By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Year one of the rejuvenated Bluefield College football program wasn’t as bad as its 0-11 record might indicate.
Bluefield head coach Mike Gravier, who has had to replace both of his primary assistants over the last couple of weeks, saw plenty of positives from the first season of football at the school since 1941.
“I don’t think any of our scores were that indicative of how well we competed,” Gravier said. “It always seemed like there was a segment during the game where things just fell apart and then we kind of recovered and then play pretty competitively, with the exception of maybe Georgetown.
“Our kids played hard all the time. I don’t think we ever got into the finger-pointing or the backbiting or the infighting. Sometimes you are 0-11 there are a lot of people to blame and I didn’t sense that at all.
“Our kids worked hard pretty much all year through practice.”
Gravier expected to lose a few players from that team, and did, including starting running back Josh Wells and linebackers Terrell Starckey and Anthony Herring. Gravier said that Starckey, who was an All-Mid-South Conference performer, plans to walk-on at West Virginia University.
“Typically you lose about half of your freshman class from freshman to sophomore,” said Gravier, who was able to retain his entire offensive line, running back Marion Harris and wide receiver Rodrell Smith. “About 50 percent of those kids realize that football is not for them or they transfer somewhere else so that is really good about where we are.
“We had to bring in close to 70 guys last year, now we are at maybe 30. That is a huge difference so I think our retention is much better.”
He wasn’t as lucky with his assistants, both of whom Gravier said were happy in Bluefield, but had opportunities too good to turn down.
Defensive coordinator Stacey Hairston has taken over as head coach at Wilmington College in Ohio, while offensive line coach Mike Compton accepted a similar position at Fairmont State.
“When you go 0-11 and your two assistants get upgrades in their jobs, one got a head coaching job and one got to a higher level with a big raise,” Gravier said, “you know you had good guys on campus.”
Gravier has hired Will King to replace Hairston. King, who played at Marshall from 1990-93 and spent a season in the Canadian Football League, is waiting final approval to continue his coaching career that has included stops at Concord, West Virginia State and most recently Delaware State.
As for Compton’s replacement, Gravier has offered the position to a coach with Division I experience, but he has to go through the proper hiring procedures for final approval.
No matter who the coaches are, they will be busy on the recruiting trail, although NAIA programs aren’t tied to National Signing Day on Feb. 5. Fortunately, the Rams don’t need as many players as last year when they brought in close to 70 athletes. He has already added a half-dozen guys who were already on campus.
“The good thing is right now we have about 60 guys on campus compared to 20 last year so we don’t have to recruit that many players,” said Gravier, who doesn’t have a quarterback on the roster, having moved Cory Mabry to wide receiver and Austin Van Es to linebacker. “Our recruiting is really much more specific now as far as what positions we are targeting.
“If this happened last year it would be a lot of tougher to handle.”
Spring practice will be held at Bluefield with 15 sessions beginning after Easter, focusing on fundamentals, and understanding assignments, something that haunted the Rams often last season.
“With two coaches coming on board, the individual part of practice is going to be much important than any team concepts yet,” Gravier said. “The O-L line coaches, techniques are little bit different so there is going to be a pretty big learning curve for those guys.”
Despite a winless first season, Gravier is still excited about the future of Bluefield College football, having seen a willingness from his players to take an ‘ownership’ role, including the formation of a player’s council to have more of a voice in decisions involving the team.
“There is definitely some long hours and frustrating days, but here is one thing that encourages me driving by campus the other day, a bunch of guys playing touch football,” Gravier said. “I had guys call me up and ask me for a couple of footballs because they want to run some routes at the stadium, we have never had that.
“These guys just love to play and we are at a place now, I told our team is it time for them to take more of an ownership of the team.”
That is vital to any college football program, especially one with so many young players. Bluefield’s roster last season was almost completely comprised of freshmen, and the imports will be much the same, just a few months out of high school.
“It has got to transition to their (team) as opposed to just mine or the coaches,” Gravier said. “We are at the point now where we have some maturity on the team and guys that have been in the program for a couple of years.
“They understand where I am coming from and they can convey that to their teammates so it is a different voice that they are hearing. That is encouraging to me that we are making that progress.”
He is also excited about the support the Rams received during the season in terms of attendance at Mitchell Stadium.
“We were still averaging about a thousand people or so those last couple of games and to be 0-9 or 0-10 and still attract 1,000 people...,” Gravier said, “I would venture to guess if you looked at our overall attendance we did as well as most of the schools in the Mid-South.
“I know when we were on the road, there were some schools where the home crowd just wasn’t very big at all so I felt really good about that.
“Obviously if we start winning we will get more around.”
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org