When fullback Sam Rogers went down with an ankle injury late in the first half against North Carolina on Saturday, the Hokies called sometimes-tailback, sometimes-fullback Jerome Wright up into emergency duty.
Running backs coach Shane Beamer and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler decided to test his readiness in the locker room at halftime, quizzing him on some formations.
“If we call this, where do you line up?” Beamer described it. “And he immediately got it wrong. So that wasn’t a good sign at halftime. …
“We got that cleared up and said, ‘If you go out there this half, here’s the four things you need to do.’ And then Lefty actually called a couple more things in addition to that for him. So that’s good.”
It’s an overlooked position, but the Hokies have used the fullback much more this year. Rogers’ absence and Wright’s inexperience were just a few of the myriad reasons why the Virginia Tech running game couldn’t muster much success in the second half against the Tar Heels.
“Losing [Rogers] on Saturday, that affected a lot of stuff,” Beamer said. “A lot of our offense the last few weeks has been two tailbacks in the game at the same time and Sam in the game. And we got out of that a little bit when he got hurt, there’s no question about it.”
“We had to run out of some sets we didn’t want to,” Loeffler said after the game.
It might take an act of God to keep Rogers out of Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh. A sideline report on TV Saturday said the freshman walk-on was begging coaches to be put back in the game. Beamer took a recruit out to dinner that night and ran into Rogers, who was still fuming about getting injured and having to miss time.
“You talk about someone who was hurt about not playing on Saturday, that was him,” Beamer said. “Getting hurt crushed him.”
Beamer said he looked out of his office window Monday morning at 7 a.m., only to see Rogers running sprints by himself on the practice field. He was in a blue, limited-contact jersey Tuesday but exceeded expectations.
“He actually did more,” Beamer said. “We actually said in our staff meeting today to let him do a little bit of individual and then let him rest it, and then I look out there in some of the scout team periods and he’s doing scout team work. So I’m confident in him being able to play on Saturday.”
If he can’t, the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Wright might be the next guy up. He’s a freshman from Richmond who prepped for a year at Fork Union, but he’s still very inexperienced.
He was homeschooled from third grade through his junior year by his mom, who also taught 13 other students. (“She was pretty strict with the grades,” he said. “No C’s, no D’s. Nothing lower than an A or B.”) He played football for the Disciples, a team made up of Richmond-area homeschoolers, but as a senior, he enrolled at Highland Springs, a public school.
“Competition-wise, I wanted to see how I was, really,” Wright said. “It was just for myself. My mom didn’t really want me to do it, but she was very supportive of it.”
After spending last fall at Fork Union to hone his football skills, Wright came to Tech and has worked as both a tailback and a fullback. His biggest contribution Saturday came in the passing game, where he caught two passes for 19 yards, including 16 on a slant pattern.
“He did a good job,” Beamer said. “Jerome’s got athletic ability. We’ve gone back and forth. Is he a tailback? Is he a fullback? A few weeks ago we start working him as a tailback more to try to get him more involved with that. …
“He’s really seeing things for the first time. But he showed what he can do, and it’s good to know that you’ve got a guy besides Sam that can go in there and produce.”