A few days after Virginia Tech was on the wrong side of history against Duke, the Fuller family experienced its own version of history.
On Monday, following his three-interception performance against the Blue Devils, freshman Kendall Fuller was named the national freshman of the week by 247 Sports and picked up co-defensive back of the week honors from the ACC. Meanwhile, his older brother, Kyle Fuller, was one of 15 semifinalists announced for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back, and was one of only three defensive backs named as a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given to nation’s best defensive player.
The accolades, though, only underscore the looming dilemma Virginia Tech’s defensive coaches will need to confront this week when the Hokies (6-2, 3-1) try to get back on track at Boston College (3-4, 1-3). With senior Antone Exum’s return from offseason knee surgery last week, the Hokies now have at least four cornerbacks who would likely be starters on just about any other ACC team.
Against Duke, it wasn’t an issue because Kyle Fuller was limited to special teams work because of a groin injury and freshman Brandon Facyson didn’t play after suffering a concussion last week in practice. Chances are both will be back in the lineup soon.
“It is an adjustment,” defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said. “You got Kendall’s role that’s got to change. You got Brandon’s role that’s got to change. But you communicate with everybody and I think we’ve had good chemistry about it. But it does change it.
“You have a talk with each one of those guys and try to put it in perspective. You got to move on because in the end we’re all in it to win games and play well as a secondary and to help the team win.”
When Exum was out earlier this season, the Hokies had generally used Kyle Fuller and Facyson as their outside cornerbacks and Kendall Fuller inside as the nickel cornerback. Without Kyle Fuller and Facyson this past weekend, Virginia Tech went with true freshman Chuck Clark in its nickel package. It also received the sort of superlative performance coaches knew Kendall Fuller was capable of when he became the first five-star recruit to sign with Virginia Tech since former quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
How the playing time is doled out this week if all four players are available remains to be seen. For his part, Exum expected to start all along whenever he did return to the mix. On Saturday, he started by default.
But going forward, Facyson has accepted he may need to take a back seat to a more experienced player despite coming up with four interceptions in his first five college games.
“If that means taking time from me, so be it,” Facyson said last week. “We’re gonna do what’s best for the team. I’m not a selfish person. . . . It’s nothing we can’t get adjusted to.”
Added Exum: “I think you just kind of go in full bore and make sure everybody’s on the same page, that we’re trying to win ballgames and play great defense. Some situations can be unfortunate, but it’s never a problem when you have too many good defensive backs. I haven’t heard any one defensive back coach in the country complain about that situation. I think there’s an understanding between all of us and we just want to play good football.”
Coach Frank Beamer said he’s not worried about any chemistry issues, either. Last week, he was more excited about the depth Exum’s return provides the Hokies, and that was showcased Saturday when they held Duke without a second-half completion despite missing two starters. Virginia Tech now leads the country in interceptions (17) and passing defense efficiency.
Kendall Fuller, the 2012 All-Met Player of the Year at Good Counsel last fall, is tied with three other players for the national lead in interceptions (five) after his career day against Duke. The success he has enjoyed alongside Facyson has caught Gray by surprise. He figured the Hokies would be vulnerable relying on two freshmen with Exum out early in the season.
Instead, they’ve left Virginia Tech with some tough choices to make on the horizon. Even if it means Kendall is trying to out-perform Kyle at times.
“We don’t talk about it a lot. I’m pretty sure in the back of our minds I probably want more interceptions than him, he probably wants more interceptions [than me],” Kendall Fuller said last week about his older brother. “If you ask all the defensive backs, I’m pretty sure everybody wants to have the most interceptions, so it’s not something that we go out and say but it’s definitely something I think all of us think about.”