Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
Three Fuller brothers have starred at Virginia Tech already. Their kid brother Kendall is expected to start at nickelback.
Dave Knachel | Virginia Tech
Kendall Fuller (11) is the Hokies’ most highly-touted recruit since Tyrod Taylor in 2007.
Dave Knachel | Virginia Tech
The Hokies expect Kendall Fuller to play cornerback eventually, but he’ll start at nickelback as a true freshman this fall.
Friday, August 9, 2013
BLACKSBURG — His goatee belies his age, although Hokies freshman cornerback Kendall Fuller says that wasn’t his intent.
He simply wasn’t allowed to grow one at his high school at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Md., started doing so after graduation and likes how it looks.
It’s fitting, though, since Virginia Tech plans to ask the youngest of the football-playing brothers from Baltimore to have role far beyond his years this season.
The Hokies have placed Fuller in a nickelback role, making him the fifth cornerback on the field, a lineup replacement for whip linebacker Ronny Vandyke when Tech’s opponent has multiple wide receivers. But they’re not just looking for the precocious freshman to be in on passing situations.
“When we’ve been good, we’ve been able to execute at that position,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “When we haven’t been good, we have been trying to piecework it, so to speak.
“We want a guy who can be in there to be a nickel guy, a cover guy, but then also run our defense. … And that’s when we’ve really played our best football when we’ve had that guy be a playmaker but also run our defense.”
Foster did little to dampen expectations for the Hokies’ most touted recruit since quarterback Tyrod Taylor in 2007.
“I’m hoping he’s going to be that five-star guy that we’re all counting on,” Foster added.
Fuller, of all the freshmen in camp, seems like an ideal candidate to play, given his family history at Virginia Tech.
His oldest brother Vincent was a Hokies safety from 2001-04 and went on to play in the NFL. Corey, the second-oldest, transferred in and eventually stood out at receiver as a senior last year, getting drafted by the Detroit Lions in the spring.
And Kyle, the third-oldest, is currently a senior cornerback, one who also took a quick route to the field his true freshman year as the Hokies’ nickelback, making 32 tackles in 14 games, including six starts.
Knowing his brother had already committed to Tech last summer, Kyle didn’t waste any time trying to get Kendall up to speed.
“Kyle was always on it,” Kendall said. “As soon as my [high school] season ended, he wanted me to start learning stuff. So I’ve kind of been learning and going through the process ever since, just trying to come in and know what I’m doing. …
“He told me just try to make plays.”
With All-ACC cornerback Antone Exum out for at least another month and a half to two months in his recovery from ACL surgery, Kendall seemed like a logical candidate to compete for the vacant spot.
But defensive backs coach Torrian Gray wants sophomore Donaldven Manning and true freshman Brandon Facyson, who enrolled early and went through spring drills, to compete for that position in the interim.
By limiting the scope of what Kendall has to learn in terms of coverages, the Hokies think he can thrive on the field sooner.
“It’ll be hard for a true freshman to come in and play corner and nickel at the same time,” Gray said. “So we just want to put him at nickel and let him get good at that.”
The coaches have made it clear: Kendall’s future is eventually as a regular cornerback. But the 5-foot-11, 193-pounder, who can play physically, is too talented to hold back right now, fitting in line with Frank Beamer’s evolved philosophy about playing true freshmen.
“I think when you’ve got good players, you probably need to go ahead and play them,” Beamer said. “We had a couple guys redshirted and then the third year they were gone. Still had two years of eligibility left.
“So I think the guys who have got ability and that are probably going to play at the next level too, then I think more times than not, if you play them enough plays, you go ahead and play them.”
Kendall fits that category and should join his brother and only a handful of other Tech defensive players in the last decade to have a significant role in their first year out of high school.
He said he’s not overwhelmed by the pressure, even though his first action will come against two-time defending national champion Alabama.
“They expect a lot from me, not just being a high recruit but seeing the talent that all my brothers had,” Kendall said. “You’d rather have coaches have high expectations than low expectations.”
Weather JournalMany very icy despite 'bust' claims