BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech corner Jermaine Waller read the crossing route and was all over Tre Turner on the route during practice No. 8 last week. The throw from Braxton Burmeister was on target, but it didn’t matter.
Waller punched the ball away as Turner tried to bring the ball into his chest to force the incompletion.
The moment was reminiscent of the plays Waller made throughout the 2019 season when he tied for seventh in the ACC with 10 pass breakups.
Tech opened up the majority of the practice to reporters and Waller looked sharp throughout.
It was tangible evidence of what Waller and Tech’s coaches have been saying all spring — the injuries he battled in 2020 are behind him.
“I’m definitely not worried about injuries,” Waller said. “It was just a setback at the time, but it’s nothing that’s going to keep me from doing what I want to do and doing what I want to do for the team, so that’s behind me now. I’m just working on getting better.”
Waller sat out the first two games last year recovering from offseason foot surgery. He made his debut in a Week 3 loss to North Carolina and suffered an upper body injury in the final minutes. He only made one other appearance the rest of the year (a start against Liberty).
Coach Justin Fuente didn’t go into details about Waller’s injuries during the season, and the defensive back has remained tight-lipped about what he went through as well.
“It was more so an accumulation of things,” Waller said, in March.
Defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton was a little more forthcoming when he addressed Waller’s status back in December. Hamilton said Tech was cautious with Waller during the second half of the season after the setback he had against North Carolina.
“A couple games, he tried (to play),” Hamilton said. “He was out there. He was ready. But I think between the conversations between Coach Smitty (Ryan Smith), with Coach Fuente, with Mike Goforth, with me, he trusts us, and he knows that we want him to get fully healthy.”
Waller said he’s been “full-go” since the start of spring, and is quickly making up for lost time. He said he’s putting extra work (he specifically mentioned stretching) after practice to stay healthy.
Cornerbacks coach Ryan Smith hasn’t had to give Waller much direction either.
“There’s nothing that I have to do personally to motivate Jermaine Waller,” Smith said. “He is self-motivated. He might be the definition of self-motivated. He’s going to show up every single day, he’s going to approach the day like a professional. He’s going to do his job, get the job done and go over and beyond what he’s going to do.”
The buzz from Tech’s coaching staff is that Waller’s presence back on the practice field has elevated the play of the entire room. The silver lining to Waller’s absence last year was three corners getting 450 snaps of experience last year including true freshman Dorian Strong.
Waller likes what he sees from Strong, Armani Chatman and Brion Murray and said the group can be among the “top in the country” this fall at their position.
“We have a championship room,” Waller said. “We can win with whoever we put out there. I’ve definitely seen a lot, and now in spring, seeing who grew from that season, for me and my teammates, it’s definitely big.”