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July 21, 2016
Charlotte, North Carolina
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Virginia Tech to the stage. We'll have coach make an opening statement, then take questions for the student-athletes.
COACH FUENTE: Before I begin, I want to thank Dr. Sands, our president at Virginia Tech, Whit Babcock, our athletic director, for their faith in me to take this challenge and represent this fine institution, Virginia Tech.
It's been a place I've admired from afar for many, many years. It's a challenge and a job that I'm awfully excited to be a part of. Many times I'm asked about the attractiveness of Virginia Tech and all the sorts of things that led me to really want to be a part of Virginia Tech. My pat answer is, Why not? So many great things in terms of academic reputation, athletic reputation, location and tradition that I'm just really truly humbled and honored to be a part of it, and try to build on the fantastic tradition that Coach Beamer built at Virginia Tech.
The transition has been extremely smooth thanks to the professionalism of people, the ensemble we brought together, without worrying about who gets credit, but just moving forward with the football program.
I'm looking forward to answering many of y'all's questions as we move forward and I know you want to hear from our fantastic representatives of Virginia Tech football.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.
Sam Rogers, if you want to step up for questions.
Q. Week two, playing against Tennessee, the biggest college football game attendance-wise ever.
SAM ROGERS: Going to be an exciting game. Being hyped up a lot. Tennessee is a great team. That will be a great matchup for us.
Right now we have to worry about week one, worry about getting better right now. I know that sounds clichÃ©, but it's true. That's what we're going to focus on right now.
Q. Sam, it seems like your sophomore year and junior year you've been really steady in your performance, number of plays, number of yards. Is there something about the year upcoming which you're able to take those last two years as a building block and say, This year I know exactly what I need to do?
SAM ROGERS: Obviously each year you want to get better and better. You want to find out what you were weak on, keep improving on it.
Obviously I want to take this year and keep improving on what I've done in the past. With this offense, I want to keep finding any ways I can find to help the team. Anything I can do, I'll try to do the best I can, so...
Q. Sam, what can you say about Justin Fuente, what he's brought to this team and the environment around Virginia Tech?
SAM ROGERS: Coach Fuente has been awesome. Something he said right away that stuck with me, he wasn't going to tear anything down that Coach Beamer started. He was starting with the foundation. It's awesome to play for a guy who has that mentality. He's bringing a whole new level of enthusiasm and tempo to him. It's awesome to have him around. Can't wait to keep playing for him.
Q. What has been for you the most difficult part of the process of a transition to the new head coach?
SAM ROGERS: I know it's been said before, but it honestly has been a smooth process. Picking up the offense, obviously a new adjustment. But football is football. You're going to have similar schemes no matter what you do.
It honestly has been a smooth process. I can say that confidently. So it's been fun. I've enjoyed it.
Q. You came in as an invited walk-on. Now here you are standing in Charlotte representing the offense of Virginia Tech football. Is 'surreal' the right word?
SAM ROGERS: Yeah, I guess it's surreal. From a young age, I've been taught to expect a lot of things of myself. No matter what other people expect of me, always set the expectations higher.
It is unbelievable in some ways. It's also believable. I'm honored to be in this situation, be looked at as a leader of my team because I know there's a ton of great leaders there. Yeah, it's just an honor to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, thank you. You can switch places with Ken.
We'll take questions for Ken.
Q. Ken, as a freshman, 320-pound bench press, 350-pound front squat, 275-pound push jerk. Numbers are the same going into your senior year or have you slacked off a little bit?
KEN EKANEM: There's been a significant jump in those numbers since freshman year. I know my front squat has gone up a tremendous bunch.
Yeah, those guys in the weight room have been doing a great job with me in making sure I'm working at my peak level. Coach did a great job. Coach Hilgart has continued to do a great job with me.
Q. I was at Coach Beamer's retirement announcement press conference. Both you and Sam said you were disappointed you wouldn't finish your careers with him. When did the disappointment give way to an excitement that Coach Fuente was going to come in?
KEN EKANEM: We had meetings with Coach Fuente, each one of us on the team. He emphasized what he's going to implement at Virginia Tech, how he's going to continue Coach Beamer's legacy, stuff like that. That got me very excited.
We got into winter workouts, stuff like that. You could tell there was a big difference in the tempo of everything. Everything is done with a sense of urgency. That got me really excited about going into spring ball.
Spring ball was very up-tempo as well. I'm excited to see what our new offense can do, what our team can do, so...
Q. What can you say about the energy coming out of the spring, how you're defining Virginia Tech under this first year with Coach Fuente?
KEN EKANEM: After spring ball we started our summer workouts and stuff like that. The workouts, we run every day of the week. They change it up each day so your body can't adapt to a certain conditioning or type of running. That's been keeping me and us in great shape.
I mean, just the tempo of things, getting things done in a timely manner has been the main thing I've noticed from the transitioning.
I think we're all excited. A lot of guys have bought in very quickly. We're all heading in a really great direction.
Q. I've seen Coach Fuente host dinners at his house. Have you been to one of those? What kind of camaraderie does something like that build?
KEN EKANEM: Yeah, he did have the seniors over, I believe it was last Monday. Yeah, that was a great time. We got to bond as seniors, bond with his family, three lovely daughters. Good time with them. They gave us a tour of the house.
It was just a great time and a great bonding moment with Coach Fuente, his family and the seniors.
Q. How far do you think you came in the spring? What do you hope to do in fall camp to really get ready for this season?
KEN EKANEM: During the spring we had a lot of young guys that had to step up. We had to get those guys up to speed definitely going into the summer.
A lot of guys took a lot of big steps forward. I was very proud of them. A lot of guys, a lot of young defensive ends, I spent most of my time during spring ball coaching them up, what they could do better, giving them tips, stuff like that.
Going into the fall, I'm looking forward to these guys keep continuing to progress. We had a lot of young guys just mature over this off-season on both sides of the ball. I'm excited to see how it all plays out and how our hard work pays off.
Q. Defenses are known for putting pressure on the quarterback. You're now the guy that has to go get the quarterback. Also, in this coaching transition, there is a great deal of continuity with Bud Foster still running the defense. What's that like?
KEN EKANEM: With the departure of Luther, Dadi, Corey Marshall, as well, those are great guys that put a lot of work in. They were on the quarterback's tail a lot.
We have to fill that role, about you we have other great guys that can fill that role. Woody Baron, Nigel Williams, a lot of great talent there. We put a lot of work in the off-season, working on the pass-rush moves, what we can do better, watching tape of the offensive linemen we're going to face. We've been preparing a lot this off-season, more than usual.
With Bud Foster staying, it was pretty big for myself and other defensive players. Bud Foster was my recruiter. He did a great job recruiting me. I'm just happy that he was able to stay. Also Coach Wallace stays as the defensive line coach. Fortunate and blessed to have my position coach and recruiter and defensive coordinator.
Q. Your sports information department has developed a bingo game for Coach Fuente's sayings. What is the culture he's drilling into you guys? Describe the culture he's bringing?
KEN EKANEM: There's just three words: hard, smart, tough. You got to work hard in the weight room, off the field, in your studies, stuff like that. Get stuff done off the field so you can just worry about stuff on the field.
You have to be smart. That goes along with it as well. You have to know the playbook, know you can't mess up. You have to know where to line up, how to react to certain formations.
You got to be tough on a consistent basis. Play hard. You get what you put in.
He's been drilling it into us since day one. A lot of people have been buying into that motto. It's been working out really well for us.
THE MODERATOR: We'll dismiss our student-athletes. We'll bring Coach Fuente back up to the podium for his Q&A session.
Q. Could you give us an update on your quarterback situation. Are you going into the pre-season with a definitive starter? Are you still determining who that guy is going to be?
COACH FUENTE: No, we're not going into pre-season with a definitive starter. I believe that it will be one of the two older kids, Brenden Motley or Jerod Evans. That's not to say I'm disappointed with the younger kids or don't reserve my right to change my mind if we get in the middle of fall camp and the younger kids pass up the older kids.
My evaluation so far is it will probably be one of those two. I think both of those kids will play a huge role on our team, whether they're standing on the sidelines or playing on the field.
I think people will get, particularly local fans, they'll want to know who is going to run out there the first series versus Liberty. I'm going to say we'll need both of those guys to give ourselves a chance of having success during the fall.
They're both working incredibly hard. There's not one guy over another right now. It's up in the air. But I like the way they're going about it and the way they're working.
Q. A lot has been said for athletic directors over the years about having a schedule for the first 100 days. What was the first 100 days like as a new head coach?
COACH FUENTE: Well, it was pretty hectic. When you take a new job, there's no two weeks' notice in this profession. You just hit the ground running. The first thing we did was try to assemble a staff, get a handle on the staff dynamic, how it was going to work.
We had to get caught up on the current commitments that Coach Beamer and his staff had already had. We actually had nine guys that were scheduled to come in at midterm. We were really pressed for time to make sure we reached out to those guys and got in front of those kids because they were going to start school in the winter session. We did all of that.
Building a staff and recruiting, then had a break over Christmas while Virginia Tech and Coach Beamer played in their bowl game, and Memphis played in their bowl game, I got a chance to take stock in where we were at, think about how I was going to approach the team for the first team meeting, set the tone there, and move forward into the spring semester.
Q. How have you found Virginia Tech and how were you received in Virginia, a lot of those high schools you had to go into for the first time?
COACH FUENTE: Yeah, it's been a great reception. We've done everything in our power to reach out to those areas in the state of Virginia through our clinics. We had clinics in Blacksburg. We participated in clinics in Richmond. We participated in clinics in northern Virginia as an entire staff. We put on our own clinic in the 757 Virginia Beach area to try to extend those invitations and build those relationships.
Several of our guys that have been on staff for some time already have preexisting relationships. We've tried to build on those.
Through the recent camp legislation, we've done camps in those similar areas in order, again, to try to reach out to those people.
But we've been received very well. I look for it to continue to be a positive thing. It's an emphasis for us. We'll continue to build on that momentum of recruiting in Virginia.
Q. Back to the quarterbacks. What are three traits you would like to see in your starting quarterback?
COACH FUENTE: Well, the first rule of playing quarterback is don't lose the game, take care of the football, secure the football. It's a guy that touches the ball on every single play and can do a lot of great things for you and can do a lot of damage for you, too. The first rule is to hang on to the football.
The second thing for us is handling composure, handling the emotional ups and downs of the games. It's one thing to be sitting in a classroom and have to know the answers to the test. It's another thing to be standing in front of 75,000 people and have just taken a big hit and feeling the momentum of the game, the back and forth, and still stay in the moment and concentrate on the task at hand.
The last thing for us is predicted outcomes. That's what I want to see. I want to see a quarterback go where he's supposed to go with the football. Sometimes the results may not always be what we want them to be, but for us it's about is that kid doing what we're asking him to do on a consistent basis. Even if the result didn't work out, maybe there was another variable at play. For us it's charting how many predicted outcomes we get on a given rep.
Q. You just touched on recruiting in Virginia. To my knowledge, you have 20 players from 757 on your roster. Talk about how you expect some of the older guys to foster those younger guys from the 757.
COACH FUENTE: Yeah, we've got a great tradition of players from 757 area. We'll continue that. You're right, those player relationships maybe mean as much or more than the coach-to-coach relationships or coach-to-player relationships. Those guys do as good a job as anyone recruiting for Virginia Tech because they know what it's like on a daily basis.
I think our kids have done a really good job of that and they'll continue to do that. But there is definitely connectivity amongst kids, especially in today's day and age, when it's so easy to have a conversation with your cell phone, so many different mediums with which to contact people. It's a huge aspect of recruiting locally and in 757.
Q. How would you describe your offensive philosophy? What people don't know is an advantage to you. But what you can share in general that we should see from your offense.
COACH FUENTE: Well, I believe the first thing is, wherever I've been associated with, it's changed, not the philosophy, but what it's looked like.
When we were at TCU, we had a certain skill set out there. We did what we felt like was best to have success at TCU. Same thing at Memphis.
It may look a little bit different at Virginia Tech just based on who we have. We didn't have a guy like Bucky Hodges at anyplace I've ever been. It may look a little bit different.
The first thing is we have to adapt to our talent. That's what coaching is, to give our kids the best chance to have success. We have to do our best job of tweaking it to what fits our talent.
The second thing centers around running the football. Doesn't matter to me. Kind of the way I was raised in football was find a way to run the football first, everything else will work out. You throw the ball to score points, you run the ball to win the game. A good running game helps the special teams, helps the defense and helps the offense.
That being said, we have traditionally found unconventional ways to run the football, whether through the wide receiver position, the quarterback position or the runningback position, which we like to think has given us a fighting chance when maybe we were a little bit out-manned up front. We try and find different ways to run the ball. But that's where it starts.
Then we want to throw the ball down the field. We do a good job of getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands, but at times we need to play-action off that run game and chunk it and see what happens.
Lastly, tempo, in my opinion, is an advantage. I also believe it's like anything else, it's probably like sugar and pizza, soda pop. Too much of it is not a good thing. I do not believe in going so fast that we hurt the other side of the football.
I do believe it's an advantage, but we want to manage it in the right way to give us the best chance for the ultimate goal, which is just to win the game. It's not to lead the country in offense, it's not to lead the country in plays, it's not to lead the country in defense, it's to find a way to win the ballgame.
Q. You're one of three first-year head coaches in the ACC coastal division this year. Does that amount of newness increase the challenge in terms of preparation?
COACH FUENTE: I don't think so. By the time we play Miami, we're going to have a great sample size of what they're doing on both sides of the ball. Same thing can be said for them for us. The things that cause you a challenge when there's turnover as a coach is when there's a coordinator change, then you have them early in the season, you're trying to figure out what they're really going to look like on offense or defense.
I don't see that as adding to the challenge. Obviously they're very competent and accomplished coaches that I think are going to do very good jobs at their respective skills. In terms of trying to find a way to win the game, it's basically the same thing.
Q. How are some of the pillars of what you're doing are like Coach Beamer's and how do you make this your own?
COACH FUENTE: I believe in this wholeheartedly. I believe in paying great respect to the things that have happened in the past. There's no reason for us to do anything other than that. We should celebrate Coach Beamer and his accomplishments. There may never be another person in Virginia Tech history that means as much to that school at Coach Beamer, and we should celebrate that.
We also have an obligation to build on what he has done. I have an obligation to do that in the best way I know possible. That does not mean doing it exactly the way he did it. That means paying great tribute to the way he did things and understanding there was a fantastic foundation there of core values, and let's build on it through our own core values.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH FUENTE: You bet. Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports