Too often in life, and especially in sports, negativity rules. That isn’t a rule that Ordell Walker cares to follow.
After Bluefield College’s intrasquad scrimmage on Friday at Mitchell Stadium, instead of the team heading for the showers, the players congregated on one corner of the field, and the 150 or so spectators were urged to join them for what Walker calls an ‘afterglow.’
“That is what we want,” Walker said, “bring the families that are supporting us inside the inner circle.”
Walker started by explaining the ‘afterglow’ effect, and then let the players and coaches ‘have the field’, paying compliments to everyone from teammates to girlfriends to parents and even pastors and college officials, all of which was meant to build family through positive reinforcement.
While unusual at any level, it was the hallmark of legendary coach Frosty Westering, who installed the same practice during a remarkable 40-year career in which he won 303 games. His teams played in seven NAIA national championship games, winning three of them.
One observer mentioned that it was throwback to a different era, before players were hurried off the field to speak with the media or simply get away from the crowd.
Josh Erby, a freshman from Rock Hill, S.C., who will start at quarterback for the Rams on Saturday when Bluefield travels to Valley, Ala., to face Point University, joined in on the fun.
“I like it,” Erby said. “All of this really brings us together, we have got to be a team if we are going to be great.”
Walker, who came to Bluefield after eight years — including four as a head coach — at Greenville College, installed the practice there, and brought it will him from Illinois.
“It is a remarkable effect on team, it just builds team, it builds you into a family,” Walker said. “There are going to be some games where we might lose and it helps in the grieving process, we can get over those things quickly, no matter the situation, we will find what is positive.
“We will watch the film, we will have time to talk about what is negative, but let’s take some time to try to encourage each other.”
It is that type of connection with the community that Bluefield College wants for its football team, which is more in the limelight for most colleges or universities than the math or science departments.
“It is a huge responsibility, I like to say it is the front porch of the school,” Walker said. “Many times it is the first thing that people see because of the football culture and how important it is in our society.
“It is very important that your football team reflects the values of the university and the leadership that they be proud of it, not just on the field, but also off the field.”
That is the point, not matter who is watching.
“Our president, our fans, our alumni,” he said. “We want to reflect the values of the school so that is extremely important to us.”
Walker wants to win games, but understands that his role as a mentor to college football players isn’t temporary, it could impact them for the rest of their lives.
“I love that NCAA commercial, 99 percent of us are going to go pro in something other than our sport, and that is the reality,” Walker said. “We have a great opportunity to teach our guys and prepare them that for the next 40 years, not just these next four playing football.”
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Bluefield was 0-11 last season, in what was the school’s first year with a team since the program was disbanded in 1941.
The task ahead is huge, but Erby — who was selected as the starting quarterback over four other competitors — is thrilled to be part of building the Rams into winners.
“We have to keep our heads up, even though last year wasn’t so good, it is a new program, it is a new year,” said Erby, who first learned of Bluefield College from former Rams’ head coach Mike Gravier. “I came here to help bring the program up, to the next level.”
Five different quarterbacks, including four freshman and a sophomore, had been competing for the spot, and Erby was the choice.
“He is probably the most gifted quarterback that we have played as far as his arm strength, release, quickness, things like that, you don’t have to coach him much from that standpoint,” Walker said. “He is still learning the run game and he is still a freshman so every day is an adventure, but he gets better every day at the same time.”
That wasn’t all that set Erby apart. Bluefield College offensive coordinator Aaron Mingo saw much more that made him the choice.
“There is a lot of different things, and obviously Josh’s intangibles were a big factor, he brings a lot of leadership, he takes command of the offense, he is the guy that I believe gives us the best chance to win,” Mingo said. “He makes great decisions, manages the game well, has a terrific arm and he can run the option well so that definitely helps.”
Now comes the hard part for Erby. Keeping his spot.
“They will be pushing me to go harder and harder every day,” he said. “I have just got to step up and be the leader of the team.”
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Walker preaches a ‘fanatical’ approach to defensive football, a trait that defensive coordinator Mike Scott is preaching to his Rams. He liked what he saw during Saturday’s scrimmage, as he continues to put together a depth chart prior to the opener at Point.
“We are trying to get there,” Scott said. “We are not there yet, and I think maybe it will take new bodies across from us to get that going and hopefully keep it going.”
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Bluefield’s 72-man roster includes just 25 players who were on last year’s 77-man team to start the 2012 season. Most of that is young, including 29 freshmen or redshirt freshmen, along with just one senior — former Graham product and Concord transfer Darrius Carper — and nine juniors.
Bluefield will play just four home games this season, beginning on Sept. 21 with Kentucky Christian. The Rams will also host Belhaven for homecoming on Oct. 12, along with Union a week later, and the season will conclude on Nov. 16 against Cumberlands, Ky. at Mitchell Stadium.
Former Bluefield High School football color commentator Larry Mlynczak will serve as the radio ‘Voice of the Rams’ for all 11 games this season.
Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. Drop him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org