Cornerback Antone Exum informed Virginia Tech’s coaches that he will return for his senior year, a boost to a Hokies defensive backfield that struggled with depth issues last season.
There is no word yet from Virginia Tech as to what quarterback Logan Thomas and defensive end James Gayle will do. As underclassmen, they have until Jan. 15 to enter their names in the draft.
Exum’s return means the Hokies’ streak of 14 straight years of having a defensive back taken in the NFL Draft will end. The coaches probably don’t mind.
After switching from safety to cornerback last offseason, Exum eventually blossomed at his new position. The 6-foot-1, 224-pound rising senior from Glen Allen earned second-team All-ACC honors by the coaches and media and an honorable mention All-America nod by Sports Illustrated.
After some growing pains early in the season, Exum turned himself into the Hokies’ best cover corner, with 48 tackles, an ACC-best 16 pass breakups and a team-high five interceptions.
That included picks in the Hokies’ last three games. His interception of Michael Rocco in the fourth quarter of the Virginia game set up Cody Journell‘s game-winning field goal as time expired.
He also picked off an overthrown ball by Rutgers’ Gary Nova in the fourth quarter of the Russell Athletic Bowl, returning it 32 yards to set up a Logan Thomas to Corey Fuller touchdown pass that sent the game to overtime, where the Hokies eventually won. Exum was named the game’s MVP.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster hoped both Exum and Gayle would return to be leaders on a Hokies defense that will lose linebacker and senior captain Bruce Taylor.
Exum’s return is a boost to a secondary that reconfigured itself last offseason and was perilously thin thanks to attrition. Kyle Fuller will return at the cornerback spot opposite Exum, with converted corners Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner back in their second year at safety.
Inexperienced corners Carl Jackson, Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning, Davion Tookes and Der’Woun Greene will compete for second-team spots, with prized five-star 2013 commit Kendall Fuller, Kyle’s younger brother, expected to be in the mix right away once he signs.