Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente and Oklahoma State counterpart Mike Gundy are set to face one another for the first time as head coaches in Thursday's Camping World Bowl in Orlando, but their mutual familiarity dates back decades to when both were growing up in Oklahoma.
Fuente recalled first becoming aware of Gundy when Gundy was a decorated high school player. After Gundy went on to play for Oklahoma State, spurning an offer from Oklahoma, Fuente continued to keep tabs on him during a record-setting career.
Gundy finished his playing career in Stillwater, Okla., as the all-time passing leader in both Cowboys and Big Eight conference history and remained there to begin his coaching career. Gundy rose to offensive coordinator in 1994 and recruited Fuente, who that season led the state in passing yards and touchdowns as a high school senior.
Fuente wound up choosing Oklahoma in large part because it had hired Howard Schnellenberger with the promise of moving away from the option offense to a passing-based attack. The failed experiment ended with Schnellenberger resigning after one season, but Fuente's and Gundy's paths continued to cross during the Bedlam rivalry.
"Coach Gundy is a legend in Oklahoma, both as a high school player on to his playing career at Oklahoma State and obviously what he's done coaching-wise," Fuente said. "I just remember when I was a kid growing up both he and his younger brother [Cale Gundy] kind of being the first quarterbacks that I ever remember in Oklahoma that threw the ball and went on to play in college.
"And then when I got to high school and got a chance to meet him and talk to him a little and be recruited by him, I was in a little bit of awe of him because I had seen him play so many times on television."
Fuente, 41, and Gundy, 50, remain aligned these days with regard to developing top-level college quarterbacks.
Fuente played an invaluable role this season in the advancement of first-year starter Josh Jackson, who led Power Five conference freshmen in passing yards (2,743) and was second in passing touchdowns (19). Jackson also set single-season records at Virginia Tech (9-3) for freshman passing touchdowns and 200-yard passing games (eight).
Last season, under Fuente's tutelage, Jerod Evans, also a first-year starter, set the program's single-season record for total offense (4,398) while leading the Hokies to the ACC championship game.
Fuente has guided the Hokies to their 25th consecutive bowl game, tied for the fourth-longest streak in major college football history and the second-longest active streak behind Florida State (36). Virginia Tech has won three straight bowl games and is within reach of consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since a run from 2004 to 2011.
"Offensively, they're sound in what they do," Gundy said of the Hokies, whose offensive coordinator, Brad Cornelsen, served as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State in 2001 and 2002 and director of quality control in 2008. "They're smart. They make good decisions. They're very well coached."
Gundy has coached his share of prolific quarterbacks as well, including this season's starter, Mason Rudolph. The senior leads the nation in passing yards (4,553) and is within striking distance of setting single-season school records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, passing efficiency and total offense.
Rudolph is 31-9 as a starter over his career and has 10 victories in which the Cowboys were trailing in the second half.
This season, Oklahoma State (9-3) ranks second nationally in total offense (575.7 yards per game) and third in scoring offense (46.3 points per game) behind not just Rudolph but also wide receiver James Washington and running back Justice Hill. Washington is third in the country in receiving yards (1,423), and Hill's 1,347 rushing yards are the most among Big 12 backs this season.
The Cowboys are making their 12th straight bowl appearance and seeking a third consecutive 10-win season, which would be the longest such streak in program history.
"That's kind of the fun part of this business," Fuente said. "You get to go compete against sometimes people you have a background with, sometimes people that you've never met in your life, and through all the twists and turns of your career, you bump into or come across sometimes people from your past, and I'm excited about it."
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