- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

First-year Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente has been impressed with how fans of the No. 23 Hokies show up everywhere they play.

They’ll likely be well-represented Saturday at Duke.

The schools are separated by about 165 mostly highway miles, so it’s not a hard trip. And while Duke (3-5, 0-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) is having an off year after recent success under coach David Cutcliffe, the Hokies (6-2, 4-1) are experiencing a resurgence and in position to capture the league’s Coastal Division title.

The Blue Devils have struggled to fill their 40,000-seat stadium, and with their last three home crowds averaging nearly 18,000 empty seats, that historically means lots of room for fans clad in maroon and orange.

“Oh, it’s been great,” Fuente said of the following, which also made its presence known last Thursday night at Pittsburgh. “… It was kind of odd last week. Usually they’re all kind of in one spot. Last week, they were kind of separated throughout the stadium. I’ve said this before, but it’s very nice to work at a place that really wants to support what your kids are doing on a weekly basis, whether they’ve got to drive a couple hours or not. Our kids certainly notice it. I know that.”

It helps that the Hokies are back in the Top 25 after several seasons of struggling heading into November, and sometimes even into the final game, just to keep their bowl streak going.

Already assured of extending their nation-best streak to 24 straight bowl appearances, they have set their sights higher. Though they aren’t looking ahead, earlier this season they climbed to No. 17 in the Top 25 , then stumbled mightily at Syracuse, losing 31-17 .

Wide receiver Isaiah Ford said everyone remembers how deflating that defeat was.

“Any time that thing’s come about that we’re talking about … the game this week, that’s the first thing that comes out is, ‘Hey, you know what? We’ve had this happen to us before. And let’s learn from it,’” he said.

Syracuse, however, is a nearly 600-mile drive from Blacksburg, Virginia, and Ford, a junior, has come to count on the Virginia Tech fan base being well represented, especially in games a reasonable distance away.

“Every game is a home game when you play at Virginia Tech,” the program’s career leader with 23 touchdown receptions said. “Our fans travel and they travel well and travel in packs. And it’s amazing and it’s a privilege. When our fans are cheering louder than theirs, it speaks volumes about our fan base.”

Ford is just eight receptions away from passing Jarrett Boykin as the Hokies’ career leader with 185 catches, and needs just 363 receiving yards to supplant Boykin as the school’s career receiving yards leader.

He has an outside chance to break both records this season, but whenever he does, he can pretty much rest assured that there will be plenty of fans of the Hokies there to celebrate the milestone achievements.

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More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org

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Follow Hank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

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