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Virginia Tech coaches, players insist locker room sticking together for final stretch

Virginia Tech coaches, players insist locker room sticking together for final stretch

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Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton coaches his unit in the second half against Miami on Nov. 14 in Blacksburg.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente doesn’t anticipate his team’s roster looking all that different when they regroup on Saturday to start preparation for a showdown against No. 4 Clemson on Dec. 5.

Fuente was asked about the players opting out during the off week after losing a third straight game on Saturday that dropped them below .500 on the season. The Hokies’ latest setback was an ugly 47-14 loss to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field where the team was outscored 24-0 in the second half.

“I feel good,” Fuente said of the team’s morale. “I’m sure there’s several guys on our team that wish they played more or wish they played better and all those sorts of things, which happens when you have 120 guys, but our guys have done a great job thus far.”

Tech backup linebacker Keshon Artis and defensive end Zion Debose opted out earlier this month and were the first players to opt out during the season. Defensive back Caleb Farley and defensive tackle Jaden Cunningham opted out before the start of fall camp.

Fuente hasn’t spoken to any additional players about opting out over the last week, but acknowledged the NCAA’s decision to give student-athletes a free year of eligibility this season and the looming possibility of a penalty-free, one-time immediate transfer rule will make for a unique offseason.

“Our guys have been great,” Fuente said. “The whole thing is unprecedented from kind of the year not counting to — in terms of your eligibility — to the opt-out status, to playing a delayed schedule and then playing basically an all-conference schedule, so on and so forth, all the way down on the road, but our guys have been really good.”

Fuente plans on handling any opt-out discussions that do come up in the coming weeks the same way he has all season long.

“The first question is, ‘Is this COVID-related or playing time related?’ Ya know,” Fuente said. “And making sure, if it is COVID-related, we do a great job addressing their concerns and talking with family members, so on and so forth. If it is that. We’ve all been in this thing for a while now, so we just try to diagnose it and have those conversations when they come up.”

Tech’s leaders see the locker room sticking together as well.

“I haven’t heard any conversations about opt-outs and transfers,” Virginia Tech offensive lineman Brock Hoffman said. “Obviously, with a little bit of a losing streak, we are frustrated, but coach [Vance] Vice and the rest of the staff has kind of told us that we need to turn that frustration into focus and aim our mindset at this next game.”

Virginia Tech tight end James Mitchell echoed those thoughts.

“I feel like we’re in a good spot still,” Mitchell said. “It’s not a case where people aren’t playing hard, people don’t care. We’ve got a team in the locker room that wants to win. Unfortunately, we’ve been on the wrong side of some of those games the past couple weeks, but we’ve got guys that care.”

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