Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

May 3, 2014

Mountain Lions' Maroon-Gray Game is today

ATHENS — The last chance until August to see Concord University football players battle on the gridiron will take place this afternoon at Callaghan Stadium.

The annual Maroon-Gray Game begins at 1 p.m.

Head coach Garin Justice said, “It should be a fun day, but more than anything this is for the players and the families. It’s time to celebrate what a good spring we’ve had.”

He said the 15th and final session of the spring may be a time to shine for “some of the younger guys who maybe want to prove that they’re a second-teamer are competing for that spot (or) some guys who are trying to solidify a spot as a starter.”

“As a coach, I want them just to be ready to come out and compete in the spring game.  The biggest thing I look for on Saturday is for everyone to stay healthy. ...

“We feel like we’ve gotten what we needed to get accomplished, accomplished, already. This is more for the players, the parents, the fans, and the students. This is what the spring game is for. We’re just going to have a good time with it.”

“It’s a chance for everyone else to see, or to take a glimpse, of what we may have next season.”

Two units will compete for 60 minutes, with a running clock and “normal football scoring rules,” according to the plan for the day.

One unit, the first team defense and second team offense, will be led by special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach John Pennington. They will square off against the second team defense and first team offense directed by defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Pat Dawson.

“I think it’s been a productive spring,” Justice said. “Building depth was probably the major thing. ... We have some guys out, so it’s a good opportunity for guys who wouldn’t normally be in a starting position to be looked at ... and take those reps a starter normally takes.”

Concord is looking to fill gaps at will linebacker, safety and cornerback on defense.

At the linebacker spot, Justice said, “I think we’re a lot deeper. You throw a Denis Icic, Jonathan Haggans, Logan Jenkins, Gary Saylor — there are four or five guys who, as a collective group, are going to be very steady,  very strong, and are going to be able to get the job done. ... I think we’ll be very effective.”

In the defensive backfield, junior-college transfer Darrick Johnson is “going to play a lot of good downs for us next season,” Justice predicted, and he likes the move of Jeremiah Johnson from wide receiver to cornerback.

“Those guys are young, but those guys are very, very talented, and they’ve shown that they can make plays this spring,” he said.

Paul Smith moved this spring from defensive tackle to offensive tackle.

Justice, who is also the offensive line coach for the Mountain Lions, said, “It’s been nice, in the past month, to see his progression as an offensive lineman. I don’t know if he’ll start or not for us next year, but he’s probably going to be, at least, our sixth best offensive lineman going into next season.”

“We still need to probably get one more playmaker at wide receiver, but other than that, we really like what we have back on offense.”

Another standout, he said, is redshirt tight end Jordan Bryant.

Justice said, “Dalton Brindo had a solid freshman year last year. JB (Bryant) has emerged as being a solid No. 2, or rival for that No. 1 position. It’s nice when you’re able to put both tight ends in the game and trust what they can do, because we value that in an offense.”

Two Concordians who played quarterback last year, Brian Novak and Ben Nester, will be available for action today, but another intriguing quarterback possibility cannot take part.

Patrick Thompson, who transferred to Athens from Wake Forest University, was ineligible to practice this spring but will be available for the 2014 season this fall.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback, Justice said, “All three of those guys are going to play. All three of those guys need to understand that it’s team first — and they’re up to speed with that, they’ve bought into that.”

“We’re finally getting the depth we need to get it accomplished. It’s where we need to be because quarterbacks are going to take hits sometimes, and you’ve got to have someone who can continue on with what we need to do offensively.”

The regular season starts Sept. 6 in Athens against Glenville State College, as the Mountain Lions seek to win their third straight season-opener.

In his three previous years as head coach, Justice has compiled a record of 22-11 including a conference championship and NCAA playoff berth in 2011.

His teams are 20-4 against conference foes.

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