Coronavirus cases and contact tracing complicate Va. Tech football’s preparation for Duke

  Coronavirus cases and contact tracing complicate Va. Tech football’s preparation for Duke It’s unclear whether Hamilton missed Saturday ni...

 

Coronavirus cases and contact tracing complicate Va. Tech football’s preparation for Duke


It’s unclear whether Hamilton missed Saturday night’s 45-24 victory at Lane Stadium because of a positive test or contact tracing. Fuente also did not confirm whether Hamilton, who has taken over for the legendary Bud Foster, would be available for this weekend’s game in Durham, N.C.

“You know, we’ll see,” Fuente, during a Zoom call, said of Hamilton being able to coach against the Blue Devils (0-3). “As you all know, I’ve got no say in return dates. Really our athletic department doesn’t. It goes through [chief medical officer Mark Rogers] and through the department of health.

“There’s interviews that go on with all those things. It’s not quite as simple as just test dates. There’s more to it that I don’t get involved in, so we’ll have a meeting this afternoon, and as we go through the week, on each guy, player or coach, we’ll hopefully have a better handle on exactly where we’re at as the week goes on.”

Fuente learned Saturday morning that Hamilton would not be available to run the defense. Also not an option was the Hokies’ most experienced defensive assistant: Tracy Claeys, the linebackers coach who missed the entire week of practice while following virus safety protocols.

So Fuente turned to Ryan Smith, 29, a first-year assistant normally responsible for cornerbacks. Smith’s only experience calling plays before doing so against the Wolfpack came during a scrimmage when the Hokies went through scenarios without Hamilton in charge.

Virginia Tech limited North Carolina State to 139 rushing yards, an average of 3.3 per carry; collected two interceptions; and kept quarterbacks Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman off-balance despite being down 23 players because of positive tests or contact tracing.

“I was a little upset, more for Coach Ham, because I knew how much he wanted to be out there with us,” Hokies safety Divine Deablo said. “But I couldn’t let my emotions [get in the way]. We still had to play a game. Like I said, next man up. Coach Smitty did a great job coaching us.”

Even more taxing for the defense was a secondary that entered severely depleted. Most notable was the absence of standout cornerback Caleb Farley, an NFL prospect who opted out of the season to prepare for the draft.

The situation worsened when ailing starting cornerback Jermaine Waller, a junior, was ruled out, too, leaving Deablo as the only player in the defensive backfield with extensive in-game experience.

With in-person interaction among players and coaches a risky proposition, Fuente this week is conducting meetings mostly through Zoom while installing contingency plans in case Hamilton is unable to travel for the Hokies’ first road game of the season.

“It’s as annoying as can be, but you’ve got to find a way to adjust,” Fuente said. “If you can’t adjust, then you’re not going to give your kids a chance to have success, so those meetings take place via Zoom. We can run some of our position meetings that way as well. It’s really the same for players and coaches.”

Fuente reworked his quarterback rotation in the opener as well, with starter Hendon Hooker out because of an undisclosed medical condition. The junior is on track to practice this week, Fuente said. He declined to specify the nature of the ailment or the number of practices Hooker has missed.

Fuente rotated Braxton Burmeister, a transfer from Oregon, and Quincy Patterson II against North Carolina State. During the weeks leading to the first game, Fuente had said he was planning to play both Hooker, who started eight games last year, and Burmeister throughout the season.

Burmeister left the opener briefly after losing feeling in his throwing hand from cramping. He went to the locker room to get fluids and revealed his mother arrived with mustard packets, which Burmeister consumed for the condiment’s sodium content.

Burmeister completed 7 of 11 passes for 106 yards and ran nine times for 46 yards.

“I had to drink a ton of electrolytes,” Burmeister said. “And I had some mustard, too. It’s just how I know how to deal with cramps because it has a lot of salt in it.”

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