VSU Ready To Deliver On Expectations
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Aug 20, 2014, 07:05
Head coach Latrell Scott has kept the Trojans' mindset as business as usual as they ignore outside expectations.
ETTRICK — Last season, Virginia State University was on the verge of making a breakthrough as a program. The Trojans, predicted to finish 10th Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, took the league by surprise with an impressive campaign, losing just one game en route to the title game.
Entering the contest with the No. 2 ranked defense which whitewashed two opponents while allowing just a shade over 17 points per game, Virginia State had the look of a team ready to dethrone perennial conference favorite Winston-Salem State University. However, it was not to be.
After an altercation occurred one day prior to the scheduled CIAA title game, it was decided the game would not played with tensions at an all-time high. The inability to play title game eliminated any chance of the Trojans qualifying for the playoffs and left the team staring at a 9-1 campaign which highlighted a missed opportunity. It's why the Trojans were itching to get back on the field for the 2014 campaign to wash away the sour ending of last season and continue the building of the program.
In fact, during Virginia State's first live scrimmage of Training Camp, the amount of passion all of the players and coaches had was on display. Plays were sent in from the sidelines with game-like speed with both the defense and offense on top of their games. It's all one needed to see the hunger remains for the 27 returning players, including 18 starters, from last year's squad.
"The guys definitely understand what we left on the field a year ago and they've done a good job of not really harping on it," Virginia State head coach Latrell Scott said after the practice. "It's done. This is a new season and I'm proud of the effort these guys have given to this point."
However, not only has the effort the team has given during the first week of camp been evident to the Trojans' coaching staff, but also to coaches from around the league. No one expected much out of the Trojans last season even with Scott's much publicized arrival.
Yet, Scott instilled the belief in the team that they were better than their preseason ranking and it fueled them to great heights. It was that effort and the continued development of the roster which led the coaches to rank place Virginia State atop the preseason ranking in the Northern Division and No. 3 overall in the CIAA.
The ranking, just one season after his hiring, shows the type of respect Scott and his staff have garnered for the program in a short amount of time. However, even with the added expectations, not much has changed for Virginia State in terms of their preparations or their mentality.
"It's business as usual for us," Scott said of the mind-set. "We've got to make sure Virginia State gets better from here on. We won some games last year that we probably shouldn't have won, but we have to be sure we position ourselves to be smiling on Saturday nights ... No one's ever going to give you the credit you deserve, so we're just going to have to go out and prove ourselves week-in and week out. The only way we can something like that is catching Winston-Salem State. Those guys are the class of this league, so we have to do what we got to do to get where they are."
And Scott has reason to believe he has the pieces in place to catch the Rams and finish what was started last season.
While the Trojans lost both running back Jordan Anderson and quarterback Justin Thorpe — they accounted for 36 of the team's 38 offensive touchdowns from last season — talent remains on the roster. Under center for Virginia State will likely be sophomore Tarian Ayres who spent much of last year learning the system and the intricacies of the position from Thorpe.
Yet, Ayres also received plenty of action during games as well, appearing in four games total while completing 21-of-37 passes for yards and rushing for 124 yards on 21 carries. While his totals impressed during his short stints on the field, he has become more confident on the field during this preseason, taking total command of the offense.
Running back Kavon Bellamy will be asked to shoulder much of the rushing load following the departure of Jordan Anderson.
But the talent doesn't end with Ayres. Scott also has a stable of running backs which he can use to help piece together the amount of production lost due to Anderson's graduation. Junior Kavon Bellamy took most of the snaps with the first-team offense during the Trojans' scrimmage as he read his blocking well enough to score three rushing touchdowns. Behind Bellamy is freshman Kentory Matthews who thoroughly impressed in the two-hour scrimmage by showcasing the ability to break tackles and get to the second-level.
Although the real key to the Trojans' success this season will be the defense. Last season, it was a suffocating and opportunistic defense — VSU's defense compiled six defensive touchdowns — which led the way for the nine-win squad. And if the scrimmage is any indication, defensive end Shaquille Edwards will be an anchor all season long.
"I'm grateful that Shaq is on my team," Scott said. "He has the ability to be a dominant player in this league. Obviously, there is some give and take between the offense and defense because a head coach, you worry about the defensive giving up points. Other times you worry about the offense not scoring any points, but I think we're right where we want to be going into our second week of camp."
With the Trojans just two weeks away from their season-opening contest against California University of Pennsylvania, Virginia State is gearing up to write a new story in 2014, one which will have an ending that doesn't leave a sour taste in one's mouth.