With Divine Deablo leaving Virginia Tech to become a third round NFL Draft pick, the Hokies suddenly had a leadership void in the back of their secondary at safety. While some could argue Chamarri Conner filled that some, his nickelback positioning doesn't allow him to be that coach on the field at the back of the defense.
Enter Vanderbilt transfer and former Commodores starting safety Tae Daley.
Daley came to Blacksburg bringing plenty of positive experience having made 17 starts during 2018 and 2019 before entering the transfer portal prior to the 2020 season. Daley was quite productive during his time in Nashville with 45 tackles including 5.5 for loss in 2018 followed by 57 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble in 2019.
That experience made Daley a priority transfer target along with the internal vetting that they already had from former assistant Darryl Tapp on the person Daley was when they both were at Vandy.
Since his arrival, Daley has backed up the insight Tapp had on Daley with Justin Hamilton impressed with his work ethic, maturity, and desire to know the whole defensive scheme well, not just his own position.
"Tae is a veteran, mature guy. We knew that coming in with Darryl Tapp having known him from their time together at Vanderbilt. He's the type of guy who is very much a gym rat, wants to be in the building, wants to be learning, asks a lot of questions, good questions too, tries to learn full structure of scheme not just his own position which is to me indicative of a veteran player," Hamilton said.
The strong impressions of Tae Daley aren't just for the coaches as Chamarri Conner has also been quite impressed with Daley both as a player and as a leader setting the example of how to work.
"He's a great player. As soon as he stepped in, he was ready to become a leader, ready to lead the younger guys. He's been great competing everyday, he comes out and compete everyday regardless of the situation," Conner said.
For Tae Daley, the transition to Blacksburg has required some adjusting to a new defense and new roles compared to his time at Vanderbilt, but the transition has been smooth in large part because of the defensive camaraderie.
"For the most part, it's been a smooth process. I had to learn different positions, different plays, a new defense; but other than that it's been pretty good. The guys get along as far as the DBs and linebackers. The communication is there," Daley said.
Of course, Daley did have some challenges during the spring where he had to deal with a nagging hamstring injury. However, that hasn't prevented Daley from doing whatever he can and having Justin Hamilton not only believe he can be a vocal leader, but also have the expectation for him to be that type of leader.
"Expectation wise, in the spring he kind of battled back and forth throughout with a hamstring that was nagging, it wasn't a problem, it just nagged him. So he didn't get a chance to get as much on field work as he or I would have liked. But the expectation for him is to come out and get better every day, to be vocal, and to be a guy that is vocal on the field. As far as stats or how many plays or what type of player, we'll see, but I do think he'll be a leadership presence for us and a guy that we can count on to do multiple things," Hamilton said.
For Tae Daley, he has his own ambitious goals, but his top goal is to win whatever is possible in Blacksburg regardless of the stats and numbers that may come from doing whatever it takes to win.
"I just want to go and give it my best us. If I can make a 100 tackles, have a 100 interceptions, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to give it my best. As far as team goals, I want us to win. I want to us win championship, bowl game, something. I want to walk away after this season with a championship or something knowing that my time at Virginia Tech is meaningful," Daley said.
Tae Daley may be battling for a starting job with Keonta Jenkins and others, but what's clear is that he is going to be a defensive leader for the Hokies in 2021.