The Hokies were dealt a damaging blow after the first practice of the season this week as they learned that corner Antone Exum had been ruled out for the season opener against Alabama.
Exum, who was a key piece of the Hokies defense last season, tore his ACL last spring while playing pick-up basketball. It was hoped that he would be recovered in time for him to play in the opener against national powerhouse Alabama, but after a visit with his orthopedic surgeon, it was determined that Exum’s knee is not ready.
"It’s just one of those things that takes time," head coach Frank Beamer said. "I think in a couple months they’re going to re-evaluate, and it just needs to be right for him and for us. It is what it is.”
This news, while not unexpected, is a big blow for Tech’s secondary. Exum was named the MVP of the Russell Athletic Bowl last December after his interception led to the Hokie’s victory.
The most likely candidates to replace Exum are Brandon Facyson, a true freshman, and Donaldven Manning, a sophomore. Right now the players are listed as co-starters on the depth chart.
Though Facyson is only a freshman, he has already impressed coaches with his skills.
“Facyson had a good practice tonight,” Beamer said. “I noticed him a couple of times. I think he is a sharp guy that has some height and ability… Exum is playing at such a high level, but another guy just needs to step up and play at that level too.”
Freshman Kendall Fuller is also looking to get a lot of playing time. He comes to Tech as the No. 2 cornerback in the nation and many thought he would fill in while Exum is injured. However, defensive coordinator Bud Foster wants to start Fuller out at nickelback.
“We want a guy who can be a cover guy and who can run our defense, someone we can bring pressure with – just like his brother (Kyle) did,” Foster said. “That’s when we’ve played our best football, when that guy is a playmaker and can run our defense.”
Beamer agrees with Foster and wants to use talented players like Fuller early on before they can leave for the NFL.
“I think he is a bright, smart guy and the family genes all point to him being a really good player,” Beamer said. “We are going to put him in that position and let him go… When you got good players you need to go ahead and play them.”
Also annouced after practice was that wide receiver Joel Caleb may be taking some snaps as a running back this season, but not in the Alabama game. Caleb has been suspended for one game for breaking team rules.
Caleb has been able to practice with the team and is working on learning the new position of tailback.