After the unexpected departure of starting defensive end Trevon Hill, Emmanuel Belmar knows it is his time to step up on the defensive line.
"I don't feel pressure at all. I feel confident in what I do," said Belmar at Tuesday's press conference.
To a Virginia Tech fan base who is feeling the effects of a historic loss to Old Dominion less than a week ago, these are comforting words. Despite the negative effects of an unforeseen dismissal such as Trevon Hill's on a young football team, Belmar seems ready for his new role.
Trevon Hill's Dismissal
The issues that Trevon Hill dealt with during his time on the Virginia Tech football team were well documented. While there were questions surrounding Hill going as far back as last season, rumors circulated surrounding his status in July while Hill also engaged in a Twitter spat with beat writer Andy Bitter of The Athletic after the dismissal and arrest of Mook Reynolds.
Rumors about disciplinary actions for Hill floated around until the opening game against Florida State. Hill sat out the first quarter, which ESPN broadcaster Chris Fowler attributed to an academic suspension. When asked about this after the game, Coach Fuente didn't outright deny it, but also said that he wasn't sure where Fowler received that information from.
Despite some of these setbacks, Hill seemed prepared to be an important member of the team this year. Even though he only played three quarters, Hill still tallied three tackles for loss and two sacks in that Florida State game.
Against Old Dominion, Hill was one of the only bright spots on defense with 1.5 sacks. That's why when news of his dismissal came out, it was somewhat of a surprise.
There are many rumors about what exactly got Hill kicked off the team, but none are substantiated. Fuente said that it was a culmination of incidents that ultimately led to his decision.
The reality is that we will probably never know what exactly happened with Hill after last Saturday's game, and frankly, it really is not that relevant. Hill is gone now, and VT is looking to Belmar to lead the way in filling the gap.
Belmar's Recruiting Profile
As a recruit in 2016, Emmanuel Belmar was not necessarily highly touted. He was a relatively low three star, and he only had four other power five offers. None of them were bigger names than Virginia Tech. In addition, he was listed as an outside linebacker on most recruiting profiles.
With Jimmie Taylor as the only other defensive end recruit in the 2016 class, it was no surprise that the staff wanted Belmar to transition over to that role. Though such a process can be difficult, Belmar was up to the challenge.
Since he arrived in Blacksburg, Belmar's work ethic has not wavered. For one thing, he has put on muscle weight, going from 230 to 250 pounds thanks to Coach Ben Hilgart and the rest of the Strength and Conditioning staff.
Last summer, after Belmar originally made the move to defensive end, Coach Fuente spoke highly of his progress in camp.
"Emmanuel Belmar has worked really hard and made good progress. There are some other guys in that group that have continued that I think are going to give us a chance," said Fuente during fall camp in 2017.
For a coach that is typically careful not to mention specific names when it come to the depth chart, this spoke volumes. As such, many expected Belmar to get significant playing time last year. That was not the case.
In the thirteen games of the 2017-18 season, Belmar only saw action in six. He recorded only four tackles, and he did not get any sacks.
Taking the Next Step
This spring, the Hokies faced some serious depth issues at DE once again. While Trevon Hill and Houshun Gaines were locks in their starting roles, the experience level behind them dropped off significantly.
Yet again, the coaches were high on Emmanuel Belmar. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster was not afraid to name drop when talking about who had a good spring at defensive end.
“I think EB, Emmanuel, has had a great spring for us,” Foster said. This was only one of many mentions that the coaches made of Belmar, once again leading fans to believe that he had solidified his spot in the two deep. Belmar even backed up the coaches comments by recording a safety in the Spring Game
This season, Belmar has certainly seen more action. In his only career start against Florida State, he recorded one solo and two total tackles. He also played against William & Mary and Old Dominion, recording one and two tackles, respectively.
Now, with Hill gone, Belmar has a chance to secure a starting role. Foster has already named him the starter for Duke.
Of course, Belmar still has some things to prove. A starting defensive end is going to need have more than nine tackles and zero sacks in nine games. But for Belmar, it's a welcome challenge.
"It's a big step for me," said Belmar on Tuesday. "Proving what I can do. Showing what I can do." This weekend, the Hokies are ready to learn exactly what that is.
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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