By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The artificial grass is always green at the Concord University football stadium. To talk to players getting ready to start spring practice, it seems the hopes are always high as well.
“We’ve been anxious to get back at it,” defensive back Davon Marion said Tuesday as the Mountain Lions took the field to launch their spring sessions. “We want to pick up where we left off ... and go 10 times further than we did last year.”
Last year ended with an overall record of 7-4 and a tie for second place in the West Virginia Conference, not quite enough to secure a repeat visit to the NCAA Division II playoffs. Three players made first team all-conference.
Linebacker Jake Lilly, the 2012 conference defensive player of the year, said, “Everybody’s been excited. We want to get better, (and) I want the new guys to make sure they get their (knowledge) 100 percent down.”
Defensive back Riyahd Richardson said, “I’ve been waiting for this since the last whistle of our last game, in Buckhannon. I’ve been wanting to get these cleats back on.”
“We’re getting back into the mix,” said Richardson, who like Lilly was a first-team all-conference pick last fall. “Everybody’s wanting to step up.”
Calvinaugh Jones, who ran for 749 yards last year in his debut season in Athens, said, “We’ve been talking about the goals we’ve set for the season, and how we plan on getting it done — playing as a family. And playing football.”
That will come later. On Tuesday, approximately 55 players took the field without pads and started their stretching and warmup drills, surrounded by blocking sleds and attentive coaches. Getting the techniques of their positions precisely tuned was the main focus.
Head coach Garin Justice said, “It’s good to see the guys flyin’ around.” In the 15 practices permitted by the NCAA, he said the coaches’ goals were “to sharpen things up, to work on the fundamentals, to continue to emphasize that we do things the right way.”
“We’re working hard to improve.”
Led by Lilly and Richardson, the CU defense has been the team’s strength for the past couple of years. Justice said, “We’re looking now to the offense to step up and give us more points and more production — and keep the defense at a high level.”
He has a particular goal this spring. “We’ve got to feel good about the quarterback position,” he said. Albert Rose, who had several starts in 2012, is competing with freshman Brian Novak for the starting nod.
Justice called the situation “50-50” right now, adding, “We’re fine with whoever emerges from that competition.”
Justice said the depth chart in the spring and summer is “always going to be fluid,” but evaluations of effort in practice will be important. “We’ve got to know who we can count on this fall,” Justice said. “We’re looking for guys that can step up.”
There are 74 returnees from last year’s roster, including seven all-conference picks.
Concord’s spring practices, open to the public, conclude with the annual Maroon and Gray Game at 7 p.m. May 2.
— Contact Tom Bone at