After falling in the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) championship to Shaw University last season, Virginia State University’s (VSU) football team is gearing up for another hard-hitting season on the grid iron. The team is currently undergoing preseason training camp, preparing for their season opener on Monday, Aug. 29, against Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C.
Ranked sixth (out of 12 teams) in CIAA’s 2011 overall preseason poll, the Trojans are defending a season in which they finished first in the conference’s North division – where they are currently predicted to finish second.
Coach Andrew Faison, soon to begin his tenth season as the team’s head coach, isn’t the least bit bothered by the polls.
“It’s only preseason. I tell our guys: It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” he said. “Last year we were predicted to finish eighth, and, hey, look what happened. They moved us up a little bit, so hopefully this time around we will bring home the trophy.”
Eleven players from last year’s team graduated, but only five of which played, he said; but the crucial players from last year’s team are returning: junior quarterback Jerred Battle; senior running back Antwain Lyde, who last season rushed for 675 yards; senior defensive back Howard Spencer, a graduate of Thomas Dale, who had 43 tackles last season; senior linebacker Jeremy Pruitt, with 82 sacks last year; and kicker/punter Billy Rudd, a senior and graduate of Meadowbrook High School. Both Pruitt and Rudd were selected to the 2011 preseason All-CIAA team.
According to Faison, last year’s team had a “good nucleus,” and his only apprehension going in to September is the lack of experience on the offensive and defensive line, he said.
“I think we’re more offensive, to be honest – just looking at the guys coming back on offense,” said Faison, responding to the team’s reputation as having their most strength on defense. “I think our strengths are going to be in the secondary and at the linebacker core. … And I’m real pleased with both our quarterbacks –they’re competing at a high level. If you got a quarterback, you got a chance.”
Saturday, Sept. 24, marks the Trojan’s first home game – one of the team’s only three on the season. But countless players assert that playing 70 percent of their games away from their beloved Roger’s Stadium isn’t a bad thing.
“It shouldn’t impact the season; we like going to other people’s fields – we get more of a rush off that than playing at home anyway,” Spencer said, a native of Chester. “We already have plans on playing 11 games; we just have to remember to take it one game at a time, just like last year, because we are still going to be a tough team to beat.”
Spencer, who recently earned an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice, will be attending VSU’s graduate school for Sports Management during the season. A two-sport athlete, – he also played the past couple seasons on the school’s baseball team – Spencer is the fastest runner on the team, sprinting the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, and will make the move from VSU’s cornerback to safety this season.
And kicker/punter Billy Rudd, a senior majoring in Physical Education, too, agrees the lack of home games will have no hindrance on the team’s ability to win. Rudd played for Meadowbrook High School when they won the state championship in 2004.
“I don’t think it’s going to impact the season as much as people may think,” Rudd said, “because our fans travel real well. I just remember last season, on most of our away games, I saw just as much orange and blue as I did any of the other school’s colors. Our fans support us really well, and we’re thankful to have fans like that.”
Coach Faison likes the team’s mentality on the issue and feels they will probably play “a bit looser” because of it.
For additional information on the team’s season, visit www.vsu.edu and click on the site’s “athletics” tab. To order tickets for VSU’s homecoming game vs. Virginia Union University on Oct. 29, or any other home game this fall, call 524-5030.