BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente is generally tight-lipped throughout the fall about what transpires on the practice field.
The Hokies had their first scrimmage of the late preseason earlier this week, but Fuente shared next to no details about it when he spoke to the media on Friday.
“Some good and some bad,” he said.
The only reveal: True freshman running back Keshawn King had a “couple nice runs.”
It’s a small disclosure, but an important one for Hokies fans hoping for a more dynamic running game in the fall.
Tech had the 57th-ranked rushing offense in FBS last season (174.3 yards per game) and was ranked 67th in yards per carry (4.36). Those numbers are up from 2017, but not where the coaching staff wants them.
Coveted for the explosiveness he showed as a three-year starter at Oakleaf High School in suburban Jacksonville, Florida, King dominated his prep competition as a senior, running for 2,000-plus yards (8.1 yards per carry).
And he hasn’t disappointed in his first week as a Hokie.
“He’s not scared,” Fuente said. “I mean, he pours it up in there and he’s got some elite quickness. He’s been fun to watch so far. We’ve got a lot of work to do with him, but he’s had a good camp so far.”
The 5-foot-11 King has gained five pounds since arriving in Blacksburg — he’s at 182 pounds according to Tech’s updated roster — but that’s done nothing to slow him down.
“He’s explosive,” Virginia Tech running back Deshawn McClease said. “That’s no question, he’s an explosive guy.”
King is doing exactly what the coaches asked him to do back in December before he signed.
“They said I got to play the way I play,” King said, in an interview with The Roanoke Times before early signing day. “Take the workouts and things serious. Learn the playbook and I’ll be ready to go.”
Virginia Tech vaulted to the top of King’s list during his recruitment over the likes of Miami and Ole Miss when Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen pledged to have an open competition at running back .
That was all King needed to hear.
“I know I work hard, I know I work hard I can get it,” King said. “I always told myself to be the best at what you do.”
While King is confident in his abilities, he’s also turned heads for his humble in approach through the first six practices.
“He’s still going out there and working with his head down,” McClease said. “He’s not overly confident. He’s not too cocky. I think he’s right where you want him to be at — every day he goes out there and gets better at something. He has a bright future.”
King’s approach is on display as he works to learn the finer points of the position as well.
“Being an every down back and running the ball occasionally are two different things,” Fuente said. “But what I have seen is he’s a willing blocker. He is. He’s not scared to run up there and throw what weight he does have around.”
Speedy receiver transferring
Virginia Tech wide receiver DeJuan Ellis entered his name in the transfer portal a week into fall camp.
A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed the news on Saturday afternoon. Evan Watkins of 247 Sports was first to report Ellis’ decision.
Ellis, a former quarterback, switched positions to wide receiver and was working in the slot. The 5-foot-11, 178-pounder was considered the fastest player on the team, according to his teammates.
The Maryland native redshirted as a true freshman with the coaching staff committed to giving him time to learn his new position.
“He’s exceptionally fast, but there’s a level of playing at that speed that he’s got to make himself go do,” Fuente said, during the spring. “That’s easier said than done. You think you just walk out there to go hard and he’s going to do it, but there’s a lot of things going through his mind in terms of technique and what he’s trying to do. Making that concerted effort to run off the ball and understand effort and the discipline it’s going to take to play is the first thing we have to get through.”
Ellis is the third Virginia Tech wide receiver to transfer since the end of last season — last year’s No. 2 receiver Eric Kumah left for Old Dominion and Sean Savoy transferred to Maryland — but Tech remains loaded with talent at the position thanks to a talented 2019 signing class that included four talented receivers.
Freshman Tayvion Robinson is already pushing for playing time as a punt returner and is working at slot behind expected starter Hezekiah Grimsley. Grimsley is working with the first team alongside Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner.