Text by Krisha Chachra
Photos courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics
There is no question that Justin Fuente feels right at home coaching a winning college football team. As a kid growing up in Tulsa, Okla., he dreamed of being a National Football League quarterback. After playing football himself – first in college and then for the Arena Football League – his dreams morphed into coaching players who might one day be in the NFL themselves. After 29 seasons of Virginia Tech football under Frank Beamer, Hokies all over the nation are waiting to see how Fuente will fare leading the team to victory. Many people are interested in what Fuente will do, but we wanted to spend a few moments learning a little about who he is.
Very direct and to the point, Coach Fuente’s demeanor will tell you he doesn’t really have a minute to spare. His scheduler makes it clear that he has another appointment immediately after this interview. I asked him to describe three of the most important things on his desk: “My laptop, note cards that I use to write to-do lists or ideas and the binder with all the pertinent information about the players, including academic profiles,” responds the new coach, who puts a lot of emphasis on players having good academic standing.
When asked about photos of his wife and kids, he confesses that pictures of Jenny and the girls are still in University of Memphis blue frames – he hasn’t had time to get Virginia Tech orange and maroon replacements. The coach is a busy man, and when not focused on football, he loves to golf and fish. Already he’s turned down several invitations to fish at the New River, but maybe next year after this first season is under his belt. He tries to involve his girls in golfing; he’s taken them to the Blacksburg Country Club so they can spend time together. “I really love being outdoors. Back in Oklahoma, my little sister and I grew up playing around in the yard, and that’s what we want for our girls.”
What about inspiration? Coach explains that when he comes to a roadblock or he’s faced with a hard decision, he normally would speak to his dad to bounce things off. “But if I could meet anyone, it would be Stephen Hawking. I don’t know if I’ll be able to understand [the content of] what he is saying, but I’d love to listen.”
Coach Fuente is incredibly impressed with the pride he’s seen in Hokie students. “It’s remarkable and something I haven’t seen before. I like that in Blacksburg you are never very far from anything – and I mean it as a compliment. It doesn’t take any time getting from one place to another, and I love the way people have welcomed us.”
He’s explored the local scene a little because he knows about the Tijuana Toss on Thursdays at PK’s and likes to grab a bite at Lefty’s. He prefers his food spicy – jalapenos on his pizza, hot sauce on his wings. I told him about the spicy curries of the Indian and Thai restaurants in Blacksburg, and he’s looking forward to trying new cuisine in town. But there’s also a sense that Fuente prefers to stay in sometimes.
“I like to spend time with my family and our dogs, Petey and Bear.” He is slowly getting comfortable in his new residence in Blacksburg. When asked about his favorite vacation spot, the answer summed up what this new coach really values. Where would he like to go if he could go anywhere? Tulsa, Okla. – back with family at home.