Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

February 9, 2014

Walker excited about new prospects at Bluefield College

BLUEFIELD — Bluefield College is an NAIA school that doesn’t abide by National Signing Day, which took place like Wednesday.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the Rams haven’t been busy finding student-athletes with a yearning to play more football.

“We can sign at any time, but our goal is have our calendar coincide with National Signing Day,” Bluefield head coach Ordell Walker said. “A big bulk of who we targeted, we wanted them to make a decision by Feb. 5.”

Call it a successful recruiting season for Bluefield, which was able to sign 26 freshmen, and they have added four or five midseason transfers.

“Our goal was to have 20 by Feb. 5 so we exceeded our goal and hit really all of our needs...,” said Walker, who hopes to release the names of the newcomers this week. “This is a great area to recruit, it is a great state to recruit.

“We are in a prime spot, a great vision and a great product and it is just getting in front of people and just sell it. So far so good.”

Most of those recruits will come from Virginia, which takes a backseat to few other states in terms of talented football players, especially in the Hampton-region ‘757’ area code that has been so productive during Virginia Tech’s rise to prominence.

“I have been pleasantly surprised, I knew it was pretty good, but I was blown away with what we saw in Virginia Beach and Richmond and northern Virginia,” said Walker, who came from Greenville College in Illinois to replace Mike Gravier last May. “Even the smaller schools in my experience are better than what we were used to at some of the smaller schools in other states that we were recruiting.

“Football is very important, people are putting in the time, there are good coaches at all levels.”

While Walker had six full-time recruiters while at Greenville, he currently has just three staff members, including offensive coordinator Aaron Mingo, offensive line coach Jeremy Burrows and Lamar Ball, who was hired in December as defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator.

All of them have come from Greenville, and all have been since the season ended traveling the state looking to help improve the Rams, who have gone 0-11 in consecutive seasons since bringing football back after a 71-year hiatus.

“We all have our own different areas, the coaches have been working extremely hard, and the admission counselors have been working extremely hard to get the guys through the process so a lot of work,” said Walker, who plans to hire additional staff this summer. “Our players have really helped us selling the program, selling what they like, selling the campus, that certainly has helped. We just feel like we have been blessed...

“Out of those 26 freshmen, 20 or 22 are from Virginia so that is where we are trying to focus on. We are trying to win the state, it works out best as far as having state aid, it helps our packages and there is just so much talent in Virginia.”

Among the newcomers will be linemen Ben Blados and JaQuan Watson from Heritage High School in Richmond, and Michael Hinkley from Auburn High School. Brian Whitt from Wyoming East also committed to the Rams.

“We wanted to improve on our fronts,” said Walker, who also focused on depth in the secondary. “The o-line and d-line and our offensive line class, we are very proud of. We got a couple of guys from Richmond, those guys are really good....I really like (Hinkley)...

“We have got size, we have got an offensive line class with size, who are physical players.”

Recruiting isn’t over. Bluefield was able to retain a majority of its players from last season, and currently has 60 in its offseason program. Walker hopes to build a roster of 100 by the fall.

“We have 60 in our offseason program right now,” Walker said. “We really need to add another 20 or so. We want to have our roster right around 100.

“I think where we are at with who is on campus and who is coming in, we are at 88. We definitely feel like we need more depth.”

Bluefield will begin the first 16 spring practice sessions on March 17, but no spring game will be held because of a lack of healthy offensive linemen.

“We have the numbers except on our offensive line where we have a lot of injuries there,” Walker said. “Hopefully this will be the last year we are in that spot.”

The Rams will play 11 games in 2014, including five home games, starting on Aug. 28, a Thursday night against Pikeville at Mitchell Stadium. The Rams have also picked up Newport News Apprentice and Presbyterian, an FCS member school in South Carolina.

“We are excited, we get to play an away game in Virginia Beach,” said Walker, who added that the Mid-South Conference would include the same schools in football next season. “We will play the Apprentice School, we are excited about that with so many good players coming from that area.”

While some recruiting was done while the season was in progress last fall, Walker said most of the signees are players who were found in December when the coaches could get on the road, and share what Bluefield College has to offer, not only on the field, but in the classroom and community.

“I believe in the message that we have, I believe in the product and the people,” Walker said. “If we can just get them to listen, get them to visit, when they come to our place and then go to other places, they see the difference, they see our approach and they see the difference in our players.

“We have such a high belief factor even with going 0-11 with a majority of our guys staying and everybody is in the weight room and doing their running. They are all committed, that is uncommon. I think guys come here and visit us and see other places and they see a difference, that this program is going somewhere, there is that belief factor.”

While Walker wasn’t pleased with a winless season, Walker did see progress from his Rams, and expects the future to be bright.

“I am pleased and seeing progress, you always want to see progress, you never want to take steps back so we continued to progress on and off the field,” said Walker, who teaches his players to focus on what they can control, and not to worry about what the scoreboard says. “I am extremely happy with off the field progress because that is the part that will really make you or break you in terms of building a program and thinking more than just one year...

“Certainly we weren’t happy with the on the field, you want to win some games, but at the same time we are thinking long term over short term and as we get our players to think also. We know if we follow the process that the scoreboard will take care of itself.”

Walker, who has only been in Bluefield for less than nine months, has enjoyed his time here, and is excited about what lies ahead.

“We are enjoying it, very much so,” Walker said. “We enjoy the community, we have tremendous support on campus with our administration and professors and our family feels supportive, they feel like they fit in well.

“As for the staff, being able to have guys that we have worked with in the past, that has really solidified the direction we are going. Certainly for me, having the right guys around me is everything about my experience as a coach.

“We are excited about every part of the program, we just have to continue to work hard.”

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bwoodson@bdtonline.com or on Twitter @bdtwoodson.

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