End of the grind

Thumb and ankle injuries were the reason Bryan Hudson didn’t start for Virginia Tech against Kentucky in the Belk Bowl.

Scott County fans who were looking forward to the mixed emotions of seeing native son Bryan Hudson suit up for Virginia Tech against Kentucky in Tuesday’s Belk Bowl instead had another one added to their plate.

When the Virginia Tech offense took the field for the game in Charlotte, North Carolina, televised nationally on ESPN, Hudson was nowhere to be seen.

Neither Hudson nor fellow true freshman Doug Nester. both of whom started the final 10 games and earned first or second-team recognition on multiple freshman All-America teams, appeared in the lineup.

Both saw only limited action in the game, won unforgettably by UK, 37-30, on a go-ahead touchdown pass by do-it-all quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. in the closing seconds.

The reasons for the surprising switch came into focus when Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente met with the media in the days following the game.

Fuente disclosed that Hudson was hampered by a broken thumb on his snapping hand — an inconvenience he played through in the final two games of the reguiar season — as well as ankle troubles from the wear and tear of the Atlantic Coast Conference campaign.

“You know, those two freshmen lineman are just, they’re at the end of the year,” Fuente was quoted as saying in a story by Mike Niziolek of the Roanoke Times. “They’re not injured and out, they can play, but they’re true freshman guys that were at the end of the year, and those things kind of took a toll on them.”

Hudson and Nester both were pressed into action in September due to injuries and ineffectiveness from other players at their center and guard positions, respectively.

They started the final 10 games, including a stretch in which the Hokies won seven of eight games. A last-minute loss to rival Virginia was all that prevented Virginia Tech from a berth in the Orange Bowl.

“Bryan has a broken right thumb, and it’s been broken for a while,” Fuente said. “He’s been trying to handle snaps. His ankle is banged up.”

Quarterback Hendon Hooker, another successful midseason replacement, described Hudson as a “trooper” in the same story.

“In our program, no excuses and no feelings,” Hooker said. “You just got to push through everything,”

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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