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The Knights, in their final year as an independent, are hoping for a more potent offense.
Courtesy of Southern Virginia
Running back Jamal Coates rushed for a team-high 402 yards last fall.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
A plethora of returning players has Southern Virginia coach DeLane Fitzgerald convinced that his team’s string of losing seasons is going to end this year.
The Knights have suffered five straight losing seasons. But they return eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters from last year’s 5-6 squad.
“We’re going to have a winning season,” Fitzgerald said.
“Our core 30 players are better than they’ve ever been. … This was the first year that our really, really important players didn’t leave. We lost some kids to graduation, but our key players didn’t go on a church mission.”
The Knights could use a more prolific offense after averaging just 18.2 points last season.
“We should score a lot more points just because of who’s returning,” Fitzgerald said.
Running backs Jamal Coates and Jerry Washington are back. Coates rushed for a team-high 402 yards last fall. Washington ran for 906 yards and 15 TDs in 2011 but was limited by injuries to 295 yards and one TD in six games last year.
“Jerry’s healthy, so that’s a big thing,” Fitzgerald said. “Jerry’s going to score somewhere between 10 and 20 touchdowns.”
Andy Jones is back at quarterback. He threw for 778 yards and seven touchdowns with 10 interceptions as a freshman last fall, when he completed just 49.7 percent of his passes.
SVU must replace Jones’ top two targets from last season — receiver Cameron Williams and tight end Jeff Waldron.
The entire starting offensive line is back.
“Those five kids up front are a difference maker,” Fitzgerald said.
Tye Hiatt has been promoted to offensive coordinator. Fitzgerald said the Knights will employ no-back, one-back and two-back sets.
“We’re going to hang our hat on the running game on offense,” said Fitzgerald, who is entering his fifth season at the helm. “We were throwing the ball a lot more than we should have last year.”
Linebackers Robert Robbins and Dakoda Winsor are among the starters back on defense.
The defense will miss standout linemen Luke Herndon and Dylan Hall. But Fitzgerald figures Sam Mellor, who is back from his Mormon mission, and newcomer Keaton Epps can fill the void.
“We’re going to be really good on the defensive line again,” Fitzgerald said.
SVU is beginning its second school year as a provisional NCAA Division III member. The team has played an 11-game schedule in the past, but this year it will play a 10-game schedule, which is the standard in Division III.
This is SVU’s final season as a football independent. Next year, the Knights will become a football-only member of the New Jersey Athletic Conference. So it soon won’t be so hard for Fitzgerald to find opponents.
“I’m ecstatic that I won’t have to schedule 10 or 11 games independently anymore,” he said.
Seven of the teams from last year’s schedule are off this year’s schedule, including five of the teams that beat SVU last fall.
Newcomers to the schedule include Bluefield, an NAIA school that went winless after reviving its football program last year; Warner, an NAIA school in Florida that is starting up football this year; and Southwestern, a Division III school in Texas that is reviving its football program this year.
SVU will play USA South member Methodist for the first time since 2003 and will play a future league rival, The College of New Jersey, for the first time since 2004.
SVU will again play Newport News Apprentice, but this year the teams will meet not once but twice.
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