Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

August 4, 2012

Waiting game is over

Bluefield College makes return to gridiron

BLUEFIELD — The last time Bluefield College began fall football practice for a regular season, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the White House and Joe DiMaggio had just completed a 56-game hitting streak for the New York Yankees.

On Saturday afternoon, BC was at it again. The field turf at Mitchell Stadium was populated by 81 student-athletes and a handful of coaches getting ready for the school’s first regular-season football game since 1941.

Head coach Mike Gravier said, “For me, it’s been two years that I’ve been waiting for this to happen, so it’s very exciting.”

“As a full coaching staff, we’ve been waiting a full year. So to finally have all of our guys out here and getting ready for a real game, it’s just indescribable, right now.”

Bluefield College Athletics Director Pete Dryer described his thoughts. “It’s good to see them get to work,” he said as he stood behind the fence at the home sideline, watching practice unfold. “It’s been a lot of hard work by this coaching staff to get to this point.”

Dryer referenced Gravier’s prior success in helping start the football program at Malone University in Ohio.

“We understand that Coach has done this before,” Dryer said. “He knows what to expect. ... Football is in good hands, and it’s going to happen.”

He said the program is benefiting from “the uniqueness of a small college — with people around you to provide support, and the flexibility to make it happen.”

Reminded of the costs involved in football startups, Dryer commented on the expected outcomes.

“The payoff is the excitement a football program brings within the school and the community. There will be a time, 50, 25, 100 years from now that alumni will be coming back and reliving the excitement of their sport.”

He said about the students on the field, “What an opportunity, to play football with great coaches.” Describing athletics as “an extension of classroom learning,” he said, “It’s an opportunity to be educated, on and off the field.”

Among the dozen or so spectators in the stands Saturday was retired Hall of Fame coach Tony Colobro, the former head coach of football at Bluefield State College and Concord.

The players put in slightly more than two hours, including several water breaks.

Most of the practice consisted of players divided by position. Offensive line coach Mike Compton’s voice echoed off the stadium walls as he described the proper technique. “Next step: Right there!” he said as he demonstrated a basic move.

Teaching was necessary, and will continue to be so. During a set of 11-on-11 plays in the latter part of the afternoon, there were missed passes, uneven gaps in the lines and blown coverages.

Gravier said, “We’ve got almost 70 freshmen out here, so there’s definitely a lot of nerves, a lot of not-sure-what-they’re-going-to-be-doing, and getting yelled at by me.

“But they’re eager. They’re a great bunch of kids, they’re a bunch of ‘yes-sir, no-sir’ kids, so I think they’re going to be very coachable, and learn very well.”

“We still have about another 10 guys who will be coming in a little bit later during camp, so we’ll be up around 90, which will be huge numbers for us. It gives us a little bit more depth at some positions, and more kids to work with.”

After practice concluded, Gravier was asked how he assessed their first day.

“Probably like most day ones around the country,” he said. “A little bit of good and a lot of bad. ... We’ve got so many freshmen again, it’s like starting over in that regard.”

On the other hand, he said, “What I saw was the kids are getting used to our tempo. That’s the first step.”

The next steps will add onto the foundation established by basic formations introduced on Saturday.

“You’ve got to keep adding. You’ve got to keep moving forward,” Gravier said.

In the next few days, he said, “It’s not always the best players who’re going to be running the plays, but it’s the ones who learned the plays and know what to do.” He expressed confidence that the better players will get their chance when they know the plays.

The clock is ticking. Two intrasquad scrimmages are planned for the next two Saturdays. Then the season begins for real, with BC playing the University of Pikeville (Ky.) at 1 p.m. Aug. 25 at Mitchell Stadium.

Gravier said among Rams to watch this season will be inside linebacker Terrell Starkey, “who is very solid;” defensive back Antoine Wilkerson “who had a great year last year;” and offensive tackle Kevin Johnson, “who really had a phenomenal off-season and got better. And he’s very coachable. Coach Compton is really getting him ready to play.”

“Those are three guys that we really look at to stand out this year.”

One of the expected returnees, quarterback Terrance Mazon, was not present. Gravier said, “He decided not to come back. Obviously, Terrance would have added some stability to the position — but it was going to be a quarterback competition, anyway.”

Gravier said stickers with the date 1941 will be placed on the back of the team’s helmets to connect with the last football team to play for the school. The start of World War II in December 1941 marked the end of the football program for 71 years.

Gravier said, “When that 1941 team disbanded, that was obviously a huge sacrifice, so we want to commemorate that as well.”

Gravier has had positive feedback about the return of football. “People would talk to me as I’m going out and [telling me] how excited they are about football to be here,” he said.

“And I’ve said it before, but I really believe Bluefield can become Mercer and Tazewell counties’ college football team.

“I think there are a lot of people here that love football, and to go to West Virginia and Virginia Tech is a little bit harder. So to be able to come here, have a great family experience, and see some good football — I really believe we’re really going to attract a lot of people.”

He believes they will want to see a team that expects victory.

“We’re not using being a first-year program as an excuse, and I will never prepare for a game thinkin’ that we’re going to get beat,” he said. “And we’re not going to let these guys think that as well.”

“We told them last night that even if we get beat by 50, we want that team to walk off that field knowing they’ve been in a fight.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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