By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
It was a difficult return to the gridiron in 2012, as the Bluefield Rams played 11 games, and lost all 11.
Marion Harris remembers it well.
“The losses, it takes a toll on a person at some point and I am not a person that like losing and no one should feel like that,” Harris said. “It was real hard on me and the team.”
Only 25 of the 77 players on that opening day roster are back for the Rams, but Harris didn’t let the firing of Mike Gravier and hiring of Ordell Walker keep him from returning to Bluefield.
“It was no doubt I was coming back,” he said.
Bluefield, which resurrected its program last season for the first time since 1941, will open the 2013 campaign on Saturday at Point University in Valley, Ala. Like the Rams, the Skyhawks are also in their second year with the sport, leaving Harris optimistic that a win could come soon, perhaps as soon as this week.
“For the veteran guys, I know our first win would be big,” Harris said. “It is going to major. We have got to keep pressing on, but that first win is going to feel good.”
Harris couldn’t be blamed for Bluefield’s problems last season. He led the Rams with 462 yards rushing and four touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for another 75 yards, and a fifth score to tie receiver Rodrell Smith for most touchdowns for the Rams.
He was also Bluefield’s primary kick return specialist, averaging 20.1 yards on 725 yards worth of returns, which was fourth in the nation in NAIA. He finished the season with 2,262 all-purpose yards — including 114.7 per game — both of which were ranked 35th in the country.
Unfortunately, for the 5-foot-10, 160-pound sophomore from Petersburg, Va., all of that came in losing efforts, a feeling that Harris has used to push him through the always grueling preseason August practices.
“That is a big motivation because it is just losing, losing is not something you want,” Harris said. “It was our first year, all of us came to camp, we wanted to win, but you have some people saying we were too young or we didn’t have the maturity.
“I think this year the veteran guys that came back, we have all grown over the summer and I think it is time, we should get us a win.”
Harris did see improvement from Bluefield as the season progressed in 2012. They lost by 14 to open the season with Pikeville, lost by 14 to Virginia-Wise, 19 to Kentucky Christian, and came closest to victory in a 23-14 defeat in the season finale against Campbellsville.
“I saw things getting better, games got closer, we had some games where we got blew out by 30 points and stuff, but at the end of the day, some games were close, some games we were in the position of winning and we had a chance,” Harris said. “This year we are learning how to encourage each other and stuff like that.
“If we do that when the game gets close, we have a better chance if we get down like that.”
Harris was like many who were surprised when Gravier was relieved of his duties after spring practice came to an end.
“I was surprised, but at the end of the day you have got to move on,” Harris said. “You can’t be stuck on, because a coach got (fired) or whatever happened, you can’t be stuck on that.
“You have got to move on and get ready for the new season that is ahead.”
Harris returned to Bluefield early this month not really knowing what to expect from what is virtually a completely new coaching staff.
He has been pleased with what he has seen.
“Coming into camp, I didn’t know what to expect, but it is like we are building a real team chemistry here, it is like we are a brotherhood,” Harris said. “Play-wise, it was hard at first, but now that we have been in camp these couple of weeks, it is starting to get better.”
When Bluefield makes the eight-hour drive to Alabama to face the Skyhawks on Saturday, it will have been 23 long days of facing each other since practice began on Aug. 8.
Harris is ready to see a different color uniform, and someone else to hit.
“I am pretty ready, after a while you get tired of going back and forth with your teammates every day,” Harris said. “You want to go against somebody with a different jersey on. I am pretty ready for it.”
—Contact Brian Woodson