Virginia Tech football

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente talks to his team after practice for the Military Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018 at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes in Washington D.C. 

WASHINGTON - Virginia Tech players made the trip to Washington, D.C., with a little extra bounce in their step.

The Hokies had Christmas off - a first during coach Justin Fuente’s tenure - and that came on the heels of an extended conditioning phase of bowl prep earlier in the month with coaches on the road recruiting.

“Yesterday when we came out here in the evening time and did a little bit of running, they were doing cartwheels,” Fuente said. “I didn’t know Hezekiah Grimsley is a pretty good little gymnast. Scared me a little bit. But yeah, they were flying around, bouncing around, having a good time.”

After the team’s first full onsite bowl practice on Thursday at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes — a local college preparatory school in the Washington, DC area — Fuente was happy to report Virginia Tech didn’t suffer any injuries preparing for the bowl back at home in Blacksburg. The Hokies also didn’t have any players miss the trip due to suspension or eligibility issues.

Anyone that wasn’t dealing with a long term injury going into the game against Cincinnati on Dec. 31 is expected to play.

“I guess we already had all our (injuries) earlier in the year, so we got them out of the way,” Fuente said, with a smirk.

Fuente specifically discussed the status of starting left tackle Yosuah Nijman and starting wide receiver Damon Hazelton. Nijman missed the final two games of the regular season with an undisclosed injury. Hazelton was limited to a handful of snaps during the stretch with most of his touches coming in his role as the team’s starting punt returner.

Hazelton didn’t have a catch in either win, but still leads the team in receiving with 45 catches for 745 yards with eight touchdowns. He opened the season tying a program record set by Isaiah Ford with a touchdown in five straight games.

“I feel much better,” Fuente said, about their status. “Nij practiced today. Damon was full go today. So I feel much better than I have that those guys, barring a setback, will be OK.”

Officially official

A recent practice video posted by Virginia Tech’s social media team revealed quarterback Josh Jackson back in uniform.

While Jackson continues to make steady progress rehabbing the broken left fibula he suffered in a Week 4 loss to Old Dominion, don’t expect to see the quarterback on the field in the Military Bowl.

Fuente ruled out the possibility again - he described Jackson’s status in similar terms after the bowl game was announced in early December - on Thursday during a session with the media.

“He’s just not ready to play,” Fuente said. “There’s no way I would feel good about putting him out there. He’s just not cleared and not healthy enough to go play.”

Fuente stressed the decision isn’t tied to how an appearance in the game would impact the quarterback’s medical redshirt possibilities.

“He’s not going to play but not because of that,” Fuente said.

Jackson threw for 575 yards (62 percent) with five touchdowns and one interception in three games before the injury.

A friendly face

Former Virginia Tech linebacker Ken Ekanem was on hand for Thursday’s practice. Ekanem visited with former teammates and posed for a few pictures with the coaching staff.

The current Hokies squad could use a pass-rushing specialist like Ekanem, who finished his career with 32.5 sacks.

“I asked him if he had any more snaps in him,” Fuente said. “It’s good to see the old guys come back. Kenny was not just a very good player but was a good student, a good representation of Virginia Tech and was part of that senior class that went through the transition. And I’m glad to know that he feels comfortable coming back and being around us. It’s always good to see those guys.”

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

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