Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum’s hopes of being back for the Alabama opener are over.
Exum, who tore his ACL, lateral and medial meniscus and broke a bone in his right knee playing pickup basketball in January, went to Pensacola, Fla., on Monday to have his six-month checkup with orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.
The news wasn’t what Virginia Tech fans were hoping to hear.
“Upon exam, he still feels like Antone is a little ways away, strength-wise and trusting the knee,” Virginia Tech head athletic trainer Mike Goforth said. “They recommended increasing certain exercises and re-testing in [1½ to] two months.”
That means the All-ACC cornerback’s target return date, the Hokies hope, will be closer to the start of ACC play, when Virginia Tech plays Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Sept. 26.
Even then, the team wasn’t making any promises.
“A typical ACL can be 6-8 months,” Goforth said. “What he had can sometimes be 8-12 months. And he doesn’t want to believe that. That’s typical Antone. But that just leads to his motivation and toughness. … We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Exum earned second-team All-ACC honors in his first year at cornerback last season, leading the team with five interceptions and the ACC with 16 pass breakups. But he injured his knee playing pickup basketball in January and underwent surgery Feb. 5.
He hoped to be back in time for the opener against Alabama on Aug. 31, but that would have been on the quick end of his rehab schedule.
The senior spent a month this offseason in Arizona at the Fischer Sports Training Facility trying to get his knee back in shape. He said he was “65 percent” healthy after a round of tests in the middle of July.
Goforth said Exum had only one “bad” day of rehab since coming back to Blacksburg, a workout when he pushed himself a little too far too fast.
“I think that was just kind of a wakeup call for him,” Goforth said. “I’m very sad for him, but it doesn’t surprise me. Objectively, I think it’s the right thing.”
Goforth had a feeling it might take that long.
“But I didn’t want to tell him that, for multiple reasons,” he said. “The kid is so focused on playing. I mean, he’s as focused as anyone we’ve ever had rehabbing. He comes in, he gets his work done, he doesn’t say a word….
“But with the ACL, the bone bruise that he had and the microfracture procedure, that’s a lot right there. Plus a cartilage repair. I was thinking and 8 to 9 to 10-month deal.”
When Exum returns to Blacksburg on Wednesday, the training staff will set up a rehab regimen.
“I’d like to see him go out there and do some individual drills, but he’ll have no contact with other guys,” Goforth said. “Individual periods are the best sports-specific rehab we can do, but he won’t be in any team-type stuff. Maybe we can get him in some team scout, but no team varsity or scrimmages.”
Virginia Tech will look to redshirt freshman Donaldven Manning and true freshman Brandon Facyson to replace Exum.
“You’re going from, ‘Maybe I’m getting these guys ready,’ to, ‘Oh [shoot], they’ve got to get ready,’” defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said. “I’ve got a little bit of anxiety, but somebody normally steps up. …
“And if one guy’s not ready, you have to play a couple of guys as a combination. One guy might not be ready to play 60 plays, but if you get 45 and 15 or 30/30, they’ll determine that, who will play.”
Kendall Fuller, a five-star talent who signed last February, figured to be in that competition but will instead get a featured look as a nickelback, which doesn’t sound like it will be a limited role.
He was listed as co-No. 1 on the depth chart with Ronny Vandyke at whip linebacker, the spot in the regular defense that the nickelback replaces.
“When we’ve been good, we’ve been able to execute at that position,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “When we haven’t been good, we have been trying to piece work it, so to speak. …
“I’m hoping he’s going to be that five-star guy that we’re all counting on. If he is, then he’s going to be a dynamic player for us. We’re just going to give him that opportunity.”