The NCAA allows Division I football teams 29 preseason practices.
Virginia Tech coaches needed only 11 to settle on redshirt freshman Josh Jackson as the starting quarterback.
“Looking back over his development, I’ve just been pleased with his consistency, his demeanor, his ability to process information,” coach Fuente said Monday at a previously scheduled news conference.
“And some of the things that we gave him to work on over the summer, I think he made improvements on. It’s time for us to get those guys working together, in terms of the first unit. The things that I’ve talked to Josh and all those guys about, whatever we do, whoever we name, that person still hasn’t proved anything on the field.”
Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen informed Jackson of the decision at 12:30 p.m., a half-hour before the head coach went public and three days after an intrasquad scrimmage.
“It’s kind of a surprise, to be honest,” Jackson said. “I thought it was just a regular Monday.”
Jackson would be the first Tech freshman quarterback to start an opener since Michael Vick in 1999 against James Madison. The Hokies’ first game is Sept. 3 against West Virginia at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
Fuente and Cornelsen have a history with freshman quarterbacks starting. Paxton Lynch won the job at Memphis in 2013, Fuente’s second season as the Tigers’ head coach.
Lynch struggled as a redshirt freshman with a poor supporting cast, and Memphis finished 3-9. But he excelled as a sophomore and junior, led the Tigers to 19 combined victories and declared for the NFL draft, where he was a first-round selection by the Denver Broncos.
“I think within the last two or three (practices), it was starting to lean (Jackson’s) way,” Cornelsen said. “ It was a toss-up going into (August practice), and he executed. He executed, he took care of the ball. Ultimately, at that position, being able to play well and give our team a chance to win is what is kind of at the top of the list for us. …
“It probably happened a little earlier than maybe what I was anticipating.”
Last year, Fuente named junior-college transfer Jerod Evans the starting quarterback on Aug. 25. Evans went on to set Tech season records for passing yards (3,542) and touchdown passes (29) while leading the Hokies to a 10-4 record and the ACC Coastal Division title.
Evans also rushed for a team-high 846 yards, most ever by a Tech quarterback, and with continuing questions at running back, Jackson may need to be a dual threat this fall.
“I think I can run the ball fine,” said Jackson, who, at 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds is significantly smaller than Evans. “I think I have decent instincts with it. I’m not 6-4, 240, or anything like (Evans), but I think I can get the yards that need to be (gained).”
Jackson prevailed in a three-man competition with true freshman Hendon Hooker and JUCO transfer AJ Bush. Fuente said Bush is the leading candidate to back up Jackson, which would allow the Hokies to redshirt Hooker.
Fuente has described Bush as among the roster’s best athletes, so he could contribute to the rushing attack as an occasional wildcat quarterback.
Jackson’s father, Fred, has coached football for more than 40 years, including 23 at Michigan in various roles, including running backs and offensive coordinator. Among the Wolverines he coached was Scot Loeffler, who recruited Josh Jackson when he was the Hokies’ offensive coordinator under Frank Beamer.
Fred Jackson wore No. 17 as a quarterback at Jackson State, the same number his son will wear in his honor.
“I would say that you could tell he was raised in a balanced household,” Fuente said . “A (football) household with some perspective. Raised the right way, in terms of respecting people and treating people the right way.
“There is an element of, I do believe that he spent a lot of days at football practice watching good players practice. And I think you can’t help but have some of that rub off on you. But I guess when I’m around Josh, I don’t think immediately that he came from a football household. But I think immediately that he came from a very good one.”