BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech fans haven’t seen the best of Divine Deablo.
Deablo was a mainstay in the starting lineup at free safety for the Hokies last season a year removed from missing most of 2017 with an ankle injury. He started 11 games in 2018 — 10 at free safety and one at whip linebacker — but the season was a series of false starts for the defender.
The third-year sophomore watched Tech’s Week 3 game against Old Dominion from his couch while nursing an ankle injury. He wasn’t in the lineup two weeks later for a much anticipated primetime showdown against Notre Dame because of a hip injury.
“I can honestly say I was never 100 percent last year,” Deablo said, on Tuesday.
Playing through the injuries presented a different set of challenges for Deablo than the ones he faced two years ago. The coaching staff carefully monitored (and limited) Deablo’s practice reps and rarely allowed him to go against the offense. Coach Justin Fuente’s focus was “trying to just find a way to get him through the week.”
Deablo was a productive defender for the Hokies with 55 tackles (4.5 tackles for loss) and two pass breakups, but wasn’t the kind of impact player the coaching staff envisioned.
“It is pretty tough,” Deablo said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m putting my team at risk, but I always try to fight through it and put my team in the best position as possible.”
Deablo joined the secondary after spending his true freshman year at receiver. Much of his playing time in 2016 came as a key special teams contributor. Deablo was one of the first freshman awarded Frank Beamer's no. 25 jersey during the season.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder’s most effective stretch at free safety still might be those first few games back in 2017 fresh off the position change. Deablo had eight tackles, three pass breakups and an interception — he injured his ankle on the play — to become an every down player.
Fuente wants Deablo playing with that kind of confidence again and that means making sure he stays healthy long term. The team took extra measures in recent months to ensure that happens.
“We pulled him out of most of our offseason running and sent him across campus to have him tested for any imbalances,” Fuente said. “Because I felt like he’d been -- I don’t know if this is very scientific, this is just a football coach talking -- but I felt like he’d dealt with so many lower-body issues that he was dealing with more issues because he’d been compensating for the other things. So we just kind of removed him from that and tried to get him as balanced out strength-wise as we could.”
Virginia Tech opened portions of its first two spring practices to the media last week. Deablo had a smile throughout and the safety's cheerful attitude is a direct result of his recent strength and conditioning work.
“When I’m healthy I’m more confident, I’m happy right now,” Deablo said, flashing a grin.
Tech's training staff will monitor Deablo throughout the spring and into the fall to make sure he keeps that confidence.
“We’ve all got our fingers crossed that it continues to go well,” Fuente said. “Nobody deserves it more than Divine in terms of deserving opportunities to have success. Because he’s been through so much and he’s such a great person.”