Virginia Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray stood just outside a circle of prospective recruits and laughed as the topic turned to Kendall Fuller’s role on this year’s team.
Gray had just spent the better part of an hour conducting drills with high school defensive backs and wide receivers from around the region, most simply hoping to attract Gray’s attention, let alone receive a scholarship offer. On this Saturday afternoon, not many were worth pursuing.
But that wasn’t the case the first time Fuller showed up to one of these camps for prospective recruits in the summer of 2009 after his freshman year at Good Counsel. The Hokies offered him a scholarship on the spot, and Gray admitted he hasn’t watched much game film of Fuller since.
Though he’s in charge of getting a group of inexperienced cornerbacks prepared to face defending national champion Alabama on Aug. 31 in case starter Antone Exum’s injured knee doesn’t recover in time, Gray already has seen plenty to convince him that at least one Virginia Tech freshman should be able to handle the rigors of college football.
“Whether Antone’s healthy or not, Kendall is going to have a role in this secondary,” said Gray, who often talks about how hard it can be for younger defensive backs to gain his trust.
Fuller, Virginia Tech’s first five-star recruit since former quarterback Tyrod Taylor arrived on campus in 2006, has come to Blacksburg, Va., with much more fanfare than his three older brothers, all of whom played for Virginia Tech. Vincent, a safety who spent seven years in the NFL, and Corey, a wide receiver picked in the sixth round of this year’s NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, were lightly regarded recruits. Kyle, a senior cornerback for the Hokies this year, was merely a three-star prospect.
All three, however, eventually morphed into key cogs for Virginia Tech.
For Kendall Fuller, though, living up to his reputation will be a secondary concern when training camp begins next month. He wants to earn an opportunity to get on the field.
“You can’t go anywhere with a big ego, definitely in college, because when you get here you’re at the bottom of the spectrum now,” Kendall Fuller said this weekend. “So you gotta work your way back up and just get used to it.”
Kendall has been living with Kyle since he arrived at Virginia Tech in June for summer classes, although he’ll move into the dorms next month. And just like Kyle spent the summer before his freshman year studying film of Bud Foster’s defense with Vincent, he is now doing the same with Kendall. The two have worked on proper footwork and positioning in the hope that the learning curve won’t be so steep when practice begins.
With Exum’s status in question, there’s also a chance Kendall could start alongside Kyle against the Crimson Tide. Kendall said he mostly has been working as a nickel cornerback covering slot receivers during the team’s informal seven-on-seven workouts this summer.
It’s the role he likely will fill when Exum, the team leader in pass breakups and interceptions a year ago, returns to action.
“Right now, it’s just work hard, get better during the summer and then however Coach Gray feels like he can use me best once camp comes,” Fuller said. “I definitely expect to get on the field, get some playing time and make an impact. I think our secondary has a lot to do on how [Exum] comes back, but I feel like either way, whoever is out there on the field is gonna give us the best chance to win.”