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Virginia Tech running back Caleb Steward (center) scores a touchdown during the 2019 spring game at Lane Stadium. Steward was one of five Hokies to enter the transfer portal on Wednesday.

BLACKSBURG—Virginia Tech running back Caleb Steward, safety Khalil Ladler along with wide receivers Jacoby Pinckney, wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsley and Phil Patterson have entered their names into the transfer portal.

Steward and Pinckney tweeted out their decisions within one minute of each other on Wednesday night. A source confirmed a report from 247 Sports that Grimsley is also looking to transfer.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Ladler and Patterson also entered their names into the portal.

The news comes after the Hokies reported back to campus for the winter semester. Student-athletes can guarantee their scholarship for the term by enrolling in classes.

Grimsley, a junior, had 10 catches 170 yards with two touchdowns this season. He also was the team’s primary punt returner earlier in the season. He started out the season with a career-best performance—four catches for 98 yards with a touchdown—against Boston College. He caught a career-long 55-yard touchdown pass in the 35-28 loss. He made the SportsCenter top 10 the following week with a one-handed touchdown grab against Old Dominion.

“You talk about a guy that we’re all pulling for, because of how he works and the things that he’s been through,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said in September. “I just … when you see guys have success that we see every day behind the scenes work so hard and we’ve been in their living room, it’s really cool to have ... those are special moments.”

But his production and playing time decreased as the season went on. He had three catches for 12 yards combined in the final 10 weeks of the season.

The Williamsburg native signed with Virginia Tech in 2017 out of Lafayette High School. He played in all 12 games as a true freshman with Tech struggling with depth at wide receiver. He had 53 catches for 691 yards with three touchdowns in his career.

Steward struggled to break out of the pack at running back last year after redshirting as a true freshman in 2018. He had 19 carries for 85 yards and returned one kick for 4 yards. Much of his production came in blowout wins over Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh.

“After much prayer, long thought, consideration, and discussion with my family alongside other wise council, I feel it is best that I enter the transfer portal in order to continue chasing my dream,” Steward posted on social media.

Tech still had six running backs returning after Deshawn McClease left early for the NFL Draft and signed five more in the last month (three of them have already enrolled).

{span id=”docs-internal-guid-738f8684-7fff-135a-bcb6-18d066db9451”}{span}Pinckney was a 4-star receiver out of Dorman High School in South Carolina coming off a redshirt season as a true freshman{/span}{/span}. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder was a part of a loaded receiver group to sign with Virginia Tech in 2019 that included Tayvion Robisnon, Eljiah Bowick and Jaden Payoute.

“Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances and much discussion with my family and others, I feel it is necessary for me to continue my athletic and academic career at another institution,” Pinckney tweeted. “I have entered my name into the transfer portal.”

Tech coach Justin Fuente thought the group would help Tech establish some depth at wide receiver.

“I am pleased with that group, excited for them to get here and get to work,” Fuente said last year. “We have to continue to create some competition in that room. I think these guys are going to do that.”

Pinckney is the first player from the 2019 class to transfer. Fellow 2019 signee William Pritchard signed a medical exemption last month ending his football career.

Patterson and Ladler both saw playing time last season as reserves. Both players were part of Fuente’s first signing class in 2016 (only six players remain on the roster from the class). Patterson caught six passes for 72 yards with a touchdown. Ladler, who was a player on all four special teams units, had 18 tackles (11 solo) with one pass breakup.

Ladler started 11 games for the Hokies at whip linebacker in 2018 playing through various undisclosed injuries that put him on the shelf in the spring. Sophomore Chamarri Conner was named the starter at whip coming out of fall camp.

He came off the bench against North Carolina and two plays in overtime to help the Hokies lock up a win. He tackled Tar Heels running back Michael Carter on a two-point try in the fifth overtime then tackled quarterback Sam Howell behind the line in the sixth overtime.

“I come every day to work preparing like a starter no matter what the situation is,” Ladler said after the game. “Whenever my number is called, I feel like I’m going to be ready each and every time.”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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