BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente declined to answer questions Thursday about a Sports Illustrated article that alleged some members of the 2018 team wanted to lose the Hokies’ regular-season finale, even threatening other players, warning them not to make big plays.
“This year. Let’s go to this year,” Fuente said during his weekly press conference. “I haven’t read the article. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m sure it’s great. I’m sure it’s well-written. I’m sure it’s fantastic. But, this year. We’re moving to this year.”
The article, written by SI’s Ross Dellenger, quoted current members of the team as saying that some of their former teammates wanted to lose the regular-season finale in 2018 against Marshall to avoid having to play in a bowl game.
The game determined whether the Hokies would be bowl eligible for the 26th consecutive season. Virginia Tech won, and protected its streak.
The frustrations continued through the offseason.
Virginia Tech lost several players who transferred to other schools this offseason, including one week where four players left, prompting Fuente to issue a public statement attempting to quell growing concerns about the overall state of the program.
According to the article, a team meeting helped clear the air, but only after the staff agreed to other changes. Some were as minor as having turkey bacon with team meals, others as significant as altering the offseason workouts, which — according to the article — some players felt were too grueling.
Thursday, Fuente denied any changes were made to the offseason workouts.
“We did the same offseason that we’ve done for the last however many years,” Fuente said. “I haven’t read the article. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Through a spokesman, Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock referred questions on the matter to Fuente.
According to the Sports Illustrated article, a teammate warned wide receiver Tre Turner — then a freshman — not to catch a touchdown pass in the Dec. 1 game against Marshall, threatening to fight him if he did.
Turner caught three passes for 99 yards and a 45-yard touchdown in the 41-20 Hokies’ victory.
Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis followed the example Fuente set, and said the trouble that plagued last year’s team – which went 6-7, the program’s first losing season since 1992 – is behind it.
“That’s in the past,” Willis said. “That was 2018. It’s 2019 now and we’re moving forward.”
Willis said that the chemistry of this year’s team has it positioned to bounce back. At least eight scholarship players transferred out of the program since the start of the 2018 season.
“I’m very, very proud of how this group has moved forward,” Willis said. “I think we’ve got the right guys in the locker room and I think we’re ready to move forward and have a good 2019 season.”
Fuente said he’s similarly happy with where his team’s mental state is going into this season.
“I think they’ve been through adversity and that can do one of two things,” Fuente said. “When you go through hard times it either separates you or brings you closer together. I think it’s definitely brought those kids closer together. It happened not to us but for us and it’s been fun to watch how they’ve responded throughout the offseason and now into fall camp.”