It’s already been a hectic offseason for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Just three weeks removed from their bowl loss to Kentucky, the Hokies have lost star receiver Damon Hazelton to the transfer portal, while running back Deshawn McClease and tight end Dalton Keene declared for the NFL Draft.
Then, there was the whole dalliance between head coach Justin Fuente and Baylor. This is all in addition to the retirement of Bud Foster and the promotion of Justin Hamilton to defensive coordinator.
I am sure we are leaving out some things, but news picked up again on Wednesday when three Hokies hit the transfer portal: Wide receivers Hezekiah Grimsley and Jacoby Pinckney and running back Caleb Steward.
Of those, Pinckney is perhaps the only surprise. A four-star receiver from Roebuck, S.C., Pinckney was a big addition to the class of 2019. Due to depth at the position, Pinckney redshirted in 2019, but with the defection of Hazelton, this spring was going to be an important one for several young receivers.
There have been rumblings that perhaps the coaches weren’t encouraged by his development. Nonetheless, Pinckney hits the portal and doesn’t appear to be open to returning.
Steward, a redshirt freshman from Jacksonville, Fla., redshirted in 2018 and played in five games in 2019. He carried the ball 19 times for 85 yards. With the recent additions to the backfield, he was not expected to be a significant part of the future.
The most accomplished player to enter the portal on Wednesday was Grimsley. The junior from Lafayette High in Williamsburg, played in 35 games for Virginia Tech, making six starts during his three years. He played in 12 games as a freshman in 2017, catching 12 passes for 139 yards.
As a sophomore in 2018, Grimsley had a breakout season of sorts. He played in 11 games, making five starts, caught 31 passes for 382 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 75 yards. He was expected to have an even bigger role in 2019 and his season started off well as he caught four passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in the season-opening loss at Boston College.
However, Grimsley was passed on the depth chart by freshman Tayvion Robinson and finished his junior season with just 10 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Grimsley also dealt with his mother’s health concerns, per Norm Wood of the Daily Press back in September.
It’s been real Much love Virginia Tech ✊ ❤️ pic.twitter.com/BDKB3kldcm— Z (@Honcho_Hez) January 22, 2020
Grimsley is a great kid and we all hope things improve with his mother and he catches on somewhere quickly. He is a good football player and could have a future in the NFL.
Well, things didn’t end there as two more Hokies hit the portal. Junior receiver Phil Patterson and rising senior defensive back Khalil Ladler announced their intentions to leave Blacksburg, too.
Patterson, a rising redshirt senior, never found consistent playing time with the Hokies. For his career, the Virginia Beach native played in 26 games, catching 27 passes for 269 yards and two scores.
Ladler, much like Grimsley, had an accomplished career at Virginia Tech. Ladler, who was recruited as a cornerback, came to the Hokies in the class of 2016 from the IMG Academy in Florida. He was a national recruit until a knee injury ended his high-school career and the Hokies stuck by Ladler.
He redshirted in 2016 and played in every game, making two starts. In 2018, Ladler moved into the starting lineup at whip linebacker, making 11 starts and playing in every game. In 2019, he again played in every game, however, was behind Chamarri Conner at whip. He still contributed and was absolutely one of the reasons why the Hokies defeated North Carolina in Lane Stadium.
In the overtime periods, Ladler made three game-saving plays to give the ball back to the Virginia Tech offense. That was an electric atmosphere in Blacksburg on that day.
Before fans begin panic and complain on social media, please just relax. None of these five players were starters heading into 2020. Ladler and Grimsley were former starters who could still help the team, but were not figured prominently into the team’s plans moving forward. Patterson and Steward were not either. Pinckney had a chance, so perhaps his departure is the most worrisome. Yet, fans shouldn’t be too concerned.
The Hokies have been over the scholarship limit for awhile. Attrition was going to happen. We’ve seen multiple medical retirements already and we probably aren’t quite done yet. The biggest surprise of the offseason was Keene. And he didn’t leave because he was unhappy here, but because he received favorable feedback regarding his NFL Draft potential.
No one expected Hazelton back. His loss hurts, but most figured he would an early draft entry. McClease was really good in 2019, but it made no sense for him to come back for a sixth season. He left Blacksburg on good terms.
The transfer portal is a part of college football, for better or worse. The Hokies benefitted from a couple of addition already this offseason with Khalil Herbert and Raheem Blackshear. Both are expected to be a big part of the offense in 2020 and made some of today’s departures expendable.
Expect Virginia Tech to continue monitoring the portal for possible additions who can help in 2020.
Best of luck to each of these five kids as they move forward with their football and academic careers elsewhere.