Virginia Tech’s 2018 season was an anomaly for many reasons. The team finished with a sub-.500 record for the first time in ages, the defense posted one of their worst seasons in recent memory and over a dozen players entered the transfer portal.
The speculation ran rampant, especially as Tech’s team seem to fall apart late in games. Sports Illustrated’s in-depth behind the scenes look confirmed what many of us thought — there were deep divisions inside the Hokies’ locker room that set a poor example for the team’s younger players, which comprised most of the roster.
Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated did a wonderful job describing the problems that, in large part, made the Hokies a mediocre team that failed to live up to its potential. Multiple players were openly telling other players to not catch touchdowns, or that they hoped they would lose so the season would be over and the team’s historic bowl streak would end. It’s hard to imagine how young men are supposed to be successful when veteran players are openly rooting against their own guys.
I’m not here to accuse former players of being the ones who were the problem. You know who entered the transfer portal and you know who left the team. There’s no evidence to suggest any single player was responsible for these comments, so I’m not going to slander anyone. You can come to your own conclusions as to who the likely issues were.
Dellenger’s reporting is important for two reasons — not only does it explain why Virginia Tech looked so listless and defeated during the season, but it also makes me feel better about the state of the team right now.
Virginia Tech football is in a better place this season, both physically and mentally. Twenty-two players — a staggering number — have left the program over the last 16 months. I believe this exodus has given Tech a chance at a rebirth, a chance to remake themselves in the image they want to be. The air has cleared. Justin Fuente’s team meeting at the end of the 2018 season allowed players to voice their concerns and there aren’t any secret problems anymore.
This information gives cause for optimism for the 2019 season. Virginia Tech’s leaders are now Fuente’s guys — players that he recruited and players that withstood the negativity from the team’s elder leaders in 2018. Players like Dax Hollifield, Tre Turner and Reggie Floyd are now the leaders on this team. I feel a lot better about that trio leading the way than I felt about some of the other leaders in 2018, Ricky Walker not included.
The other aspect of this is that the 2019 Virginia Tech Hokies are truly Fuente’s team now, which means their performance and their actions off the field are entirely reflective of his leadership. All of the bad apples are gone. Fuente has had multiple offseasons to mold and shape his young men into the kinds of players he wants. With the problems supposedly out of the way, Fuente now must show the fruits of his labor.
Virginia Tech is not going to be an elite team in 2019. The team is still young and inexperienced in too many spots and has little depth at others. However, the team should be markedly better than it was in 2018. Leaders are beginning to hit their stride and Fuente’s men are now the cornerstones of the team. Fans should expect the Hokies to not only win more games this season, but to show that gritty, resilient style of play that has characterized Virginia Tech football for the last 30 or so seasons.