After Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, a top NFL draft prospect who opted out of the upcoming season, accused the school of being lax in its novel coronavirus-related protocols, Hokies Coach Justin Fuente defended his program’s pandemic approach and said he felt “much better” following a conversation with the player.

Ranked in some analyses as the best cornerback in next year’s draft class and expected to receive serious first-round consideration, Farley became one of the first players at a major college program to opt out. In a video he posted last week to social media, Farley wore Hokies apparel while saying he made his decision because of “uncertain health conditions and regulations, and all the other opt-outs going on in football right now.”

Farley also cited the 2018 loss of his mother to cancer and said he could “not afford to lose another parent, or a loved one.” He thanked his coaches and teammates at Virginia Tech, wishing them “all the best” before offering encouragement to “stay safe.”

In an essay published Monday by NBC Sports, Farley said that during workouts this year with the Hokies, he “started having deep concerns about staying healthy.”

“Guys were going home, going to Myrtle Beach, coming back to campus, and we weren’t getting tested,” the redshirt junior wrote. “We’re all together, working out, close to each other, and you have no real idea who might have it, if anybody might have it.

“One day I looked around, and we were like 100-deep in our indoor facility, no masks. My concern grew more and more.”

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Later Monday, Virginia Tech released statements from Fuente and Mark Rogers, the chief medical officer for its athletics department.

“I spoke with Caleb earlier today and I feel much better about the context of his comments regarding his personal concerns regarding COVID-19,” Fuente said. “In our conversation I also told Caleb that I will always love and support him and that I’m looking forward to cheering him on as he pursues his dream of playing in the National Football League.”

Fuente, who is entering his fifth season with the Hokies, added that one of his “most important responsibilities as the head coach of the football program at Virginia Tech is to put the best interests of our team, our players, our coaches and our staff at the forefront of every decision we make.” He said he had the “utmost confidence” in the medical guidance provided by Rogers and other university officials, but Fuente did not specifically address Farley’s allegations.

In his statement, Rogers claimed all Hokies players “are tested for COVID-19 and screened before being cleared to participate in any athletic activities.”

Rogers said that Virginia Tech athletes and staff “have been issued personal protective equipment to wear in indoor areas” and that a major practice facility “continues to be utilized in an open-air configuration in accordance with health department guidelines.”

As coronavirus cases remain at high levels both nationally and in many college football hotbeds, players have expressed increasing concern about their safety if a season is staged this fall.

In audio that emerged from a meeting last week between SEC officials and a number of players from the conference, a Texas A&M linebacker said he appreciated the opportunity to have his questions answered but asserted that “as much as you guys don’t know … it’s just kind of not good enough.”

At another point in the meeting, an official told players: “We’re going to have positive cases on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.”

A large group of Pac-12 football players released a statement Sunday in which they threatened to boycott the fall season if demands related to safety, racial justice and compensation are not met by the conference.

“We are being asked to play college sports in a pandemic in a system without enforced health and safety standards,” the players said in their statement, “and without transparency about COVID cases on our teams, the risks to ourselves, our families, and our communities.”

In his essay for NBC Sports, Farley said Fuente “tried to talk me out of” the choice to opt out last week before making supportive remarks. Farley also said that he was apprehensive about NFL teams possibly viewing his decision unfavorably but that he “couldn’t ignore all the doubts in my head.”

“What this came down to is, I lost one parent,” the Hokies standout wrote. “My dad is so important to me. Growing old with him means so much to me, more than football. I don’t know what I would do if I contracted it and gave it to him, and he passed. I couldn’t live with that.”

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