BLACKSBURG— If this proves to be the season Virginia Tech finally gets its one vaunted running game back to form, it could be one of the program’s youngest players at the center of that revival.
Running back Keshawn King is one of as many as eight true freshmen on the Hokies’ two-deep depth chart for Saturday’s season opener at ACC foe Boston College.
“He’s not scared,” Fuente said. “He pours it up in there and he’s got some elite quickness. He’s been fun to watch, so far.”
At 5-foot-11 and just 182 pounds, King may be a little too small to be an every-play back this season. There are questions about his blocking. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be packages and situations where the Hokies feature the four-star prospect out of Florida.
“That will be figuring out what he can handle and what we can put him in there to do,” offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said. “He’s got to continue to come on as a guy who can do everything that we want him to do, but until we get to that point, we’re going to have to be careful.”
The NCAA’s redshirt rule, adopted before last season, allows players to compete in up to four games without using a year of eligibility, so just because a freshman plays Saturday, it doesn’t mean they won’t redshirt.
Tech played nine true freshmen four or more games last year, including starter at linebacker Dax Hollifield, wide receiver Tre Turner and offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. Others, like Armani Chatman, contributed on special teams but still were able to redshirt.
Chatman played in two games and didn’t lose a full year of eligibility.
“It helped us last year, quite honestly, with as thin as we were, to be able to play guys like Armani Chatman,” Fuente said. “To still get to redshirt, that was huge for us and for Armani.”
This year, Tech has a whopping 37 true freshmen on its roster and a number of them – like defensive back J.R. Walker – figure to contribute, at the least, on special teams.
But, based on the initial depth chart, others could be in line for even bigger roles.
At running back, King is behind co-starters Deshawn McClease and Jalen Holston.
True freshman Tayvion Robinson could see time as a receiver and as a punt returner and tight end Nick Gallo is listed behind co-starters Dalton Keene and James Mitchell.
“We’re telling him that he better be ready to play,” tight ends coach James Shibest said of Gallo. “If we’re playing two tight ends more … we’re definitely going to need the bodies in there. As far as intelligence and knowing what to do, he’ll be able to do that. And physically, too, he’s come in in good shape and strong.”
Maybe the biggest surprise is that Tech has five rookies on the offensive and defensive line that could play Saturday against the Eagles. Normally, offensive and defensive linemen need that first year in college to add weight and increase their strength.
But this season, Tech is thin on the defensive line, where it expects to insert junior college transfer DaShawn Crawford into the starting lineup. Three true freshmen will be backups – Josh Fuga, Norell Pollard and Mario Kendricks.
Offensively, true freshman Doug Nestor is listed as the Hokies’ backup at right guard and fellow rookie Bryan Hudson is a backup at tackle.
“Unfortunately, some schools I’ve been at, yes, I’ve had to play a freshman in the first game,” offensive line coach Vance Vice said. “You don’t get much sleep.”