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Justin Fuente isn’t the most popular guy in Blacksburg these days, and some of it is of his own doing. The main part is obviously a losing record last year and getting beat this season by Duke like a pack of rented mules.
The other is his reserved, introverted personality, which has led some to question his ability to relate to recruits, thus causing issues in getting the region’s best players to want to come play for him at Virginia Tech.
Mike Niziolek of the Roanoke Times had this interesting feature on starting quarterback Hendon Hooker today, and I walked away impressed with how Fuente handled the situation with Hooker and his family when Hooker decided to enter the transfer portal for a brief time earlier in the year.
Fuente doesn’t want to talk about the situation and tends to brush off any questions about that time in the transfer portal. His father Alan, however, is more than glad to speak of it, saying this of Fuente:
"… He’s held up to be the guy he said he was when he recruited Hendon,” Alan Hooker told Niziolek. “He’s always going to tell us the information whether it’s good or bad. He’s never given us information to tickle our senses. He’s always said what it is, this is what Hendon needs to work on and this is where he’s at. He’s always believed in Hendon’s talent.”
So he didn’t blow smoke at the athlete, give him a sales pitch on all the blue sky that was just around the corner and make promises that might not be kept. I really like the line about Fuente being the same he was when he recruited Hendon. Too many people act one way before signing, and an entirely different way when you’re just one of the many on the roster. Fuente was consistent from start to finish, something I’d take note of as a potential recruit.
Hooker also mentioned that when it came time to talk to Fuente about his son’s status, Fuente didn’t just invite him into his office and have a closed door meeting between the two of them. Knowing such a decision affected the entire family, he invited them all to join in the conversation.
“To Coach Fuente’s credit, when we talked about the portal situation, he invited the entire family,” Alan Hooker said to Niziolek. “How much more can you say about a guy that will do that? At the end of the day, a lot of people will think about the wins or losses. The Hooker family is going to think about how we were treated. He has to make tough decisions every single day and sometimes it may not be favorable, but he’s always truthful and that’s what I appreciate.”
I think many people struggle with what kind of coach Fuente is because he’s not Mr. Personality. He appears quiet, reserved, unemotional, sometimes even gruff on the sidelines. He’s not a media darling, as he acts at press conferences as if he’s being forced to watch several Hallmark Christmas movies with his wife, hoping somehow there will be a power failure and it all can be ended early.
This has led others to extrapolate that Fuente can’t relate to today’s athletes and that the problems the Hokies have now are directly related to him. Some of that may be true, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’re the most popular man in the world, or the guy on Twitter with 2 followers. You have to win football games.
But it was refreshing to read this about Fuente. With Hooker, at least, he’s been a straight shooter from the first meeting until the present. He didn’t try to hide anything, inviting the entire family so there could be no misunderstanding when the story got retold from athlete to mom and dad. Consistent, direct, straight shooter, open and honest.
That’s somebody I’d want to play for. That’s somebody I’d want my son to play for too.