a difference and push to be a starter in the future on defense.
Recently, Justin Fuente was asked about Divine Deablo and had this to say on him.
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“Ultimately I don’t know how much he’ll play defensively. I think he’s made large strides over there, and has a very bright future on the defensive side of the ball. He’s going to be a good player for us in the back end. He was a very productive player for us on special teams last year. I anticipate that he’ll continue to do that.
"He gives us some comfort that we have a quality back up in the back end. I know that talking to coach (Galen) Scott and coach Foster, continuing to feel better about his development, and how he’s coming. He had a big tackle down near the goal line in our last scrimmage, he’s shown up. To what extent this year I don’t know, it depends on a lot of things out of my control. I do believe he has a bright future.” - Fuente on Divine Deablo (August 25th)
It's not surprising to see Justin Fuente describe Divine Deablo's defensive role as "unknown" currently. Deablo will definitely be a backup with Terrell Edmunds being one of the ACC's best safeties and a playmaker who Deablo can learn a lot from watching him in practice and live this season.
However, Deablo is clearly continuing to make a strong impression on the coaching staff with Fuente saying that he has a "bright future" and that he has "made large strides over there." Deablo can also be expected to be the backup free safety in the two-deep when it's released tomorrow and though Devon Hunter still appears to be the free safety of the future, Deablo is gaining some valuable practice reps there that could make that a little more complicated.
In the short-term, Deablo could gain some reps when Terrell Edmunds needs a break while Deablo will also likely play a lot in garbage time scenarios to get him some experience. On top of that, Deablo can be expected to have a large role on special teams where he was quite successful last season.
Deablo's emergence also gives Bud Foster someone who he can be comfortable with at free safety in case of injury especially with both Reggie Floyd and Devon Hunter working at primarily at rover and taking few, if any, reps at free safety.
The presence of Devon Hunter does make it more difficult to see Divine Deablo being a starter in the next couple years especially with Deablo just making this position change this spring along with Hunter being an elite talent.
However, you could see VT look in the future at trying to use Deablo, Hunter, and Reggie Floyd all at once especially after Mook Reynolds graduates and his nickelback/whip linebacker spot opens up. This could happen sooner if depth becomes a bigger concern at cornerback, and Bud Foster decides to move Reynolds back outside; a scenario that is unlikely but can't be ruled out.
Though the odds may be against Deablo earning a starting job, the one factor that can't be doubted with him is his work ethic. This work ethic has shown time and time again from earning himself a role on special teams as a true freshman to giving the Hokies someone they can be confident in as a backup safety less than a year after he made the position change from wide receiver.
Divine Deablo may not have a big role beyond special teams this fall, but he has a bright future, and is ready to fight guys like Reggie Floyd and Devon Hunter for playing time and a starting job.
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