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Youth is served at Hokies' Maroon-White game

From staff reports • Apr 15, 2018 at 1:00 PM

BLACKSBURG — “We’ve got a long way to go. This might be the most important summer of any team I’ve ever coached.”

Such was the summarization from Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente following Saturday’s spring game at Lane Stadium.

The offense recorded a 28-26 win in the game that capped a series of 15 practices.

The Hokies will enter the summer facing some of the same questions they dealt with at the start of spring drills. They lack experience, and in some cases strength and size, at the receiver, tailback, cornerback, linebacker, defensive end, punt returner and field-goal kicker positions.

A focal point is the need for a go-to receiver.

Phil Patterson, a rising redshirt sophomore, led all receivers with five catches for 86 yards after playing in only five games last season. He made a terrific one-handed grab and caught a 33-yard touchdown from redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Willis, the transfer from Kansas.

Hezekiah Grimsley, a rising sophomore, caught four passes for 36 yards. Another rising sophomore, Sean Savoy, hauled in an 83-yard touchdown reception from Willis.

“A lot of work to do,” Fuente said of the receivers. “We didn’t get to practice with several of them. We’ll get healthy and be able to show up every day and work hard and improve.

“Those three guys got better. I was proud particularly of Hezekiah and Phil in terms of their dedication to improve every single day. We’ve still got a long way to go, but they were really productive and took strides forward this spring.”

Kaleb Smith and Coleman Fox, who scored on a short touchdown run, had receptions of 42 and 38 yards, and tailback Deshawn McClease broke off a 49-yard TD run.

But Virginia Tech isn’t young and experienced only on offense. On defense, only one senior — Ricky Walker — played in the spring game.

Though projected starters Adonis Alexander, Mook Reynolds and Vinny Mihota missed nearly all of spring with injuries and should return, youth will be served this fall — especially at linebacker.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster must find replacements for Tremaine Edmunds and Andrew Motuapuaka. Dylan Rivers and Rayshard Ashby, two rising sophomores, made their first “starts” Saturday.

“I do like this group,” Foster said of the linebackers. “It’s important to them. They’re very willing and want to be good players, and I look forward to come to work with these guys every day because they’re eager to learn, they’re eager to please and they’re eager to go out and compete. That’s half the battle.

“We’ve got to have a big-time summer from now until we open up camp. That’s where those guys will make their biggest adjustments ... I think we’ve made improvements, but we’re just scratching the surface.”

Emmanuel Belmar, coming off a strong spring, recorded a safety, and fellow defensive end Zion Debose registered a sack. Khalil Ladler intercepted a pass, Rivers had multiple tackles and freshman defensive back Jermaine Waller broke up a couple of passes.

“He’s a microcosm of our football team right now,” Fuente said of Waller. “I think he’s got talent. He’s young. We don’t have time to pull him aside and say, ‘Just relax. We’ll call you in a couple of years when it’s time to play.’ ”

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