BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller sat in the green room at Radio City Music Hall this May, waiting to hear his brother’s name called as part of the NFL draft, when former Buffalo defensive end — and the No. 5 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders — Khalil Mack approached and began talking to Fuller like a long-lost friend.
The two had never met, but Mack trained at the same facility as Kyle and Corey Fuller during his draft preparations. After years of following in his brothers’ footsteps, Kendall is used to this sort of thing.
“When most people meet one of my brothers, or two of them, they kind of just feel like they met all of us,” Fuller said this week as Virginia Tech began training camp ahead of the 2014 season.
“I know a lot of people who will meet one or two of my brothers and they’ll come up to me in public. I guess they know of me and I’ll act like I know them. And then somebody will ask me, ‘Did you know them?’ I’ll be like, ‘No, I guess they just knew one of my brothers.’”
Kendall Fuller, though, has already begun to carve out his own legacy after a wildly successful freshman campaign in 2013. The All-Met player of the year out of Good Counsel, Fuller was the ACC’s defensive rookie of the year, a consensus freshman all-American and a member of the all-ACC second team after reeling in a team-high six interceptions last season.
He’s also one-half of what could be the nation’s top cornerback duo, with fellow sophomore Brandon Facyson (five interceptions in 2013) returning as well. Last year, the two freshmen were thrust into major roles as Kyle Fuller and senior Antone Exum battled through injuries.
It’s Kendall Fuller, though, who has appeared on many of the preseason award watch lists this summer, poised to overtake his older brothers in the eyes of professional scouts and college football aficionados.
Kyle Fuller, also a cornerback, was selected by the Chicago Bears with the No. 14 overall pick in the first round of the NFL draft this year. Corey Fuller, a wide receiver at Virginia Tech, went to the Detroit Lions in the sixth round in 2013. Eldest brother Vincent, a safety, carved out a successful seven-year NFL career after playing at Virginia Tech.
ESPN recently ranked Kendall No. 37 in its list of college football’s top 100 players this season.
“Both of us are just excited for the opportunity knowing we’re the guys now,” Kendall Fuller said of he and Facyson, who has been limited by a hip flexor injury to start training camp. “I don’t think anybody would get complacent about being the No. 37 player in the country.”
The NFL, though, is not the first thing on Kendall’s list of goals. He simply wants to emerge from his siblings’ shadows now that he’s the only Fuller on campus. Teammates gave him grief last season because, with Kyle still in the program, the back of his jersey read “Ke. Fuller.”
“I told them this year I’m just rocking the Fuller,” Kendall said.
Virginia Tech’s defensive coaches are counting on Fuller and Facyson to build on last year’s performance, especially with an unseasoned front seven. The Hokies also have senior safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner together in the defensive backfield for a third straight campaign.
Fuller and Facyson proved to be the perfect complement to one another last year, with Fuller playing more man-to-man coverage as the season wore on and Facyson used more in zone coverage to take advantage of his ball skills. Fuller noticed the coaching staff showed more trust in them later in the year, but he still longs for defensive backs coach Torrian Gray to show the same faith he did in Kyle Fuller and Exum and put him on an island outside for an entire game.
Gray admitted that’s a possibility this season because of the production and skillset Fuller and Facyson showed off last fall, but “We just haven’t asked them to do that before.”
“I’ve been keeping it in perspective for those guys, that this is no different [than last year], except people expect us to be good,” Gray added. “If you got corners or DBs, you can do so many different things to help you from a scheme standpoint, especially with the varying offenses we see. If you can take certain parts of the field or guys out of the offense’s repertoire, it makes the game so much easier. So those guys are definitely invaluable if they’re able to do that.”