Justin Hamilton building Virginia Tech defense in his image

Packing away the beloved hardware comes as Justin Hamilton, 38, takes over as defensive coordinator. The Hokies running back, wide receiver and safety from 2002 to 2005 coached safeties last season and will do so again in addition to overseeing the rest of the defense.

And while his allegiance to Foster, who had served as coordinator since 1995, has never been in doubt, Hamilton continues to construct the defense in his image as this incarnation of the Hokies moves another step further from the Frank Beamer era.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that questions Justin Hamilton’s devotion to Bud and appreciation for what Bud meant to him as a player and eventually as a coach,” Fuente said. “It’s not up to him to show that appreciation by the schemes that he chooses to deploy on the defensive side of the ball.

“Justin’s got a different staff. He’s got guys that may teach things slightly different, however that all works out, so it’s up to him as coordinator to take those ideas in and formulate that with his experiences and his beliefs in how best to do things and put that all together, all without spring ball and in the middle of a pandemic.”

The anxiety of scripting his first defensive game plan amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, however, turned to joy at the Hamilton household when he and his wife, Brittany, welcomed their third child, a boy named Ace Henry.

Fuente relayed information of the new addition Monday during a video conference call with local media, reporting that the family celebrated this past weekend, with mother and baby resting comfortably.

Virginia Tech officials have not made Hamilton available to the media since Fuente elevated him to defensive coordinator in December, capping a rapid ascent within the coaching ranks. Hamilton joined the staff in 2018 as director of player development for the defense.

“You can definitely expect 11 aggressive football players getting to the ball,” quarterback Hendon Hooker said. “You can definitely expect them communicating well and taking care of their responsibilities. Coach Ham has done a great job of transitioning those guys to his playbook and his schemes.”

The defense’s first test arrives Saturday, when Virginia Tech plays North Carolina State in the season opener at Lane Stadium. The Hokies were supposed to face the Wolfpack on Sept. 12, but the game was postponed because of a virus outbreak within the N.C. State athletic department.

Hamilton’s group has been weathering myriad issues since training camp began early last month within the Hokies’ football “bubble.” The first blow arrived when cornerback Caleb Farley opted out, citing concerns over Virginia Tech’s virus protocols and how some teammates were engaging in risky behavior, such as going to the beach and coming back to campus without quarantining. The redshirt sophomore, projected to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft, became the first high-profile player to elect to skip the season.

The secondary took another hit early this month when safety Nasir Peoples suffered an undisclosed noncontact injury during practice, ending the redshirt sophomore’s season. Peoples played rover last season and was vying for time as a reserve at the position renamed boundary safety in Hamilton’s system.

Then redshirt junior Devon Hunter was suspended indefinitely after Christiansburg (Va.) police arrested and charged him with two criminal counts, including a Class 6 felony for strangulation of another. Hunter had been in line to start at boundary safety.

Add the possibility of any player — or position group, for that matter — testing positive for the virus or required to quarantine through contact tracing guidelines, and Hamilton’s assignment becomes all the more demanding.

“He learned a lot from Bud, obviously,” said Mark Richt, the former coach at Georgia and Miami and a current ACC Network analyst. “When you hire from within your staff, you have confidence in what’s been going on.

“He’ll I’m sure do a lot of things that they have done in the past. Some of it may just be work ethic, how they go about their practices, how they go about teaching tackling. Everybody wants to talk about scheme, but defense is about getting the guy on the ground.”

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