Fuente wants fo­cus on progress

Coach try­ing to keep Hok­ies’ minds off 2-0 con­fer­ence mark

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - SPORTS - BY MIKE BAR­BER

BLACKS­BURG — Vir­ginia Tech’s tu­mul­tuous off­sea­son has proved to be just the open­ing act for an equally dif­fi­cult start to the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Since the 2018 sea­son kicked off, the Hok­ies have dealt with an up­set loss to

Old Do­min­ion, the dis­missal of de­fen­sive end Trevon Hill, an in­jury to start­ing quar­ter­back Josh

Jack­son and a lop­sided loss to

Notre Dame.

Thurs­day night, se­nior wide re­ceiver and punt re­turner C.J. Car­roll said his says the

sea­son was fin­ished Hok­ies need be­cause to “fo­cus on

of a lin­ger­ing our­selves

foot in­jury. and our

De­spite all im­prove­ment.”

that, Vir­ginia Tech (3-2, 2-0 ACC) is un­de­feated in the ACC and very much in the midst of the Coastal Di­vi­sion ti­tle race go­ing into Satur­day’s game at North Carolina (1-3, 1-1).

Not that coach Justin Fuente wants his play­ers think­ing that way.

“I don’t think we need to fo­cus on that,” Fuente said this week. “We need to fo­cus on our­selves and on our im­prove­ment. I heard quite a bit of chat­ter about, ‘We’re

2-0 in the league,’ and all that

sort of stuff. To me, that’s coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to what we’re try­ing to get done here. We need to fo­cus on our im­prove­ment and find­ing a way to get bet­ter and give our­selves a chance to win, re­gard­less of whether it’s a league game or a non­league game.”

Fuente en­dured an off­sea­son in which cor­ner­back Ado­nis Alexan­der en­tered the NFL’s sup­ple­men­tal draft fol­low­ing aca­demic is­sues, nickel back Mook Reynolds was dis­missed fol­low­ing a drug ar­rest and freshly pro­moted co-de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Galen Scott re­signed af­ter an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair be­came pub­lic.

Thing didn’t get much smoother once the Hok­ies started play­ing foot­ball. Jack­son suf­fered a bro­ken left leg in the up­set loss at ODU and may not play again this sea­son.

In the big pic­ture, Tech might be a touch ahead of where most would have pre­dicted it. The Hok­ies were un­der­dogs in three of their first five games, yet they’re 3-2.

They were un­der­dogs in both ACC con­tests, yet they’re 2-0, hav­ing beaten Florida State in Tal­la­has­see on La­bor Day night, and won at Duke.

Again, don’t tell that to Fuente.

“The whole ‘we’re still 2-0 in the league’ deal im­plies that if we were to lose a game in the league then there’s noth­ing to play for, and that’s not true ei­ther,” Fuente said. “Cer­tainly, we’re go­ing on the road, we are play­ing a con­fer­ence game and all those things are im­por­tant, but I think for us, it’s can we con­tinue to bring some of these guys as they get some ex­pe­ri­ence along so that we can be bet­ter at those in­di­vid­ual spots and, hope­fully, bet­ter al­to­gether?”

His mes­sage has trick­led down to his play­ers, who par­roted the coach’s talk­ing points to per­fec­tion this week.

“As a team, we know we’ve got to get bet­ter,” sopho­more wide re­ceiver Hezekiah Grim­s­ley said. “We know it’s one day at a time. As far as the ACC goes, we don’t re­ally pay at­ten­tion to the di­vi­sion or any­thing. We’ve got to win that next game. We worry about all that at the end of the year. As a team, I feel like the fact that we are in­ex­pe­ri­enced that it’s go­ing to bring us closer to­gether to work hard in prac­tice and just get bet­ter.”

For its part, North Carolina has had a rocky off­sea­son, but hasn’t man­aged to right its ship since games started.

Thir­teen play­ers were sus­pended in Au­gust fol­low­ing a scan­dal in­volv­ing the sell­ing of school-is­sued shoes.

UNC lost games at Cal­i­for­nia and East Carolina be­fore its Sept. 15 game against Cen­tral Florida was can­celed.

Fol­low­ing the Tar Heels’ lone vic­tory, a nar­row home win over Pitts­burgh, quar­ter­back Chaz Sur­ratt, one the play­ers who was sus­pended, re­turned to ac­tion on Sept. 27 in a blowout loss to Mi­ami. Sur­ratt in­jured his wrist in that game and will miss the rest of the sea­son.

Justin Fuente

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