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September 18, 2012

Football band of brothers

By: Jimmy Robertson

Football at Tech is part of a family tradition for Corey and Kyle Fuller

Corey Fuller

Most people in southwest Virginia grow up as Virginia Tech fans and most remember their first experiences at Lane Stadium.

They remember the crispness of the autumn air, and the sea of orange and maroon mixed in with the gold and red hues of the leaves on the trees. They remember the smoke from various tailgates and food vendors lazily floating in the air. They remember the scent of hot dogs and hamburgers cooking slowly on grills.

They remember kids wearing their jerseys and catching the football and dodging tacklers on many of this campus’ grassy areas, pretending this day is their day to score the winning touchdown. They remember walking through the iron gates into a football fortress and sitting shoulder to shoulder with folks, who, on that particular day, are family members. They remember the clamor, the undeniable din, that occurs when the Hokies storm out of the tunnel, onto the field, and for the most part, onto victory.

But such experiences aren’t exclusive to residents of the commonwealth’s western flank. Just ask a couple of city kids from Baltimore whose brother happened to be a member of the football squad several years ago, a privilege that afforded them sweet seats around the 40-yard line or so directly behind the Hokies’ bench. They weren’t even teenagers yet, but to them, this was the picture of heaven.

“We loved it,” said Kyle Fuller, a current starting cornerback on Tech’s squad and the brother of former defensive back Vinnie Fuller. “We used to get the turkey legs that they sell and eat those in the stands. We’d go into the locker room after the game. Vinnie would come over and grab us and pull us over the wall. It was a kid’s dream, definitely.”

Corey Fuller, another brother and a backup wide receiver on the Hokies’ team, echoed similar thoughts.

“I remember the first game we came to, and I asked him [Vinnie] what it was like to play in front of that many people. I was amazed at how many people were watching them play football,” Corey said. “He’d always come and grab us over the rail, and we’d go back in the locker room and hang out with the team. That was just the coolest thing ever. We loved to tailgate and throw the football around. I loved it.”

Their eyes sparkle at the memory, so vivid so many years later. Now, Corey and Kyle Fuller play on the same piece of turf that served as the home of many of their older brother’s exploits. Vinnie Fuller – eight years older than Corey and nearly 10 years older than Kyle – played defensive back for the Hokies from 2001-04, earning honorable mention All-ACC honors his senior season and helping the Hokies to their first ACC championship. He went on to play seven seasons in the NFL, most of those with the Tennessee Titans.

Partly because of him and because of the fun they had as kids at Lane Stadium, both Corey, a redshirt senior, and Kyle, a junior, wound up at Virginia Tech. Of course, that’s what brothers do. Once one comes to Tech, the others usually follow suit. In the past 12 years alone, 14 brother combinations found their way to Blacksburg. The sons of Vincent and Nina Dorsey-Fuller were no different.

Yet these two Fuller men took alternate routes. Fortunately, gridiron glory has waited for both.

Growing up in Baltimore, Corey Fuller never dreamed that his college experience would resemble the Wizard of Oz. He never anticipated going down the Yellow Brick Road.

Corey played quarterback for Woodlawn High’s football team, loved basketball and was an All-American on the track and field team. He resembled his father in that regard, as Vincent Fuller ran track at Morgan State.

Blessed with ability and wanting to get his education paid for, Fuller accepted a track scholarship to Kansas, where he planned on training in the triple jump. The Kansas coach had connections, and like any young man, Corey’s dreams took on Olympian proportions.

“One of the Kansas coaches had called me, and I had gone down there for a visit,” Corey said. “He was training other Olympians in my event, so I thought it would be a good chance to go down there and train with people who had been to the Olympics and learn some things from them. That was the main thing that sent me there.”

He went to Kansas on a partial scholarship, one that paid 80 percent of his freight – a rather healthy chunk for an Olympic sport athlete. He actually performed well out there, placing in the top three of the triple jump in six of the eight 2009 indoor meets.

But the Yellow Brick Road had some potholes. He missed home. He missed his family. He missed playing football. The head football coach at the time, the portly Mark Mangino, was agreeable to letting Fuller come out for football, but the track coaches refused.

By then, Kyle – the younger of the two by 18 months – had committed to Virginia Tech. The shrewd recruiting of Tech receivers coach Kevin Sherman led to the Hokies being the first to offer a scholarship to Kyle, and he decided to follow in Vinnie’s footsteps instead of following Corey’s to Kansas.

Kyle then planted a seed, putting thoughts into Corey’s head about joining him in Blacksburg. The idea ultimately sprouted. Their father contacted Sherman about the possibility of Corey coming to Blacksburg and joining the program. Head coach Frank Beamer gave his blessing,

“I knew it would be good for him,” Kyle said. “I thought he’d be more comfortable. I didn’t think he was comfortable being so far away in Kansas. I knew being here and being around me that he’d feel more comfortable.

“I know when he first got here, I used to make sure he was alright. He didn’t have a place to stay when he first got here, so I’d make sure he was good. I know he got used to it, and it shows now.”

Prior to the 2010 season, Corey made his way to Blacksburg and walked on to the Tech football team.

He wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Kyle Fuller

Players on Tech’s current roster often joke that the Fuller brothers don’t talk to each other. They say the two never hang out together – all revelations that are based more in fantasy than fact. The two room together, and while they certainly have their own set of friends, they do the things that brothers do.

But brotherly love doesn’t exactly extend to the football field, even when you go head to head against someone who shares your DNA. They definitely try to get the best of each other, Kyle as the all-conference cornerback versus Corey, the improving wide receiver.

“When we go out, we both put our best foot forward,” Corey said. “I don’t want to lose to him, and he doesn’t want to lose to me. It’s competitive, but we joke about it later. And we teach each other. I’ll ask him questions, and he’ll ask me questions. It’s a competitive, but fun, experience.”

“It’s pretty cool,” Kyle said. “We’re always competing, but it’s always fun. He’s always messing with me, and I’m always messing with him. It’s a lot of fun. We’re used to it because we always competed against each other growing up. He’s trying to make me better, and I’m trying to make him better.”

On the football field, Kyle is the better of the two. Football just comes naturally to him, as it did to Vinnie back during his playing days. He and Vinnie share the bond of being defensive backs, they know defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s schemes and they speak each other’s language. Thanks to help from Vinnie, Kyle has become one of the ACC’s best defensive backs and was arguably the Hokies’ MVP on defense last season. Playing three different positions – cornerback, whip and nickel cornerback – he had 65 tackles, including a team-high 14.5 for a loss, and 4.5 sacks. He added two interceptions.

“Vinnie helped me a lot,” Kyle said. “In high school, you’re a lot better than everybody, but he started making sure I did the little things right – stuff I’d have to be better at when I went to the next level. He’d critique little things that I needed to fix. He’s definitely been a lot of help, particularly when I got here because he had played in this defense.”

Corey hopes the work he put in during the offseason leads to more playing time. He’s worked his way into the rotation at receiver heading into the season, and continues to get better, as evidenced by his five-catch, 82-yard performance against Georgia Tech in the season opener. But while Kyle, a finance major, harbors thoughts of playing in the NFL, Corey, in contrast, plans on following a more traditional path.

“I always wanted to be a sports commentator, but I changed my major to sociology,” Corey said. “I want to go back home and work with younger kids and be a role model to them.

“I worked with the YMCA in Shawsville [Va., a town near Blacksburg] this summer, and it was so much fun. A lot of the kids were from broken families or didn’t have as much as everyone else, and just seeing them smile was amazing. I just love working with kids.”

In the short term, though, there is football to be played by the Fuller brothers. It’s to be played in Blacksburg, at Virginia Tech. That’s become a way of life for the Fuller family, a way that will continue when a fourth Fuller son enrolls next fall.

They will all feel the air and see the autumn leaves and smell the food on the grills before heading into Lane Stadium to watch their favorite team play. It’s become their family tradition, one they enjoy and fortunately for Tech fans, one that will continue into the foreseeable future.


It’s Friday night in the offseason, what are you doing?

Kyle: I’d probably be chilling with a couple of my teammates. Maybe go to the movies or go bowling or chilling at one of the guys’ cribs. Maybe watching TV. We may go out occasionally, but not too often.

Corey: If I’m not on the road at home, I’m likely at a teammate’s house playing video games or hanging out.

Facebook or Twitter?

Kyle: Twitter now. I don’t tweet much, though. Every now and then.

Corey: Twitter. I don’t tweet that much, and I’ve been getting harassed about that lately.

What are you reading these days?

Kyle: I’m not a reader. I hope one day to get into reading. I can’t get myself to read my textbooks, so I know I won’t be reading any regular books. But when I’m older and have some spare time, maybe I’ll get into reading.

Corey: I’m not much of a reader. But I started talking to the team chaplain [Johnny Shelton], and I’ve been reading the Bible every day. That’s one thing I’ve really started reading.

Favorite player?

Kyle: It was my brother [Vinnie]. I like Darrelle Revis, Charles Woodson … I used to like Cortland Finnegan when he was with the Titans.

Corey: In basketball, I’d say Reggie Miller. In football, Randy Moss.

Favorite attribute in a person?

Kyle: Someone who can make me laugh. I like someone who has a sense of humor.

Corey: Someone with personality. I like people who are outgoing and can keep a conversation going.

I’d love to trade places for a day with …?

Kyle: Coach Beamer. He does some fun stuff, at least it sounds like it. He’s always golfing, and he gets to play with the pros. It seems like he has the life.

Corey: Rob Dyrdek. He’s a professional skateboarder. He has a TV show. I watch it every day. He just has so much fun, not a care in the world, and I’d love to spend a day with him.

Who’s the best football player in your house?

Kyle: Me … it’s hard not to say myself.

Corey: I’d say it’s a tie between Kyle and my younger brother. But as for the best athlete, I’d say myself.

In 10 years, what will you be doing?

Kyle: Playing football.

Corey: I have no idea.