When cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee last January while playing pick up basketball, the question on everyone’s mind was, “how will the Hokies face Alabama without their star corner?”
Exum was a pivotal player last season, and it’s easy to speculate that Virginia Tech would not have won the Russell Athletic Bowl without his fourth quarter interception that led to Tech’s only touchdown of the game.
Of course, some fans held out the hope that Exum would have a miraculously speedy recovery and be healthy enough to play on Aug. 31. However, with an ACL surgery, it is hard to predict how long recovery can take.
Accordingly, during spring practice the competition to replace Exum began.
At first, it appeared to be between sophomores Donovan Riley and Donaldven Manning, but once practice started, early-enrolled freshman Brandon Facyson started to impress the coaches.
By the end of spring practice, the top two candidates were Facyson and Manning.
Then, in the summer, a third candidate arrived in Blacksburg.
Five-star commit Kendall Fuller, the fourth and final Fuller brother, started training with his older brother and fellow corner Kyle.
Once preseason practice started Kendall Fuller was prepared and astounded coaches with how ready he was for collegiate play.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster admitted at Media Day that he could not think of another player who came in as ready as Kendall was.
“It is just refreshing to see a guy who has good abilities and tremendous football IQ, come in that early and be ready to go,” Foster said.
At the start of preseason practice it was announced that Dr. James Andrews, a renowned orthopedic surgeon, had declared Exum was not going to be ready for Alabama.
As of Aug. 7, it will be at least two months before Exum will play again.
Exum, who created a rap video about coming back to play Alabama, was not pleased by the news.
“I definitely wanted to play,” Exum said. “I don’t know if I thought it would be two months. That’s not just the first game. That’s a couple of games.”
The rest of the team was disappointed by the news, but not surprised. Kendall says they know someone has to take his spot.
“(Antone) being out is definitely going to hurt the team, just him being around us, but we all know some guys are going to have to step up for the Alabama game,” Kendall said.
In the beginning of training camp the plan was to have Kendall play at nickel corner and the competition for the open corner spot would still be between Manning and Facyson.
However, in the second week of preseason practice, coaches announced that Kendall would also be competing at the corner spot.
The next day, Manning announced that after talking with head coach Frank Beamer he would be transferring. The announcement was not a complete surprise, as Manning had considered transferring before.
That left two true freshmen competing to start at corner against Alabama. Both Kendall and Facyson have been highly praised by all their coaches.
“We’ve got two outstanding prospects, Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller,” Foster said. “I’ve really been pleased with Kendall’s football IQ, his body positioning. He’s just very instinctive, solid technique-wise and has tremendous ability … Those two guys are going to continue to grow. They’re true freshmen, but at the same time they both have a lot of abilities and I’m excited about their futures.”
In the preseason so far, both players have been impressive, but also have shown that they are still freshmen.
Facyson had a diving interception on a pass from Logan Thomas to Demitri Knowles, as well as one solo tackle and a break-up in the open scrimmage on Aug. 17.
Kendall had four tackles and a pass break-up in the scrimmage, but also allowed a touchdown when Josh Stanford got behind him and caught a thirty-yard pass from Thomas.