Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

August 13, 2013

Concord football eager to get onto field

ATHENS — Almost 100 players are expected to hit the synthetic turf at Callaghan Stadium in Athens today as Concord University begins its first full-scale preseason football practice.

Head coach Garin Justice said on Monday afternoon, “We’ve started some individual meetings, as far as installing the defense and offense and special teams. Now, we’re just doing the classroom work.”

Monday evening was scheduled for a “walk-through” on the field, the coach said, “and tomorrow (Tuesday) we’ll get out and really have that first practice. It’s exciting.”

He already sees that excitement in his Mountain Lions.

Justice said, “As a coach, I think you always assess where your team’s at as far as their spirit (goes), the way they’re carrying themselves. The guys are very optimistic. The guys feel good about what we can accomplish as a team.

“They also understand there’s a lot of work that goes from now until we play that first game, Sept. 7, versus a very good Lenoir-Rhyne team.

“We know that there’s a great challenge ahead of us, but we’re also excited about the future and what we can accomplish.”

Concord was ranked in the preseason coaches’ poll to finish third in the new Mountain East Conference, the successor to the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Justice put the new poll into perspective of the last two years of the WVIAC preseason lists.

“The year we won it, we were picked sixth, so that goes to show you their accuracy. Last year we were picked second, and we finished second, so they were right on,” he said.

“More than anything, I think getting ranked high just shows the respect you have amongst your colleagues.”

He said he expected to be voted to finish “anywhere between second and sixth.” Shepherd holds down the spot traditionally reserved for the previous season’s league champion, he observed.

“I think we have a team that should win the conference, but those other schools are thinking the exact same thing right now,” Justice said. “It’s nice, but at the end of the day I’m not totally happy, because I always expect higher for my team.”

“It’s nice that year-in and year-out, people expect us to be in the mix, in the hunt (for the title). Us being preseason in third, that says that.”

“Now my guys, they’re a little angry about it. They take it personal, because they know all the hard work they’ve put into it. When they see that happen, they take personal offense to it.”

“Being ranked not-first adds a little fuel to the fire.”

Being the No. 1 team on paper has its drawbacks as well.

“Sometimes when you’re in first place in the preseason, you have that target on your back, and everybody wants to knock you off the mountain,” Justice said. “I think some of that happened (to us) last year, along with the injuries.”

But with a new year comes a new crop of Concordians. This year’s group includes about 40 freshmen and transfers.

Justice said, “That’s a good number, that’s typical, about average for what we have. And we’re excited. I feel great about them, on paper. It’s tough to make an assessment until you see them on the field.

“We’re very excited about the potential they have — but potential’s potential. We’ve got to see it come through, and see those make plays on the field for us. And I’m very confident they’ll do that.”

There are some decisions still to make, and some bonding that has to happen in the next three weeks.

The coach said, “I think we have to find that quarterback — and not only find that quarterback, but as a team, develop confidence in that guy. That’s probably the biggest thing, offensively.

“We also have to find the group of offensive linemen that work together the best. I feel I have a great group of guys, but I don’t know what combination of those guys will work out.”

“Defensively, we’ve got some new faces and we’ve got to see how they blend with our veterans.”

“We’ve got a month to make some individuals (into) a team, and I think those guys are willing to buy in and do that.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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