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'Hoos & Hokies Talk at ACC Football Media Days

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UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall
VT football coach Justin Fuente VT football coach Justin Fuente

The University of Virginia football team begins practice in just two weeks.    The Cavaliers only won one ACC game last year and finished with a 2-10 record.

Virginia Tech won the ACC's Coastal Division last year and finished 10-4 after beating Arkansas in the Belk Bowl.

Players and coaches from both the 'Hoos and Hokies talked to the media Friday at ACC Media Days.

Virginia missed the postseason for the fifth straight year last season.   Despite the disappointing finish, safety Quin Blanding decided to forgo the NFL draft and return to UVa for his senior year.

"That's the big picture, a bowl game is where it's at," Blanding says.  "No matter what bowl game it is, at the end of the day you want to hold up that trophy, no matter what kind of trophy it is, no matter how low the bowl game is or how high the bowl game is that's the bottom line, you want to go bowling."

Bronco Mendenhall begins his second season at Virginia.  He knows Blanding's decision to return to UVa is important for the team.

"Whatever is bigger than ginormous, that would be the closest way I could explain that," Mendenhall says.  "I was already in the what if he doesn't come, what would that look like, and I already knew what if he did so I was in the preparation of planning what if."

What does the Wahoo defense have in store with Blanding's return?

"September 2nd you'll see how I will be used and it will be pretty fun to see the things that this defense is going to be like," says Blanding.

The offense may look different too.   Kurt Benkert enters his second season as starting quarterback and is fully recovered from both a knee and shoulder injury.

Mendenhall says, "Kurt looks like what he was before, he runs, he's mobile.  A year ago he couldn't make a defensive lineman miss, he couldn't make one miss and then still have his eyes downfield at the level we wanted him to."

Benkert says, "I'm going to run when I need to run, I know situationally when we need it and when we don't a lot better than I did in the past so I won't put myself in situations where I know I'm going to get killed or get hurt or whatever but my team, whatever they need out of me and I can provide I'm going to do that."

Speaking of running quarterbacks, Virginia Tech must replace its leading rusher from last season which also happens to be their leading passer from last year, Jerod Evans.    With Evans departure, coach Justin Fuente says don't expect the Hokies' offense to look the same as it did last year.

"It's not my job to find a quarterback to fit the scheme, it's my job to get the scheme to fit the quarterback," says Fuente.  "If he can't do certain things than it's our job to adjust the scheme to fit him and that's what we've done."

Fuente has yet to name a starting quarterback for week one against West Virginia.  The competition includes junior transfer A.J. Bush and a pair of freshmen in Josh Jackson and Herndon Hooker.

VT wide receiver Cam Phillips says, "I think it's a great mix of guys, they have their own strengths, their own weaknesses, those guys are working really hard.  The coach will choose the guy that he thinks will best help us win and when they make that choice we'll be all behind him."

Virginia Tech's season opener is Sunday, September 3rd against West Virginia.

Virginia's season opener is Saturday, September 2nd at home against William & Mary.