Virginia vs. Virginia Tech in football for the Commonwealth Cup

Virginia Tech defensive end Houshun Gaines (center) celebrated a fumble recovery against Virginia in the Hokies’ win over Virginia in 2017. He suffered a torn ACL against Pitt last November.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech defensive end Houshun Gaines isn’t expected to play this fall.

The football team posted an updated roster for the fall without listing the talented defender. Two backup defensive linemen also have left the program.

Gaines suffered a torn ACL in a Nov. 10 loss to Pittsburgh last season. He was the Hokies’ leading pass rusher at the time with 4½ sacks.

Earlier in the season, Gaines’ mother, Tardra Hilliard, 44, died.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the team’s coaching staff wants Gaines to focus on his mental and physical health this fall.

“The coaching and support staff is providing all the resources they can to get him in a good place,” a source told The Roanoke Times. “Everyone wants to see House come out the other side of this.”

Gaines had his mother’s initials painted on his cheeks when Virginia Tech won at Duke on Sept. 29, just days before she died. He spoke about his mother’s health challenges after leading the Hokies to a 31-14 win with a career-high 2½ sacks.

“It’s been tough, but the main thing is just coming out and coming around my guys and being around my team is really uplifting,” Gaines said after the game. “Being able to play football, it gives you a moment to get away from anything and get swallowed up in a whole different world. I love this team. I love the coaches. I love my guys. I love this program. Without them, honestly, I don’t know if I would be sitting here acting the way I am.”

Gaines spent weeks traveling between Blacksburg and North Carolina to visit his mother. The coaching staff let Gaines decide whether he needed time away from the team, but the defender stayed in the lineup until the injury against Pittsburgh.

Virginia Tech players rallied around their teammate throughout the trying time.

“I feel for House a lot at this moment,” Virginia Tech defensive back Caleb Farley said last year. “I know it can really get you down. I’m just going to continue to pray for him and let him know that I’m here for him, that I love him and this team loves him.”

In other news Tuesday, defensive tackle Xavier Burke is leaving the program as a graduate transfer, while Jimmie Taylor has taken a medical retirement because of extended abdominal issues.

Both defenders missed spring camp with injuries.

Burke suffered a torn Achilles in the Nov. 10 loss to Pittsburgh. He played in six games last year. The 6-foot-2, 285-pound Burke converted from tight end to defense after his second year.

Taylor played in five games last season.

Virginia Tech already was thin at defensive tackle before their departures. The Hokies are counting on a pair of junior college transfers — Dashawn Crawford and Jaden Cunningham — to help give them depth this year. Crawford, who enrolled at midyear, had a strong spring practicing with the first-team defense alongside Jarrod Hewitt.

“I’ve been extremely pleased,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said after the spring game. “From a football IQ standpoint, I’ve been real pleased. From his technique and fundamentals, I’ve been real pleased. From his ability to be good at the point of attack, I’ve been pleased.”

Freshman signees Mario Kendricks, Norell Pollard and Joshua Fuga will compete for a spot on the two-deep alongside returners Rob Porcher, Eli Adams and Jaevon Becton.

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