Why Virginia Tech's Brandon Facyson is savoring every sip of college life

Brandon Facyson is squeezing every second out of every day as he pursues his dreams of med school and playing in the NFL. And despite all the ups and down, he wouldn't have it any other way after coming back to Virginia Tech for his senior season. Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Every time a coach would thump down into his living room couch, Fred Facyson had the same opening question. What, he'd ask, did they believe was the toughest part about the transition to college.

It was a trick a question.

This was 2010 and 2011, back when Fred's son, Brandon Facyson, was a rising star on the recruiting trail as both a receiver and a defensive back. At 6-foot-2 -- a legit 6-2, his father is quick to point out -- with a quick first step and sure hands, Brandon was a recruiter's dream. He had the raw skills to be refined into a terrific corner, and few players were more willing to be coached. Fred is retired Navy, and Brandon's mother, Karen Riggins-Taylor, was a school principal. Discipline and intelligence were in greater supply than even his athletic ability.

So they all sat on Fred's couch and tried to provide the answers a football player's dad wants to hear. Most assumed that meant football. The answer Fred wanted was different.

"Time management," Fred said. "That's the hardest thing."

Brandon wanted to be a doctor, and he wanted to play in the NFL, and achieving even one of those goals would be a whirlwind, so his parents looked for the place that would find ways to make the schedule work. In the years since, however, that focus on time has proven prophetic in more ways than anyone in the Facyson family could've imagined.

There were the days when time evaporated so quickly, Brandon could hardly catch his breath. He'd pull an all-nighter studying for an exam, then head to practice the following morning without a wink of sleep. He'd run from a four-hour biology lab, hop in his car and drive to practice, an equipment manager meeting him in the parking lot with pads and cleats to save time.

Then there were days that lingered interminably, with rehab and recuperation and a long wait to get back onto the field and resume a career sidetracked by injuries and setbacks.

Now, five years after he arrived at Virginia Tech, Brandon is hoping to put the finishing touches on a career that never quite went according to plan, even if he was ideally suited to handle all those twists and turns.

A blueprint for success

It would be unfair to call Fred a helicopter parent, but he's undoubtedly kept a close watch on his son. And while Brandon rarely needed the oversight, the rigidity of his upbringing helped prepare him for what was to come at Virginia Tech.

Brandon's parents split when he was a kid, his mother living outside Atlanta and Fred in Jacksonville, Florida, and later in Washington D.C. Brandon would often fly from one home to the other, and when Fred would arrive at the airport terminal to collect his son, inevitably a flight attendant would be there to sing Brandon's praises.

"I always told Brandon, you'll be a big kid, and if you make people feel more comfortable with you it makes it easier to let you express yourself," Fred said.

Even now, at 22, Brandon defers to his dad on myriad topics. He's not on Twitter to avoid potential distractions. Fred warned against tattoos or long hair -- not because of a rigid preference, but simply that they wouldn't look great in a med school interview. After games, Brandon finds his mom and dad and is quick to give both a hug and a kiss.

"We laugh about that," Fred said, "but even if ESPN cameras are there, if his girlfriend is there, he gives us a hug and kiss first."

Fred hasn't missed a game since Brandon was in seventh grade. He buys tickets at the start of the season, purchases airfare for long road trips well in advance, and for other games, he drives -- Brandon's younger sister in tow -- to wherever the Hokies are playing that week. He jokes that Virginia Tech's staff probably got sick of all his calls to monitor Brandon's progress.

"My dad's a special guy," Brandon said. "I look up to him, and it's crazy because I don't know where I'd be without him or my mom. And he's done a great job of keeping me on track."

Brandon arrived on campus in the spring of 2013, and he was an instant hit. Five weeks into his freshman season, he had four interceptions and was suddenly upstaging more heralded teammates, like fellow freshman Kendall Fuller.

In 37 games since, he's had just one more pick. None have come in the past three seasons, which have been marked as much by nagging injuries as on-field accolades.

"I don't get caught up in the interception hype," Brandon said, a mantra his father later echoed, noting the two had talked about it often. "I've still made plenty of plays."

A year ago, Brandon had 11 pass breakups, among the most in the ACC and one of just a handful of Power 5 defenders to hit that mark without actually picking off one of those batted balls.

What he has picked up is a degree in biology that will set him up for medical school. He plans to take his MCATs after this season and hopes to become a cardiologist.

Of course, those long-term plans have all been on hold. Brandon wasn't supposed to be here still, but a fluke shin injury ended his sophomore campaign after just three games, and he later received a medical redshirt. He arrived with Fuller and Chuck Clark and Bucky Hodges, all now on NFL rosters. Brandon said it's felt as if time has flown by, but even he admits he's the old man in the locker room these days. With all the extra time, he's added a second major -- this one in sociology.

It might be easy to focus on the missed games, the missed interceptions, but he was raised to focus on something else.

"Football, you only get to play for so long," Brandon said. "I love the sport, and I'll do whatever it takes, but medical school will come. It has its own time."

'He's a guy you want to model yourself after'

This spring, Brandon was making a point about his growth as a corner over the past five years, despite the goose egg on his stat line. He understands the nuance of the position better, understands how his role fits into the bigger picture.

"I was just talking to Kendall," he said, referring to former teammate Kendall Fuller, now entering his second season with the Washington Redskins. "We talk a lot of football."

Don't expect details though. Brandon keeps the conversations private.

"It's not really top secret," he said. "He's just learned some things he wants to share."

In other words, it's probably a bit too esoteric for casual conversation. But that's sort of the point. Brandon has been here long enough that he's obsessed with the obscure details of the job, and he's got friends in high enough places that he can get some insider knowledge.

Four years ago, it felt inevitable that Brandon would be playing at the next level by now, too. The truth is, he strongly considered it following last season. He didn't need to come back to Virginia Tech. He had a degree, had a skill set that should've attracted NFL scouts in search of a project with upside, and he had a bright future even if football wasn't a part of it.

But he talked to Fuller. He talked to his mother, and his father. He talked to teammates. It's been five years at Virginia Tech, and yet he wasn't ready to say goodbye.

"There's definitely something special to be done," Brandon said. "We're going to be a great defense this year. All the parts are falling into place."

He should be an integral part of that defense, too. He's a part of a secondary with Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander that should be among the elite units in the ACC. He finally got to see his Hokies play in an ACC title game a year ago, and he sees bigger goals ahead in 2017.

Virginia Tech's coaches see Brandon as the template for that success.

"Having that football IQ, wanting to work hard to be the best he can be, that rubs off," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "He's been through it and knows the expectations. He's a guy you want to model yourself after."

Like so much of his career, however, Brandon's final sendoff hasn't been without twists and turns. A late spring wrist injury has limited him during fall camp, and his status for No. 21 Virginia Tech's Sept. 3 opener against No. 22 West Virginia (ABC, 7:30 p.m. ET) is questionable.

"I know he's been frustrated from a standpoint of being fully healthy, but at the same time, you're dealt a certain hand, and you've got to deal with it and make the best of it," Foster said.

Indeed, Brandon has vented his share of frustration in Foster's office over the years. How could he not? But Fred has preached the same gospel to his son all along, from the dizzying debut in 2013 to the latest setback this offseason.

"There was a time he felt bad for himself," Fred said, "but I reminded him that you can always learn."

Brandon has learned to be a better player, no doubt. He's been on the academic All-ACC team three times, too. He's learned from coaches and teammates, even the ones now long gone from Blacksburg. He's learned that football has its place in his world, but it's not the center of his universe. He's passed along many of those lessons to teammates, too.

He isn't making any predictions about how this season plays out. If it's a massive success, if he wins an ACC championship and earns overtures from the NFL, that's great. If not, well, that's OK, too. He'll leave with no regrets.

Perhaps that's the biggest lesson, he said. It's easy enough to arrive with a plan. His family has always had a plan for him. But life offers plenty of the unexpected, and his winding road has taken him places he needed to go, too.

"Everyone has their own path," Brandon said. "You go through things you have to overcome, and I feel like I've become a stronger person. If it means going through hard times to get where I need to go, that's fine. It's not frustrating. I'm excited about this season. I'm blessed to be here."