MIKE BARBER Richmond Times Dispatch

In Brent Pry’s first season as Virginia Tech football coach, the Hokies had won five games by less than a touchdown. They lost the first four of those before beating Liberty 23-22 in what turned out to be the season finale.

That win is an example of why Pry believes Year 1 has positioned his program to make big strides in 2023.

“I haven’t been around a team that was 3-8 and has that much momentum and that much excitement in the off-season,” Pry said this week. “There’s a pretty good feeling buzzing around here right now.”

Pry said it shows in his team’s attitude and approach to this off-season, Tech’s dealings in the NCAA transfer portal, and the reaction of recruits, particularly around the commonwealth of Virginia.

Despite winning only three games, against Boston College, Wofford and Liberty, and going 1-6 in the ACC before the game against rival Virginia was canceled following the deaths of three players in a campus shooting.

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For Pry, who spent the past 11 seasons as defensive coordinator at Penn State, Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern, the biggest adjustment to becoming a head coach was simply the magnitude of his responsibilities.

“All those years as coordinator, you had a staff of about 10. You had 45 players on my side of the ball,” said Pry, who took over a Tech program that had gone 25-25 the previous four seasons. “You do some of the same things, but there’s just more to it. Keeping everyone on the same page and protecting your culture. We are still learning and growing together as a staff.”

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For Pry, part of that growth has been in clock management, especially late in games. Questionable decisions on that front against Old Dominion and West Virginia cost the Hokies and raised questions about Pry’s choice to retire on the defensive as head coach.

At the Liberty game, Pry had handed over defensive play-calling responsibilities to new coordinator Chris Marve.

“I definitely learned a lot,” Pry said. “Some mistakes were made for sure. You hope that you learn from it and that you grow from it and that you make better choices and decisions. The Liberty game for me, that was the right decision to have Chris call it.

With play-calling off his board, Pry was able to oversee the entire team, play a greater role with the special team units, and have better clock management over the course of the stretch.

“We’ve got our feet a little wet with what this thing will look like in 2023,” said Pry, who confirmed that Marve will decide defensive plays this season. “We have all learned and grown a lot as staff. There is certainly a lot more we can learn, and we will, but a lot of progress has been made.”

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Immediately after taking the Tech job, Pry received critical acclaim for his presence – on campus, in the community, with boosters, with former players, and on the recruiting trail. He seemed to enjoy the role of front-and-center, the face of Hokies football. A season later, he said he still enjoys those non-football parts of his job, and they remain important to him.

“This is a two-way street. We need the support of this community, the fan base, the high school coaches,” Pry said. “You get that by being transparent and letting them understand where you stand as a program. We are in this together.”

There were only two areas where Pry felt unprepared as a rookie head coach, and that was because they are new challenges in college athletics: the transfer portal and the name, image, and likeness landscape.

Pry said that of the 19 players Tech had entered the portal, only one the team was actively trying to retain. Pry said NIL factors played a role in that player’s decision. (He declined to name the player.)

Tech added Baylor quarterback Kyron Drones, ODU wide receiver Ali Jennings, Middle Tennessee wide receiver Jaylin Lane, Norfolk State wide receiver Da’Quan Felton, North Carolina A&T running back Bhayshul Tuten and Georgia Southern cornerback Derrick Canteen as transfers.

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Pry said he expects Drones to compete with returning starter Grant Wells for the runway this spring.

“He’s going to make Grant better. Grant’s going to make him better,’ Pry said. “And we have a healthy quarterback league.”

Improved quarterback play, more production from the wide receiving corps and a better passing rush are three of the areas Pry said Tech is focusing on this offseason. Those will be the keys if the Hokies are to win more games in Pry’s sophomore season.

“So many people recognized the progress we’ve made,” Pry said. “I don’t know if there is more excitement around a 3-8 team in the country than there is around ours. Being on the recruiting trail in December and January, we felt it.

Remark: Virginia Tech added a recruit on Wednesday, marking the start of NCAA Division I football’s second signing period. Junior-college defense end James Jennette of College of the Canyons in California tweeted Wednesday that he has signed with Tech.

Jennette, who is from North Carolina, began his college career at William and Mary. He is rated by 247sports.com as the No. 8 junior college recruit in the country.

Mike Barber (804) 649-6546

[email protected]

@RTD_MikeBarber on Twitter

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