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VMI hopes to walk away a winner in its final season in the Big South Conference.
Courtesy of VMI
VMI senior quarterback Eric Kordenbrock hopes to play a role in changing the culture of a struggling football program that has not had a winning season since 1981.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
LEXINGTON — The schedule. It’s the biggest ally this fall for a VMI football program that has won only nine of 44 games the past four years.
A menu that includes home dates with a pair of Division II schools — Glenville State and North Greenville — and a pair of eminently winnable home games against fellow FCS foes Robert Morris and Bucknell has the Keydets flowing with optimism heading into their final season in the Big South.
Certainly, the Big South has been nothing but big trouble for VMI football. Since joining the league in 2003, the Keydets are 11-38 in conference play.
That said, VMI would like to deliver a parting shot or two before packing up and filing to the Southern Conference next summer.
“This is by far the best schedule we’ve had,” fifth-year senior starting linebacker Wes Reber said. “We dropped one game — Stony Brook is out of our conference — and we have only five other teams in our conference. We have been talking about how much of a chance we have.”
While the Keydets will be huge underdogs in their Aug. 31 opener at Richmond and Sept. 21 trip to Virginia, they will have a shot to enter October with a winning record for the first time under sixth-year Sparky Woods if they can take of business against Glenville State (Sept. 7), North Greenville (Sept. 14) and Robert Morris (Sept. 28).
“Every team can beat you, that’s for sure,” Woods said. “Believe it or not, I think we’ve won just about every game we’ve been favored in since I’ve been here. I don’t think football is that complicated. I think it’s get players, develop players and have a fair schedule. And I do think there’s some fairness to this schedule.”
In addition to the schedule, Woods and his players unanimously agree that this is the most talented team — 15 returning starters — VMI has fielded in any’s stay on post.
“This is the best opportunity we’ve had,” said Woods, whose VMI coaching record is 13-42, including 7-22 in the Big South.
“We’ve got guys who have played, and they know what we’re trying to do, and they understand the people we are playing now, too. I’m real excited about our chances. I respect the people we play, and I realize that we’re still going [to] be underdogs in many of those games. But I feel pretty good about the team going in.”
It all starts with the trigger man on offense. For the fourth straight year, Eric Kordenbrock will be the team’s starting quarterback. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Gibsonia, Pa., native stands fourth on VMI’s career passing list with 4,523 yards.
Forget those numbers. The only figure Kordenbrock cares about is the team’s record. When asked how sweet it would be if VMI could pick off “five or six wins” this fall, Kordenbrock smiled and replied: “Oh, it would be awesome.”
“I wanted to come into this program and take it from a 2-9 team [in 2009, before his arrival] and flip the record,” he said. “That’s what I want to do, just flip the record this year. We’re working our tails off to do so.”
Simply winning three games in September would be monumental for a program that has won only two contests in three of the past four seasons.
“It would be huge,” Kordenbrock said. “Because a lot of the issues for this program right now is trying to keep players here. It’s easier to get guys to go through everything over there [in the barracks and class rooms] when everything is going well over here on the football field.
“This schedule is definitely a better one than we’ve had in the past, but at the same time the teams we play are going to want to come out and whip our tails so. I think our team is ready to go. I’m excited about it.”
The Keydets would love nothing better than to pull a sneak attack and shock some Big South foes in their lame-duck season.
“Justin Smith [senior defensive end] and I were at the league’s media day,” said Kordenbrock of the July 25 function in Charlotte, N.C. “They weren’t being disrespectful by any means, but you could just kind of feel like we were the little brothers in there and they weren’t too worried about us.
“You know that’s their fault for not being worried about us. If you look at our games in the past we were always in it with teams until the half or towards the third quarter and they kind of start pulling away because we starting making mistakes ... like letting a guy return a kickoff for a touchdown like we did my sophomore year against Liberty. There’s a bunch of other mistakes that we need to eliminate and we stay in games longer and pull out games in the end.”
Smith got the same vibe in Charlotte.
“Liberty, Coastal, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Whoever doesn’t want to take us serious that’s their fault. This team is prepared going in. I know we can play with the best of ’em as long as we cut down on our mistakes and get some turnovers.”
Reber said the Keydets will be like a snake lying in the weeds this fall.
“These other teams are no different than we are,” Reber said. “They’ve got guys who are all-preseason, all-American … and they’re no bigger, they’re no faster, they’re not stronger, they don’t know as much as we do. We’ve just got to get in our mind-set that they’re the same exact as we are and it’s just about how bad you want it.”
Kordenbrock spent much of the summer working with a stellar group of talented freshmen wideouts on post. He said there’s a different attitude in preseason camp this time. Now it’s time to go out and produce on Saturdays this fall.
“There’s just a buzz about this team that I haven’t felt in the past,” Kordenbrock said. “Guys are excited to be out here for football. In the past, everybody was excited to get to their first fall camp, get through the first two practices, but now it’s just something different. I can’t exactly tell you what that is. But looking around at these guys everyone went home and they did their work. Now, I can’t wait to see what happens.”
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