BLACKSBURG, Va. — There was a football game going on at Woodlawn High in Baltimore one day last year, but that didn’t matter to the Fuller brothers. They wanted to race.
So armed with three stopwatches, a video camera to document the finish and their mother, Nina, as a judge, Corey, Kyle and Kendall Fuller lined up on the neighborhood track for the latest battle to determine who is the fastest member of this football family.
After a quick start, it was the least ballyhooed of the Fuller clan, track star turned Virginia Tech wide receiver Corey Fuller, who took home bragging rights. These days, though, Corey could be on the verge of emerging from his brothers’ shadows on the football field as well.
Coming off a breakout five-catch, 82-yard performance in Virginia Tech’s season-opening win over Georgia Tech on Monday night, the development of Fuller and several other unheralded wide receivers has taken on new importance going forward.
The Hokies announced Thursday that starting wide receiver D.J. Coles will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a right knee injury in the first quarter against the Yellow Jackets. Coles, who underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn posterior cruciate ligament in that same knee, had 36 catches for 480 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. He will pursue a medical redshirt to return to the team next year.
Fuller, who transferred to Virginia Tech before the 2010 season after spending two years on the track and field team at Kansas, only had two career catches heading into Monday night. Growing up, he wanted to be a basketball star until his father told him, “You’re not really gonna have a chance at basketball, so hang it up,” Corey Fuller recalled. “He didn’t want to pay for college.”
After arriving in Blacksburg, it took Fuller some time to get re-acclimated to the football field. He runs a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, but his route-running and pass-catching skills needed work. His biggest reception Monday, though, proved Fuller may have turned a corner in that regard.
It came on a quick slant in which he broke a tackle for a 23-yard reception on fourth and four, a completion that set up place kicker Cody Journell’s score-tying 41-yard field goal at the end of regulation. He also made a heady play on Virginia Tech’s other scoring drive of the fourth quarter, recovering a fumble following a 35-yard reception by fellow wide receiver Marcus Davis.
“He came here and he was pretty much a fast guy,” Coach Frank Beamer said. “But I think he’s developed his skills to where an NFL scout asked me about him the other day. He noticed him.”
That’s the sort of recognition that had been reserved for his brothers in recent years.
Eldest brother Vincent started at safety for Virginia Tech and spent the past seven seasons in the NFL. Kyle, two years younger than Corey, is a preseason all-ACC cornerback for the Hokies. Youngest brother Kendall, meanwhile, plays at Good Counsel and is considered the best high school cornerback in the country by Rivals. In July, he became the first five-star recruit to commit to Virginia Tech since quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
But Corey Fuller, a fifth-year senior this fall, said all the attention thrown their way never bothered him.
“I was their biggest fan the whole time,” he said. “They knew I had it in me. I knew I had it in me. It was just a matter of time before it came out.”
Though Corey is the fastest Fuller, he isn’t the fastest Virginia Tech player on the roster this year. That distinction belongs to redshirt freshman Demitri Knowles, who used that speed to haul in a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Logan Thomas on Monday night.
Like Fuller, his role will now become more prominent with Coles on the mend. Born in the Bahamas, Knowles said he had a specific Bible verse from Romans 8:31 running through his head to remain calm in the fourth quarter: “If God is for us, who can be against us.”
Still, upon coming down with his first college catch, he described the sequence as “a big dream.” The Hokies are simply hoping their little-known wideouts continue to embrace such moments.
“Everybody wants that go-to receiver, but everybody wants that group of receivers that are very good, and I think that’s something that we have,” Thomas said. “I think the receivers pride themselves in being able to make every catch when the ball comes their way.”