BLACKSBURG —When a reporter asked Virginia Tech cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell about the competition for the second corner position this preseason, the Hokies assistant interjected.
“You’re just assuming Farley is going to be the guy?” Mitchell said, referring to returning starter Caleb Farley.
Mitchell then broke an awkward silence by affirming, “I mean, that’s a good assumption.”
Farley is the one truly known commodity in Mitchell’s cornerback room following the defection of last year’s other starter, Bryce Watts, who transferred to North Carolina. For the second year in a row, defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit faces the challenge of playing with young, not overly experienced players at the corner position.
This season, at least for his part, Farley believes he’s more ready to tackle the challenge, starting with the team’s Aug. 31 opener at ACC opponent Boston College.
“Last year, the first game, I think I was feeling a lot of emotions of anxiety and nervousness,” he said. “For this game, I’m truly excited and looking forward to it.
“I plan on being dominant.”
A year of starting experience will do that. Farley started all 12 regular-season games last year and played in the team’s Military Bowl loss to Cincinnati. He finished with 36 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass break-ups.
All that after starring as a high school quarterback in Maiden, N.C., and redshirting in 2017 after suffering a knee injury in preseason camp while playing wide receiver. That offseason, Farley’s mother died following a decade long battle with cancer.
Still, when the Hokies opened the season upsetting Florida State on the road, it was Farley who would earned one of the two starting cornerback positions.
“I played almost like a kid, with potential,” Farley said, reviewing his redshirt freshman season. “Not really playing with the physicality that’s needed at this level. Overall, I felt I played uncomfortable and unsure of myself.”
Being aware of that, Farley expects to make a major jump this season. While senior Jovon Quillen, junior Jeremy Webb, sophomore Jermaine Waller and a host of rookies vie for the second cornerback position, Farley is focused on elevating his game the point where Foster and Mitchell can trust him to be a lockdown cover corner and a physical force against the run.
“There’s a want-to,” Mitchell said. “And the want-to is, ‘How can I raise my football IQ at the corner position.’ You took a young man that had never played the position before, didn’t know our defense, was playing wide receiver. And all of a sudden, we put him in the limelight at corner. And he’s a young man that he’s willing. Very willing.”
The biggest area of improvement Farley and his coaches sought for him going into this season was to be more physical, whether it was pressing receivers at the line or coming up to help in run defense. Tech coach Justin Fuente said he’s pleased with Farley’s work in that area.
“I think he had to improve his overall strength,” Fuente said. “He’s got to be a little bit stronger in the run game. I think he would tell you that. Continue to become a better tackler. He’s a willing tackler. He’s just got to become a better tackler. I think the offseason, his strength numbers have increased. I think that’s giving him more and more confidence when it comes to trying to get guys on the ground.”
Now, a stronger and more confident Farley – he’s 6-foot-2 and up to 207 pounds – believes Tech’s secondary can improve, a year after the Hokies ranked eighth in the 14-team ACC against the pass and had just seven interceptions, the fewest in Foster’s 23-year tenure as defensive coordinator. Those struggles contributed to a 6-7 record, the program’s first losing season since 1992.
Farley said he, Watts and the other young defensive backs grew tired of hearing about how inexperienced the Tech secondary was.
“That was just people putting an excuse out on the table for us,” he said. “We just knew we had to go ahead and mature as players, mentally and physically.”
Now, heading into his second season as a starter, Farley has.