BLACKSBURG — As Virginia Tech running back Keshawn King and coach Justin Fuente were walking off the field to the team’s meeting room after Saturday’s win, Fuente shook King’s hand and patted him on the back.
The pat on the back was well-earned.
King, a true freshman, rushed for 119 yards on 12 carries to help the Hokies rally past FCS member Furman 24-17 at Lane Stadium.
“I’ve got to give my O-line all the credit. Them boys showed up to play,” King said. “They did every assignment right and it led to a breakout for me.”
It was the first time this season that any player on the Hokies (2-1) ran for at least 100 yards.
Reaching that milestone was a rare occurrence last season. Only twice last year did any Hokie run for at least 100 yards.
So Fuente was encouraged by King’s outing.
“I was really, really excited about him,” Fuente said. “He did a great job. He’s competitive. He’s tough. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he runs hard. He’s elusive.”
The 5-foot-11, 177-pound King might have wound up with even more yards. But with Tech up 17-14, he left the game late in the third quarter with a bruised right leg.
“It’s all right,” King said of his leg.
“He said he could go back in,” Fuente said. “He’s going to be sore.”
The FCS scholarship limit is 63 grants — 22 fewer than FBS teams can pass out. So fans no doubt hoped Tech would be able to blow out the Paladins (1-2).
But that was not the case. Tech trailed Furman 14-3 at halftime.
“We love adversity because we respond to it,” King said.
King spoke to the offensive linemen at halftime.
“I told them to go hard, get to the second level, move them ’backers out of the way. And they did exactly what I said and they got the results,” King said. “You give them pep talks and then you tell them what they need to do.”
King had only six carries in the first half, so Fuente decided to give him the ball more in the second half.
King delivered. He helped the Hokies score a touchdown on their first possession of the third quarter.
After bursting up the middle for a 15-yard run, King took off for a 54-yard run that moved the Hokies to the Furman 14-yard line.
“[The hole] really opened up,” King said of the 54-yard run. “I had the vision. I [had] seen it and I hit it full speed.”
Three plays later, King had a 2-yard gain on third-and-1 from the Furman 5. James Mitchell then scored on a 3-yard run to cut the lead to 14-10.
King averaged 9.9 yards per carry Saturday.
“He really gave us a spark in the second half,” Tech quarterback Ryan Willis said. “That kid’s a freak athlete. He’s quick. He’s got good vision. … I see it every day in practice — the kid’s explosive and can break a run any time. I was really proud of that little [15-yard] run to the right — he shed like three defenders. I was like, ‘This kid’s like a buck-80 [180 pounds], knocking guys off of him. He’s a fighter. He runs hard.”
King had run for 33 yards on 10 carries in the opener at Boston College and rushed for 23 yards and one touchdown on six carries against Old Dominion.
He said he exhibited more patience Saturday than he had in those two games.
“I was rushing things at times [the first two games]. … I wanted it so bad I was not being patient,” King said. “So I just took my time. I read the blocks.
“I learned you have to wait before you just explode through the holes. You’ve got to let blocks play out. So once I started to follow my blocks and understand you have to give your blockers time, … it was over with.”
In the win over ODU, Fuente had pulled King in the second quarter after King put the ball on the ground. King did not return until the fourth quarter, and did not get another carry in that game.
King learned his lesson.
“It made me hold onto the ball,” King said. “We went over a lot of ball security drills during the week and it just made me better.”
After Saturday’s performance, Tech has reason to feel optimistic about King.
And King is optimistic about his team.
“We got the grit,” he said. “We don’t give up. … I have a lot of pride, joy, hope, all of that, for this team. I know that we’re going big places.”