Virginia Tech OT Luke Tenuta embodies the “Football is Family” mentality as he prepares for the 2022 NFL Draft

The son of a coach and college player, Virginia Tech offensive tackle Luke Tenuta embodies "Football is Family" as he heads to the NFL Draft.

Luke Tenuta is on the verge of achieving his goals, realizing his dream. The Virginia Tech offensive tackle grew up watching the NFL Draft on the television, dreaming of his moment on football’s biggest stage. Following an impressive career for the Hokies and an appearance at the East-West Shrine Bowl, Tenuta has worked himself into NFL contention. At the root of his success? A family diet of football that helped mold a competitive nature and a technical mindset.

Luke Tenuta looks to continue the family business in the 2022 NFL Draft

“Football is Family” is an oft-used slogan of the NFL. It showcases the unifying impact that the sport can have on the family environment and its place at the heart of family life. For the Tenuta family, it’s more than a slogan. Football is a way of life. Football, and sports in general, is the family business. It’s been this way for years — since the late 1970s, in fact.

Jon Tenuta was a defensive back at Virginia between 1978 and 1980. When he finished playing the game, he became a coach. As children came along, the coach became a father, and the two combined. Zach Tenuta became a coach (and was recently appointed the head coach at Western High School). Matt Tenuta became a professional baseball player. Luke became a standout offensive tackle for Virginia Tech, with NFL aspirations and a love of football fueled by his exposure to the game at close quarters as a kid.

“I thought it was really cool getting to hang out in the facilities of these places when you’re a kid.” Tenuta flashes a broad grin and a sparkle in his eye as he tells Pro Football Network about the childhood experiences that fueled his love for the game. “Running around, jumping on the bags, the tackling dummies. I really enjoyed it. My two older brothers were with me, so it was cool getting to hang out with them.”

“I’ve always been around the game of football. It’s what I’ve done, it’s what I know how to do. I love it. It’s a part of me. When I’m done playing, I want to be like my pops and older brother and go into coaching. I’m always going to be around the game of football.”

Tenuta family helps mold a technically astute NFL Draft prospect

While the football family environment and exposure helped breed a love for the game, one of the most important aspects they’ve imparted on Tenuta as he heads to the NFL Draft is the technical ability to play at a high level. You don’t have to spend long in Luke’s presence to realize that he’s a technically astute football player with impressive football intelligence.

“They’ve been a huge influence. Especially my pops, having been with me my final year at college. Just being around the facility, being able to pick his brain. Getting in the film room with him, going over stuff, learning all his lingo. It’s really cool being right next to him this year.

“My oldest brother Zach is a head coach at a high school now. He’s excited to be a head coach and mold young minds at the high school level. It was always cool being around them. Two very bright guys when it comes to the game of football. They know a lot of football, so it’s always cool trying to get as much information as you can.”

In addition to the family exposure to the game, Tenuta’s journey to the NFL Draft has helped sharpen his game for the next level. Although he’s impressed as an offensive lineman at Virginia Tech for the last three years, he grew up as a defensive end, modeling his game around the Bosa brothers. Tenuta describes them as “phenomenal college defensive ends and obviously greats pros.”

A productive defensive end for Western Albermarle High School

An imposing 6’8″, 320-pound offensive tackle prospect, it’s hard to imagine a young Tenuta lining up at defensive end and modeling himself on Nick and Joey Bosa. At Western Albermarle High School, he was yet to develop into the dominating physical specimen that’s been crushing defensive linemen in the ACC for Virginia Tech for the past three years.

“Growing up, all I wanted to do was play defensive end,” Tenuta said. “Sack the quarterback, get your name in the paper, get your name on the loudspeaker.”

Tenuta was an incredibly productive defensive end who received some collegiate interest to continue on that side of the ball at the next level. During his senior season for Western Albermarle, he tallied 52.5 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss. The success and the experience from a family of defensive playmakers helped sharpen his toolbox as he transitioned to offensive tackle.

“It helped me a lot, especially playing defensive end,” Tenuta said. “You know how advanced these edge rushers are nowadays, all these great things they can do. Rush angle, using your hands, flipping your hips to get to the quarterback. I think it really helped me when I get comfortable playing offensive tackle to see what they’re looking for. Are they going to play half a man? Looking to tell where their hips are going to go, are they going to come inside? It really helped me playing defense, helped my mind.”

Honors and recruiting attention

Tenuta was both productive and personally successful at Western Albermarle, earning All-Conference, All-District, and All-Region honors. Despite the personal success and the attention it bought in the recruiting process, the Virginia Tech offensive tackle acknowledges that it’s a team sport and bemoans the inability to help bring a state championship to the program.

He left as a three-star prospect, with a multitude of college offers from programs across the country. Once again, family helped provide a guiding light. This time, it was Dori Tenuta providing the voice of reason among the male-oriented football family environment. Even though both Dori and Jon were University of Virginia alumni, they never pressured Luke as his decision took him across rivalry lines.

“It was a fun process. A lot of my big offers didn’t come until my senior year,” Tenuta said. “I took my time making the decision, didn’t jump into anything. I visited all the schools I wanted to visit. My Mom drove me everywhere we wanted to go. Being the smartest one out of the family, she had a big influence on where I chose.

“I enjoyed meeting the coaches, learning what scheme they played. When it came down to it, Virginia Tech was my favorite visit. Going to Blacksburg, Virginia, seeing them run out to ‘Enter Sandman,’ everyone’s going wild. I know our motto is ‘This is Home,’ but it really did feel like home. It made the choice pretty easy when it came down to it.”

Tenuta develops into a 2022 NFL Draft offensive tackle prospect at Virginia Tech

Tenuta arrived in Blacksburg as a 260-pound defensive end with limited offensive tackle experience. He leaves as an imposing and mauling offensive tackle prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s almost unrecognizable from the kid that arrived from Western Albermarle, and the transformation began with a redshirt season in 2018.

“I really enjoyed my redshirt year. You’re on scout team, so you get to really learn and perfect your craft. For me, it was really learning how to play offensive line because my senior year at high school was really the only year I’d played offensive line. We never passed the ball, so I had to learn how to pass set. I took it as a great opportunity.

“They do a great job, our strength and nutrition staff. Obviously, I had to gain a load of weight,” Tenuta tells me before breaking down exactly what goes into putting on around 60 pounds of weight in a relatively short period of time.

“I’m very thankful for the nutrition staff, the strength staff, I couldn’t thank them enough. My redshirt year there was a thing called the ‘Peanut Butter and Jelly Club’ where you had to eat two PB&J uncrustables in front of the strength staff with a protein shake. It sounds terrible, but it was a lot of fun. It’s tough not playing an actual game, but I took it as a year to perfect my craft, get stronger, and really learn the playbook.”

Learning from a future first-round NFL Draft pick

While enjoying the opportunity to learn, Tenuta admits, “one of my goals coming into college was to come in there and play as quick as I could.” That came quicker than expected. With five starts at right tackle in 2019 in addition to seeing time on special teams, he added versatility and experience to his NFL Draft résumé. Nine games at right tackle followed in 2020 before the departure of Christian Darrisaw made way for a switch to left tackle. 

“It’s definitely an adjustment,” Tenuta reflects on making the transition, something routinely considered easy by the casual fan. “Christian Darrisaw left, and I wanted to go to the left side. People just think you flip your feet and there you go, it’s the same thing. But, you’re kicking off a different foot, different post foot. It’s not as easy as people make it sound. My first game at left tackle, my stance really didn’t look right. Thankfully, I had spring ball to really get it down.”

Last year, Darrisaw became the first Virginia Tech offensive tackle drafted in the first round since Duane Brown in 2008. The Hokies’ offensive line room has become very much a band of brothers, and Tenuta speaks fondly and highly of Darrisaw’s impact on his development during their time together and how he’s been able to help him through this 2022 NFL Draft process.

“He’s helped me a lot during my college career,” Tenuta said. “He’s a guy that has the attitude and the mindset and does everything how you should do it. The way he plays the game, how he studies the game, how he watches film and breaks stuff down, he’s a guy that you look at and say, ‘hey, that’s the guy I want to be.’ It was always cool getting to pick his brain. I’m very thankful to have him on my team and be able to learn from him as I was going through college and even now.”

Tenuta talks about the 2022 NFL Draft process

On his arrival at Virginia Tech in 2018, Tenuta set goals for the college experience. In addition to football-specific accomplishments, he wanted to earn his degree in sports media and analytics. With those goals achieved this season, he declared for the 2022 NFL Draft. In doing so, he earned an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl, this year being held in Las Vegas for the first time.

“It was awesome,” Tenuta reflects on his time in Vegas. “To get to go out there and compete in front of scouts and teams. To get hands-on coaching by NFL coaches, it was a great experience. It was really cool, first time in Vegas getting to see all those lights.”

Tenuta has been surrounded by coaches his entire life. From his father, his brothers, through his time at Virginia Tech, it’s apparent that he owns the technical aptitude to succeed at the NFL level. Even now, even with all that knowledge and experience, he’s still striving to learn and get better, telling me about the developments he was able to make to his game at the Shrine Bowl.

“Using your hands better,” he begins telling me what he learned in Las Vegas. “Making sure you’re timing up your punches, particularly in pass pro. Different types of footwork when it comes to outside zone. It’s different in the NFL. It was cool getting to learn an NFL playbook, see the plays, different terms they have. Getting hands-on coaching from NFL coaches, you can’t ask for more than that, especially in this process.”

Expectations at the NFL Combine, and what the NFL can expect from Tenuta

At the time of writing, we’re a week out from the 2022 NFL Combine. While the annual athletic testing event is shrouded in controversy, Tenuta is focused on the event and what he wants to show the NFL, and the world, when he arrives in Indianapolis to work out and essentially compete in what is oft-advertised as the world’s biggest job interview.

“Show that I’m a big guy who’s athletic and can bend,” Tenuta said. “Definitely been working on my flexibility to show them that I’m not a stiff guy. Being a taller guy, I want to show that I’m flexible, can bend well, do all the good movements. Put up some good times when it comes to running. That’s really what I want to focus on and accomplish at the Combine.”

What will an NFL team get when they pull the trigger on Tenuta in the 2022 NFL Draft?

“An offensive lineman who goes out there and tries to finish every play. Tries to be dominant. Goes out there, knows the scheme. A student of the game who’s always trying to get better, learn new things, and never make the same mistake twice. Definitely a guy that goes out there and tries to finish, especially in the run game, trying to put your opponent in the dirt. In pass pro, being fluid and trying to keep anyone away from the quarterback.”

Dreams are within his reach, as Luke attempts to break new ground for the Tenuta family

Football has been the Tenuta family business since the 1970s. Luke has looked up to his father and his brothers, learned from them, and developed as a football player under their stewardship. Yet, it’s the younger Tenuta who is in position to break new ground for the family. For all their success, he could be the first to play in the NFL. He’s watched the NFL Draft since he was a little kid, and now it’s his turn to hear his name.

“It would mean everything to me,” Tenuta’s final thoughts on hearing his name called come at the end of what is an engaging sit down with the Virginia Tech offensive tackle. “It would be a huge accomplishment, it’s been one of my goals. You see it as a kid, watching the draft and seeing those guys get drafted. That’s always been a dream of mine, and it would mean the world to me.”

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