BLACKSBURG – Virginia tech coach Justin Fuente describes the process of Zachariah Hoyt landing the job as the team’s starting center as a gradual one.
“When he first started playing football, he was raw, didn’t understand the game or anything like that,” Salem High School coach Stephen Magenbauer said. “Back on the seventh grade team, he was big kid for his size, but nobody knew what he was going to turn into in terms of height. They put him at center and stuck all the way through.”
Hoyt eventually earned the starting job in eighth grade. Other programs might have shifted the lineman to the outside as he grew into the 6-foot-5, 308-pound frame he has today, but Magenbauer kept Hoyt under center.
“We had good lineman at other positions, so we didn’t have to move him to tackle,” Magenbauer said. “We are home grown. Most of kids that are successful for us in high school play on our middle school team. They start at one position and go all the way through. It worked for him, the fact that he played center here gave him an opportunity. It’s rare to find a big kid that plays center in high school anymore.”
When Hoyt visited his alma mater over the summer, he told Magenbauer he was “in the mix” for playing time, but Wednesday’s announcement still came as a surprise.
Kyle Chung looked like a lock to replace three-year starter Eric Gallo at center for much of the offseason. Chung started every game at right tackle last year, but was ready to move back inside after gaining eligibility for a sixth season.
“Last season I would snap, just before and after practice, just in case something happened and I moved back inside,” Chung said, in the spring. “I was there pretty much my whole career. It wasn’t really a hard transition back too.”
Chung is still on the move, but the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder will start at left guard instead. Fuente made it sound like an easy decision on the ACC’s weekly teleconference.
“He’s worked incredibly hard,” Fuente said of Hoyt. “One of the harder workers on the football team. Always doing extra and really has come on in the past year with a knowledge of, and understanding of what we have going on. We are always trying to put our best five out there and we feel he’s one of them.”
While Hoyt only played in three games last season after redshirting as a true freshman, he consistently proved himself in practice splitting reps at the position with Chung.
“We giving exactly the same amount of reps with the twos as we do with the ones,” Fuente said. “Those guys have every opportunity to take spots and prove they belong. Throughout the spring he continued to get better. He had another great summer and entered the fall was really productive.”
Hoyt will make his starting debut Monday when No. 20 Virginia Tech travels to Tallahassee for the season-opener No. 19 Florida State. Magenbauer can’t wait to see his former player in action.
“We are proud of him,” Magenbauer said. “He’s a good ole’ kid. He’s earned that role and we are proud that he went to Salem High School. We are proud that’s he up there going to be a starter for Virginia Tech.”
Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook.