CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente was quick to point out that the team’s quarterback competition is far from settled any time Ryan Willis’ name came up on Thursday at the ACC Kickoff.
One reporter specifically asked, “Will Ryan Willis be your starting quarterback?’ Fuente didn’t back down.
“We’ll see if Ryan is the starter,” Fuente said. “Part of that deal is I have guys on our roster that play quarterback [Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister], that I don’t know yet if he’s going to be eligible or not.
“I promised those guys opportunities to compete for the job. I don’t think it would be wise of me to close the job before I know who’s eligible to compete for it. In short, we’ll see how that all shakes out.”
Regardless of Burmeister’s status for this fall, Fuente wants a couple more weeks to evaluate Willis, along with fellow quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson. True freshman Knox Kadum, who enrolled this summer, will also get some reps.
Willis remains the most likely candidate given the experience he got last year — and all indications are that he’s become a leader on offense and is well liked by his teammates — but Fuente is committed to seeing this competition continue into fall camp.
He said he didn’t have an update on Burmeister’s status, but expects a decision in the next couple weeks.
That’s just one position where the depth chart needs to be settled.
Who is going to be Virginia Tech’s starting running back? Who will return punts? Who are Virginia Tech’s top pass rushers? Fuente provided little clarity to these questions coming out of spring camp. He didn’t shed any additional light on them Thursday either.
The running back position remains bunched together after Deshawn McClease and Jalen Holston shared much of the first-team reps in the spring with Caleb Steward behind them. The competition will feature more faces this fall, including a healthy Terius Wheatley, a returning Cole Beck (he spent the spring exclusively running track and field) and a pair of freshmen enrollees (Keshawn King and Tahj Boyd).
“There is some inquisitiveness from us to see what it looks like when we get out there and see if the young guys can contribute or how it’s going to work out,” Fuente said.
Fuente pledged to give anyone and everyone a tryout returning punts in the spring. That promise remains open with two weeks to go until camp. Tech’s rotation at defensive end remains equally up for grabs. The news that Virginia Tech’s most talented returning pass rusher Houshun Gaines won’t play in 2019 left another hole on the two-deep.
“We’ll have to have some play from some young guys,” Fuente said. “We’ll have to have some other guys continue to step up at that position to help us.”
The coach’s lighter side: If Fuente is on the hot seat, no one has told him. He plainly admitted that last year’s record “wasn’t good enough,” but Fuente’s appearance didn’t give off the impression he’s worried about the state of his program.
It’s just the opposite.
“I’ve never felt better about the direction and the purpose that we all have moving forward with this program,” Fuente said.
He added later that, “There is a level of hunger and eagerness on our team to get back out there and try to rewrite the script or redefine our identity from a year ago.”
The tight-lipped coach fans are accustomed to hearing during the season was nowhere to be found on Thursday. He addressed repeated questions about last year’s struggles — and the reasons behind them — with thoughtful responses while underlining his own shortcomings in last year’s disappointing 6-7 record.
Fuente also had fun with some oddball questions — “Nah, I’m good on earth,” he laughed when asked if he ever thought about going to space — and his experience taking in a Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs game.
“Each year we’ve gone down to Roanoke to watch the Rail [Yard] Dawgs play, and we saw an unbelievable game,” Fuente said. “It was pretty cool. My girls were fired up. The fight broke out right in front of them and they were kind of taken aback. I don’t think they’d ever seen two people seriously fight, like seriously try to hurt each other. It was pretty cool.”