Justin Fuente

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente gathered his players for a team meeting when they got back on campus for the winter semester.

One of the main topics of conversation was the transfer portal.

Fuente said he made a mistake a year earlier when he failed to address the many changes the NCAA made to the transfer rules in 2018. The NCAA put the transfer portal in place to give student-athletes greater freedom in finding a new home by allowing other schools to contact a player once they put their name into the database.

With everyone on the same page about the transfer rules, Fuente also informed players that they wouldn’t be welcomed back if they put their name into the portal.

It’s a shift from how he approached things last year when he allowed Hendon Hooker and Deshawn McClease back on the team after they initially sought to transfer. Both were key contributors to the team’s success in 2019 with Hooker putting up nearly 2,000 total yards and 18 touchdowns and McClease rushing for a career-high 843 yards and seven touchdowns.

The players that entered the portal in January include wide receivers Damon Hazelton, Hezekiah Grimsley, Jacoby Pinckney and Phil Patterson. Running back Caleb Steward and safety Khalil Ladler also are looking to transfer.

Their careers as Hokies are over.

“You always take things one case at a time,” Fuente said. “There’s always exceptions, unforeseen circumstances, but we aren’t going back down that road right now.”

Fuente expanded on his reasoning later in the afternoon.

“The thing I worry about with some of these kids, I think there is a large number that are misinformed about how it is all going to shake out for them,” Fuente said. “That’s what concerns me. You got guys that aren’t graduates that are late in their career that think things are going to be open for them that quite honestly are not. I think you can see it across the country.”

“The people that are truly invested in their development and have been with them for years are people that are with them. The guys that haven’t graduated that are late in their careers, they are leaving themselves really exposed to being really disappointed.”

Only two of the players that announced they were transferring in January will be eligible next season without a waiver (Hazelton and Ladler).

It’s why he tries to sit down with any of his players thinking about transferring — meetings that often occur with family members as well — before they make a decision about their options. This year he also discussed the topic in the team meeting to underline his thoughts.

“I think they are the ones ultimately paying the price for what this is,” Fuente said. “That concerns me. It’s not about us and our program, it’s about the players that don’t understand what they are entering into. Not all cases are the same. Some are great success stories, I understand that part. I think more often than not those guys are very disappointed with what’s exactly available.”

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

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