BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller has plenty of stories about the battles he and his brothers have had in their attempts to prove athletic superiority. But his favorite dates from when he and brothers Corey and Kendall would wait in the back yard of their Baltimore home for one of their parents to take them to football practice.
The three would strap on their pads, line up in a three-point stance and then charge at one another to determine who was the toughest. Football coaches call it the Oklahoma drill and don’t use it very often because of the physicality it involves. But in the Fuller household, it was almost a way of life.
“We were competitive in everything,” Kyle Fuller said. “It played a big part in why we’re all here now. You got to not want to lose.”
The Fuller brothers are not your average brood of siblings. Vincent, 29, is now in his seventh season as an NFL safety. Corey, 21, competed in track and field at Kansas before transferring to Virginia Tech to become a wide receiver. Kendall, 16, is already one of the top prep prospects in the area, with 10 scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
But it’s Kyle, a 19-year-old sophomore, who has emerged as a linchpin for the Hokies’ defense this year and perhaps the next great defensive back in a long line of future pros that have come through Blacksburg over the past decade.
Though he often goes unmentioned because of all-American teammate Jayron Hosley, Fuller has proven to be the perfect complement, showing off a physicality not normally seen in a cornerback. He has 27 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss, through six games.
But it’s his football acumen that has impressed the coaching staff. Last year, Fuller started six games as a true freshman, playing cornerback and a hybrid linebacker position in passing situations.
This year, his responsibilities have increased. Already he has covered an opponent’s best receiver, moved over to the slot and developed into a dangerous asset blitzing in nickel situations, and even recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown on special teams.
“He’s having an all-conference type year,” said defensive backs coach Torrian Gray, who gave Fuller the highest grade of all Virginia Tech defenders for his performance against Miami last week. “He’s kind of in the shadows with Jayron, but there’s not enough that can be said for what he’s doing this season.”
And just like his competitive nature, Fuller has a brother to thank for it.
Because they are nine years apart in age, Kyle doesn’t recall the recruiting process that brought Vincent to Virginia Tech back in 2000. But he does remember coming to Lane Stadium as a child and being brought into the locker room to get autographs and meet the rest of the team.
So when Kyle was getting set to come to Virginia Tech two summers ago, he and Vincent would spend hours watching film in the family’s Baltimore basement. Vincent, who played both cornerback and safety with the Hokies, said he would show Kyle the basics of Bud Foster’s defense, from key reads to complex alignments that aren’t seen in high school football.
It’s no surprise then that Coach Frank Beamer said this week that “Vinny Fuller, when he was here, he understood the game. Kyle is just like him.”
“I guess some people would say it’s tough to play as a freshman in Coach Foster’s defense, but I learned a lot from Vincent,” Kyle said. “I still learn a lot from him. I think he may not realize how much I actually looked up to him.”
Recently, their roles changed a bit. After six years with the Tennessee Titans, Vincent Fuller was released on Sep. 3. He didn’t sign with the Detroit Lions until last week, and during his four weeks of unemployment, Vincent said seeing Kyle excel gave him a new perspective on the sport.
“Watching Virginia Tech play, it helped me appreciate what I had. I can’t speak for everybody, but I think I took the opportunity to play this game for a living for granted,” Vincent said this week. “The way Kyle’s playing is how I expected him to play. I think that’s the standard he set for himself, and I guess that’s the standard I set for him because this is what I’ve always wanted him to do.”
These sorts of expectations are why both Vincent and Kyle believe Kendall, a junior cornerback at Good Counsel, is further along than either of them at that age. Kyle said Virginia Tech wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman, who is recruiting Kendall for the Hokies, often jokes how Kyle “has a younger brother that’s better than him right now.”
All teasing aside, though, the Fuller currently making plays for the Hokies defense is doing just fine for himself.
“I know about the tradition of the DBs here,” Fuller said. “I’d like to keep that legacy going.”