The ACC's annual kickoff media event was last week, providing the first opportunity to hear from Justin Fuente, Ricky Walker, and Josh Jackson since the end of spring practice for Virginia Tech.
After a summer that Justin Fuente said was the "most important" of his head coaching career, there was plenty of interest. Combine that with a summer that Virginia Tech would likely want to forget, and there was a lot of intrigue surrounding the Hokies as they went to Charlotte.
Given that these are the first public comments from Fuente since before all of the events of this offseason and the rest of VT's freshman class arriving, plenty of conclusions were made by both fans and others. However, not all of those claims are factual interpretations based on what Justin Fuente said.
With that said, here's a look at our fact or fiction evaluation of three of those claims.
Dax Hollifield Will Start Against Florida State
Dax Hollifield has finally made it to Blacksburg though if you kept up with the Hokies this past spring, you probably heard about how often Hollifield visited Hokie practices as he looked to get ahead of the curve.
Unsurprisngly, Justin Fuente was asked about the starting prospects for Hollifield this fall and had this to say.
"Well, I have no idea. I haven't seen him practice yet. I know he's been doing our freshman workouts, which they're not even incorporated into the varsity yet. I know he's done well with those. He's a physically developed guy in terms of, he didn't necessarily look like a true freshman from a physical standpoint," Fuente said.
"He's a highly intelligent player. I would anticipate that he would have the opportunity to play. It would be probably unwise for me to make a blanket statement that he is or isn't before I've ever seen him practice, but I'm encouraged by the feedback we've gotten from our strength coaches about where he's at, and I'm looking forward to getting to work with him."
Some saw this and comments by Ricky Walker as reasons to think that Hollifield is already set to earn a starting linebacker job for the Hokies. While both Fuente and Walker were effusive in their praise of Hollifield, it's clear that there's going to be some intense competition at linebacker this fall with Rayshard Ashby and Dylan Rivers entering as the favorites.
However, what is clear is that Hollifield has a bright future and will be ready to play this fall whether he earns a starting linebacker spot or not. Hollifield will most likely work at mike linebacker where the opportunity may be slightly better (though both spots will be intensely competitive). Hollifield has the type of football IQ and instincts that should help him be an immediate contributor for the Hokies whether that's limited to special teams or includes defensive responsibilities as well.
Right now, it's way too early to say that Dax Hollifield will start this season let alone start the season opener against Florida State. However, what is clear is that Hollifield will be a contributor as a true freshman.
Caleb Farley Will Be the Hokies' Kick Returner
Special teams came up during Justin Fuente's time with the media, and Fuente gave some insight into who may be returning kicks and punts for Virginia Tech.
"I'm not exactly positive who's going to be our kickoff returner. I feel good about our pool of guys that can go do that, Caleb Farley is a guy that will probably start off back there. When I say start off back there, I mean start practice back there. I think we've got a good pool of guys," Fuente said.
One of the popular interpretations/takes after ACC Kickoff was that Justin Fuente was stating that Caleb Farley was going to be the Hokies' starting kick returner. While Farley will be a top contender for that job, Fuente's comments make it clear that he's far from being guaranteed of earning the job.
In addition, Fuente's comments don't give too much insight into where Farley currently stands on the Hokies' kick returning depth chart stating that Farley is "a guy" working as the kick returner in practice rather than saying anything about him being the top guy.
However, there is no doubt that Farley has the speed and athletic capabilities to be a playmaker on kick returns. One thing that could benefit Farley is the fact that he was use to looking for lanes and holes to make plays on the ground when he was a quarterback in high school.
While there are some differences from a QB scramble and a kick return, both types of runs involve plays where there is a lot more staggered space with the runner looking for a vacated lane or space rather than for a hole along the line of scrimmage that a running back would look for with a more compact area to make a play.
Right now, the takeaway that Farley will definitely be the VT's kick returner against Florida State is fiction, but no one should be surprised if Farley is returning kicks at FSU.
Justin Fuente Building on Frank Beamer's Culture Foundation
One thing that Justin Fuente has said throughout his tenure is that he's been looking to build on the culture foundation that Frank Beamer built, not build something completely different. At ACC Kickoff, Fuente didn't say that he was directly copying the culture of the Beamer era, but that he feels the culture isn't a lot different from the Hall of Fame coach.
"I'm not sure exactly what the culture was when Coach Beamer was here. I wasn't in the locker room. I don't know. I know that I've always identified with what they were doing at Tech before I got there and thought it was something that was unique and something that I could kind of understand and identify with," Fuente said.
"I would imagine, I don't know this for a fact, but I would imagine that when we talk as a football team, the message is probably phrased differently, but the underlying themes are probably very similar to what they were when Coach was here, and I'm not certainly comparing myself to Coach Beamer, I'm just saying that I think all those things have led to a little bit smoother transition."
The culture that Fuente has built does have a lot of similar key foundations to the one that Beamer built in Blacksburg.
First, the "Hard Smart Tough" mantra backs up the blue-collar mentality that Virginia Tech became known for with Beamer and Bud Foster's Lunch Pail defense. In addition, the Hokies have continued their great defensive tradition while also doing well at playing smart football finishing in the top 30 in fewest penalty yards allowed per game this past season.
That type of discipline is something that started to lack at times during the end of the Frank Beamer era and made a difference multiple times including in the Hokies' win against West Virginia.
Special teams have continued to be a priority under Justin Fuente with James Shibest earning Special Teams Coach of the Year honors last season from FootballScoop.com. In addition, the Hokies have shown a willingness to use scholarship on top high school specialists like Oscar Bradburn and Oscar Shadley.
One difference is the fact that the Hokies' offense is more reliant on the passing game, but Justin Fuente's offense has tried to have a good amount of balance on offense with the Hokies showing some promise on the ground at times especially in their final two games against Virginia and Oklahoma State this past season.
Justin Fuente may not be directly seeking to replicate the Frank Beamer culture, but many of his team's core values are the same values that helped Beamer build Virginia Tech into a national power.
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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