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July 18, 2018
Charlotte, North Carolina
Q. Josh, as the leader of this offense and a leader on the team, what in your opinion defines leadership for you?
JOSH JACKSON: What defines leadership? Would definitely be just being a guy that other people can look up to and follow, I guess you could say, especially since we have a young team, just being somebody that some of those younger guys can look up to. And how I work and how I act around the facilities and outside of the facilities is something that they should try to follow and, I guess, mimic in a sense.
Q. Josh, you had your first season as starting quarterback last year. Second year, what's it going to be like having a year under your belt?
JOSH JACKSON: It's definitely great to have the experience from last year, but I don't think no years are the same, obviously. So we'll have different challenges and different teams we will play, and that past experience will hopefully have me a little bit more ready for that.
Q. Josh, eight of the top nine rushing teams last year have quarterbacks that run effectively. Last year you grossed almost 500 yards. The net was a little less than that, sacks and so forth. What's the importance, the value of you running the football in this offense?
JOSH JACKSON: I think it definitely adds another dimension to your offense when you have a quarterback that can run a little bit. That can definitely do nothing but help you.
Q. Last year offensively 5.4 yards per play. It's pretty impressive. Is it reasonable to think that you can total higher this year per play?
JOSH JACKSON: I have never even really thought about that stat to be honest. I mean, obviously we're trying to get better offensively, and hopefully we can get better at that.
Q. Josh, under Justin coming on to the team, looking at 19 wins in the past two seasons, and obviously a couple years ago having the opportunity in the ACC Championship, what has Virginia Tech under Justin Fuente been? How would you define the culture of this now?
JOSH JACKSON: I think not much has changed, I don't think, with our culture. I know we got back to the ten wins. We had nine last year. But our culture has always been blue-collar, hard, smart and tough football teams. With that, we always want to try to win the ACC Championship, and I don't think any of that has really changed.
Q. Josh, without Cam Phillips, who are you looking to? I know Eric Kumah got a lot of experience last year, but as far as your confidence around your wide receivers and your other targets?
JOSH JACKSON: Got a lot of confidence. I know they're young, but Sean Savoy, Hezekiah Grimsley, Phil Patterson, Kumah, as you said. And then there's another guy I've been talking about a lot is Damon Hazelton. He's a transfer from Ball State who I think will have a big impact on our offense.
Q. You settled in fairly quickly last year. What is it that's allowed you to get as comfortable as fast as you did?
JOSH JACKSON: I mean, guys like Cam Phillips, guys like Kyle Chung, Wyatt Teller, those guys were all very supportive of me. Those were all leaders on our team and on our offense especially, and those guys kind of being behind me, as Cam as like my safety net and knowing Wyatt is not going to let anyone hit me without a lot of effort, that definitely made me more comfortable in regards to the season.
Q. There would have been conversation, too, if you had been hit, right?
JOSH JACKSON: Yeah, no doubt.
Q. Josh, from year one to year two, what are some of the facets of your game that you've really concentrated on to improve from year one to year two?
JOSH JACKSON: Definitely just continuing my growth in the mental aspect of the game, knowing defenses and knowing our offense in and out is definitely something I've focused on, along with getting the ball out quicker, working on RPOs and throwing on the run and everything like that have been things that I've focused on this off-season.
Q. Describe Ricky as a teammate.
JOSH JACKSON: He is the captain of this team. I mean, he's the leader. He's the bell cow, the pail holder. He's who everybody on our team should look up to and respect, and I can't really say more about him.
Q. Ricky, describe Josh for you.
RICKY WALKER: Yeah, Josh, great guy, great player, smart, trusting. Whenever I'm on the sideline and the offense is out there, it's pretty much no worries when Josh is out there.
Q. Ricky, I think that's the first time I've seen you put down that lunch pail today. What does the lunch pail defense mean to you?
RICKY WALKER: It means a lot. It's an honor to be the pail keeper. Coach Foster gave me that role last fall, last fall camp. You know, it just shows you how we go about business and how we do things at Virginia Tech, blue collar-like, hard-working, and I'm just very honored to be able to hold that pail.
Q. Ricky, you mentioned Bud Foster, just what you can say he's done as a leader in your life on and off the field, and to truly define to you what that lunch pail defense is.
RICKY WALKER: Yeah, Coach Foster is definitely one of the best to ever do it. He was really one of the main reasons why I came to Virginia Tech, knowing that he has a history and that he's been there for a while and that he will always put me in the best position to win games and to make plays.
This is going on year five, and just the longer I've been around him and played for him, the more and more I just realize how thankful I am for him. When I was a freshman it used to be, all right, Ricky, yeah, we'll need you in a couple years, playing under or behind Luther Maddy and Woody Baron, to now it's leading the defense under Bud Foster. I pretty much took on that role and just took off with it.
Q. As I look at the names of the players who aren't here anymore, that graduated, you guys lost an extraordinary amount of talent, just three starters other than yourself back, and yet you're the lunch pail guy, you're the leader. Given the culture that Bud Foster has established, does it really matter who's gone and who's back?
RICKY WALKER: I mean, I guess for the fans it matters, but for us it really doesn't matter. You know, people ask me that question all the time. You're young and you lose guys. As long as Bud Foster is in Blacksburg, I think we're going to be just fine.
Q. Last year the team gave up 14.8 points per game, which isn't too bad, but what is it that you need to do this year to maybe knock that total lower.
RICKY WALKER: 14, I think that's still a little too much. But just first things first, we always preach stopping the run. I think if any defense can stop the run, you have a pretty high chance of winning the game, so that's definitely one of our goals each and every week is stopping the run. Other than that, just doing what we do best, preparing and winning ballgames.
Q. Dax Hollifield is a true freshman coming from down in this area. What have you seen from him so far and what do you expect from him this year? What kind of impact can he make for your defense?
RICKY WALKER: Yeah, he's a few weeks in, and I got a chance to watch him do little skills and drills, and so far he's a bull. He looks like a bull. He's flying around hard, and so far he knows the calls, and I'm excited about that because as a linebacker that's important on our defense. I think he's going to help us out tremendously defensively and on special teams, so I'm excited for him.
Q. Obviously lost some key guys on defense, but have veterans coming back, yourself, Trevon Hill and maybe others. Who are some other guys that you're looking to see step up?
RICKY WALKER: Yeah, young guys, both our linebackers, Dylan Rivers and Rayshard Ashby, I'm excited for those two guys. Those guys, they had great leaders in the room last year in front of them, so I'm excited to see how they come to work and how they come to business. Anybody else -- young guys like Bryce Watson, Devon Hunter, those two guys I'm excited for, too.
Q. I know you are one game at a time. I know that's the mantra of the team. This is your last season, the last regular season home game was against an opponent that's pretty special on the calendar. What would it mean to be able to finish out your home career with a win against that program?
RICKY WALKER: It would mean a lot. You know, definitely a big game on Monday night. Nobody else is watching. As coaches say, there's nowhere to hide that night. Right now we're doing what we're doing best, we're preparing and working out and just giving us the best chance to win that night.
Q. To hear Josh call you the leader of this team, what does that role, leader, mean to you, and how are you helping to bring along so many of these young players?
RICKY WALKER: Yeah, you know, leader, that's pretty much -- I was born a leader. It pretty much came natural to me. You know, this year is probably going to have to be a little more vocal than I've ever been, which is no problem. It's what we need and what's best for the team. But as far as the young guys, I try to show them what it takes to win, and each day how to practice, how to work out, how to lift, because everything we do in the off-season, I personally believe is a little different. The things we do is what gets us over the top in that third and fourth quarter in week nine in November, something like that. Just preaching to them and showing them what it takes to win because Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, that's all we know how to do is win.
Q. You guys had a stirring game with West Virginia to start the season last year. Here in 2018, once again, you guys are front and center under the bright lights at Tallahassee. Your thoughts opening with the Seminoles, who you haven't seen for a while?
RICKY WALKER: Yeah, it's exciting. You know, growing up you want to play in those kind of big games. Florida State, it gets no better, great fan base, great tradition, Doak Campbell Stadium, Monday night. It gets no better than that. Just being able to show our talents and show how hard we work and be able to put Virginia Tech out there on the map.
Q. People talk about the holes you have to fill on the defense this year, but special teams you have to fill the long snapper slot, kickoff starter, kicker, and you've also got to fill the punt returner. Who are some people you have in mind to fill those spots?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, we hope Oscar Shadley can handle the deep snapping duties. I'm not exactly positive who's going to be our kickoff returner. I feel good about our pool of guys that can go do that, Caleb Farley is a guy that will probably start off back there. When I say start off back there, I mean start practice back there. I think we've got a good pool of guys.
Punt returner to me is the one that we're going to have a little bit of competition to find out who that's going to be. C.J. Carroll is probably the guy that I feel the best about right at this moment. But we've got some other young guys that have not done it in a game that we'll need to get ready, as well. We should have a good competition at kicker to see who actually gets to go out there and kick with two talented young men. I'm excited about what we've got there, it's just a little bit unproven.
Q. Josh had spoken about the fact that the culture really hasn't changed that much from Frank Beamer going to you. Going into your third season at Virginia Tech, 19 wins, eight losses, just what you can say about not every school has that from coach to coach, that transition that seemed seamless and back to success. What has led to that success in your opinion?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, people have often asked me about how to follow a Hall of Fame coach, and my answer is pretty simple, is be really careful about the Hall of Fame coach you choose to follow. Coach has been incredibly supportive of us. I think part of the reason we've had success is we've been able to devote our time and our energy on our team, to the development of our team, and not to some of the things that may happen in either corporations or schools across the country when there is a transition. We haven't had to expend energy on some of the distractions you may have when you go through a transition.
I'm not sure exactly what the culture was when Coach Beamer was here. I wasn't in the locker room. I don't know. I know that I've always identified with what they were doing at Tech before I got there and thought it was something that was unique and something that I could kind of understand and identify with.
I would imagine, I don't know this for a fact, but I would imagine that when we talk as a football team, the message is probably phrased differently, but the underlying themes are probably very similar to what they were when Coach was here, and I'm not certainly comparing myself to Coach Beamer, I'm just saying that I think all those things have led to a little bit smoother transition.
Q. I know you lament a little bit the ACC Championship game a couple years ago when you felt like maybe you let that game get away and had a legitimate chance to win it. You've been to, I guess, 25 straight bowl games. Is there a point where it's not enough just to go to a bowl game just to be close to winning a championship and you need to take the next step and compete for a championship, compete to get to the college playoffs?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, that's what we're aspiring to, absolutely. I don't know if you're asking me to lead that into now is the time because it's our third year. I just don't believe that you can put these things in boxes, progress in boxes. The third -- this has been a different situation than the previous job I had in terms of our progress. It's just different.
So yeah, are we aspiring to that? Is that what we're working for every single day? Is that where we're headed? Absolutely. The time and when those things happen, I'm not certain on.
Q. I talked to your player earlier about Dax Hollifield, one of the highest recruited players in the country last year. Is it the expectation he'll play right away, and it sounds like he's already making an impact on your program.
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I have no idea. I haven't seen him practice yet. I know he's been doing our freshman workouts, which they're not even incorporated into the varsity yet. I know he's done well with those. He's a physically developed guy in terms of -- he didn't necessarily look like a true freshman from a physical standpoint. He's a highly intelligent player. I would anticipate that he would have the opportunity to play. It would be probably unwise for me to make a blanket statement that he is or isn't before I've ever seen him practice, but I'm encouraged by the feedback we've gotten from our strength coaches about where he's at, and I'm looking forward to getting to work with him.
Q. If I'm not mistaken, I think you're 3-0 against Willie Taggart. You guys crossed paths when you were at Memphis and he was at South Florida. Anything stand out to you about those games and the way his teams played?
JUSTIN FUENTE: No, I've known Willie for a long time. We played against each other. He was at quarterback at Western Kentucky and he was a quarterback at Murray State a long time ago. He was a senior and I was a junior.
And then our assistant coaching paths crossed for two games when he was at Stanford as an assistant and I was an assistant at TCU. And then now as head coaches with him at South Florida and myself at Memphis. But they were always tough, hard-nosed football games.
He's a fantastic coach. He's going to do a great job at Florida State. I wouldn't read anything into the South Florida-Memphis rivalry versus Virginia Tech and Florida State, but he's a fine coach, does a good job. He gets his kids ready to play, and they play hard.
Q. When you're trying to replace seven or eight guys on defense and you have to face a Willie Taggart team, especially his offense week one, what's the biggest challenge for you as a defensive unit being ready for that week one match-up?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I think it would be a challenge whoever we were playing with that many new guys taking the field for the first time, let alone playing on the road, let alone a conference game, let alone somebody with the talented players like Florida State and coached as well as Willie is going to have them coached.
It's a tremendous challenge, but I love it. I think our players will embrace it. They're excited to bust out a bunch of new guys out there, and we'll see how it goes. There's no sense in us just dipping our toe in the shallow end. We might as well cannonball in the deep end, so that's what we're going to do. Our guys will embrace that challenge. We've got to get them up to speed and playing at a high level in a really short amount of time, but we're looking forward to that challenge.
Q. Coach Mendenhall has really been stressing to his players, beat Tech. I know it's early, but I think they think this is their year. How important is it for you to keep the Commonwealth Cup in Blacksburg?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I would say this: I know Coach Mendenhall really well and have a lot of respect for him. But what he says to his team is his business. Kind of like what I say to ours is mine. We understand the importance of that game. We absolutely do. I do as the head coach. Our team does. Our tradition at Virginia Tech understands the importance of that. And when that game -- it's time for that game, it's time for us to focus on that game, then we'll focus on that game, and we'll be ready to play.
Q. I was wondering, your first year at Virginia Tech, week 2, you played that big game against Tennessee of course at Bristol, big marquee game early on in your career, Willie Taggart going to do the same thing against your team on Labor Day night at home. What can you learn about your team that maybe you can't learn in a fall camp when you play one of these big marquee games early?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, you learn a lot. You learn a lot about your team even if you're not playing a marquee game in the first game. I mean, the biggest improvement you make is between week 1 and week 2.
One of the concerns I have is week 1 we play at Florida State on a Monday night at 8:00 at night, and then we immediately turn around and play our second game that Saturday. So the time when we're supposed to make the biggest amount of improvement has been condensed by two days.
In short, I think you can learn a lot about your team in the very first game. There's just too many things that you can't -- that you try your best to simulate leading into the game. But the bottom line is you're going to put some guys out there that have never played, and your job is to train them to respond in the right way, but you're still not positive what you're going to get until you go through it with them.
You can learn a lot about a guy's competitiveness, about a guy's ability to focus and handle adversity in the first football game.
Q. Cam Phillips made so many big catches for you last year, and yet you have a great many returning players on your offensive side. What are the biggest challenges for your offense this year? What do you want to see them do better?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I'd like to see us do a lot of things, without getting into just statistics speak. I'd like to see us be a more efficient offense, be a more explosive offense. I'd like us to have more chunk plays. We've got to continue to create that competitiveness amongst the skill players and the offensive line for playing time, and that comes through depth. And we're in the process of getting that done. I'm pretty excited about that. We're not quite there yet, but it's coming.
That competitiveness leads to better practices and leads to more people playing. But in general terms, what I'd like for us to see -- what I'd like to see from us on offense is I'd like -- I think we've got to find a way to manufacture some more big plays or chunk plays, either through the running game and the passing game.
Q. We talked about your history with Coach Taggart. The fact that you've played him so many times, do you think you'll be prepared for what he's going to do, or is it one of those things where he has a different sort of cupboard of talent and he has an offensive coordinator from Michigan, a coordinator from Maryland, it could be completely different?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Yeah, I would anticipate it will be different. They'll be doing what they do. I don't know that you'll be able to glean anything from those previous experiences.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports