“I understand your reasons for asking,” Fuente said roughly an hour after the athletic department released a statement regarding Hunter’s suspension. “I hope you understand the reasons why I can’t reply, so we’ll have no further comment on that situation.”
Hunter had been tabbed to replace graduated Reggie Floyd at rover in a secondary that already was without former starting cornerback Caleb Farley, who opted out this season, citing concerns regarding Virginia Tech’s safety protocols and some teammates not adhering to them.
Hunter was among the program’s most highly regarded recruits, committing to the Hokies with the enticement of playing for legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster. He played sparingly at whip/nickel as a sophomore before the coaching staff decided to move him back to his more natural fit at rover.
The loss of Hunter leaves either redshirt senior Tyree Rodgers, who played mostly on special teams last season, or redshirt freshman J.R. Walker among potential replacements with Virginia Tech scheduled to open the season Sept. 26 against North Carolina State at Lane Stadium.
Divine Deablo, one of four team captains, is the starting free safety but also could move to rover.
The Hokies coaching staff, most notably first-year defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton, won’t have an opportunity to amend the safety rotation on the field until Wednesday at the earliest after the athletic department paused football practices because of virus-related safety concerns.
Hamilton was elevated to defensive coordinator after Foster retired at the end of last season. He coached safeties last year and retains that responsibility as defensive coordinator.
“I’m not sure yet,” Fuente said when asked about replacing Hunter. “We haven’t been together as a staff yet. We’ve been separate working on game plans and all that sort of stuff. To say that all those things will be fluid is an understatement in terms of continuing to cross-train guys and get guys ready.
“It’s a little early for me to make a call on that right now.”
Hunter’s suspension is the latest disappointing news within the locker room on the heels of the postponement of the originally scheduled Sept. 19 game against Virginia. Both schools mutually agreed to move the Commonwealth Cup showdown to a date to be determined after a spike in cases among Hokies players.
Virginia Tech initially had been scheduled to open against the Wolfpack Sept. 12 until a surge in cases within the North Carolina State athletic department prompted the game to be moved to Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. The Wolfpack also paused football operation for eight days.
Virginia Tech and North Carolina State are the only schools to date in the ACC to have rescheduled a game because of virus concerns within their football programs.
The ACC opened its season this past Saturday and is among three Power Five conferences playing football in the fall, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 having announced cancellation of fall sports.
“You certainly could see the disappointment in our players and in our program when the Virginia game was postponed,” Fuente said. “I know our fans were disappointed. It’s just one of those things we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with this the best way that we can.
“We’ve had it happen to us now once with N.C. State with the full understanding that knowing that the shoe could be on the other foot, and it was. We’ll do our best to move forward.”