Next Saturday, the Valdosta State Blazers football team will travel to Wingate, N.C. to kick off their season opener against the Bulldogs.
Blazer football is back for what seems will be another thrilling season.
VSU finished the 2010 season with a pleasing 11-3 record and come into this season even more energized than last to hopefully compete for a national championship.
“We’re going to come out here and bust some heads for the first game,” defensive end Brandon Ketchup said.
The Blazers will try to repeat their results from last year’s season opener against Wingate where they won a close one over the Bulldogs, 25-22.
Both VSU and Wingate are beginning their seasons as defending 2010 conference champions,
Wingate champs of the South Atlantic Conference and VSU champs of the Gulf South Conference.
The Blazer defense will have their work cut out for them with the loss of a few key seniors from last year including first team All-American Larry Dean.
“What we are going to lose not having Larry more than anything else is just leadership. Leadership, you can’t coach that,” Head Coach David Dean said.
The voice of Larry Dean in the locker room on Saturdays will be without doubt missed.
Dean regardless is confident his defense will be ready to compete at high levels when game day finally comes around.
“We lose one we gain more. We just got to play like he played. Black Swarm all day,” Ketchup said.
The defense will be put to the test early going up against Wingate quarterback Cody Haffly, preseason all-American, who recorded three touchdowns in last year’s season opener.
On the other side of the ball, VSU is expected to have a slightly different dynamic on offense due to the abundance of new players and the off season hiring of offensive line coach Andy Richman and wide receiver coach Lance Fendley.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces at the wide receiver position. That’s probably our scariest part right now,” Dean said.
Only four of the 18 receivers on this year’s roster are returning Blazers.
Although coaches are a little nervous about the fresh receiving core, there is plenty of talent on the depth chart, including Iowa State transfer Sedrick Johnson.
“I’m just anxious. I’ve been through this a lot now and I’m just ready to play,” Johnson said.
The top newcomer wide out left his Division I program to showcase his skills as a Blazer.
The starting quarterback has still not been announced yet to lead the offense next weekend.
It will be imperative to start the season with a consistent starter behind center so teammates can become familiar with his playing style and tendencies.
“You know I think we are pretty close to doing it. They’re three guys who are pretty much neck and neck: Brett Whitmire, Austen Roberts, and Cayden Cochran,” Dean said.
Obviously, there will be high expectations for whoever earns the decisive position.
Johnson has been spectating the quarterback competition all summer long and can’t wait for the winner to unveil his talents the first game.
“This year I feel like there will be more points on the board and a little more passing,” Johnson said.
The crucial obstacle the Blazers will face will be how fast they can establish a winning formula with so many unfamiliar faces in the locker room.
Despite an upcoming difficult schedule, with four of the ten teams VSU plays ranked in the national top 25, the Blazers plan to continue the tradition of winning.
“New personnel or not, they’re still doing their job at practice. Everybody is just ready to go out and show them what we got.” Ketchup said.
Kickoff begins at 1:30 p.m., Sept. 3 at Irwin Belk Stadium.
The Blazers second game of the season will be the home opener at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium on Thursday Sept. 8. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.