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VMI football coach Scott Wachenheim shifts attention to spring

VMI football coach Scott Wachenheim shifts attention to spring

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VMI football coach Scott Wachenheim no longer has any games to prepare for in the fall.

So he is shifting his focus to the spring.

The Southern Conference announced Thursday that it is postponing its fall sports season to next spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Anything that helps our players stay safe and healthy, I’m 100% for,” Wachenheim said Friday in a phone interview. “I’m excited for competing for a SoCon championship in the first year ever of spring college football.

“I spent more time studying COVID-19 than football this offseason and how to keep my team safe. … I knew that the decision could go either way … and was willing to adapt to whatever decision came down the pipeline.”

Wachenheim figures the change in seasons will benefit his young team.

“We had a really good team and we were off to a really good start in our first six practices. But spring, I think, benefits us,” he said. “We will have the whole entire fall to get our team bigger and stronger. We will have an entire fall for our freshmen to learn what we do on offense, defensively and special-teams-wise.

“Just because what’s normal changes, to me doesn’t put me down.

“This enhances our ability to win the Southern Conference championship.”

VMI freshmen will no longer be enduring the rigors of the school’s Rat Line next spring.

“We have 41 freshmen out of 101 players. … So to get them out of the Rat Line in the spring I think will be huge for us in competing,” Wachenheim said.

The SoCon gave its teams the green light to still play nonleague games this fall, but VMI is not interested in doing so. The Keydets will not visit Virginia on Sept. 11 as scheduled.

“The people that made that decision made it for all the right reasons,” Wachenheim said of not playing UVa. “Player safety is always Job 1.”

VMI would have reaped $375,000 for playing UVa.

“It says a lot about the leaders of VMI that they were willing to give up that game to keep our players safe,” Wachenheim said. “I 100% support the decision.

“I believe they made the 100% correct decision.

“I was excited to play UVa, … but the fact that we’re going to play somebody else in the spring, I’m just as excited about that.”

On Friday, SoCon member Samford echoed VMI’s decision from Thursday and opted not to play its Sept. 19 game at Florida State.

Wachenheim informed his players of the SoCon and VMI decisions in a meeting Thursday.

“They handled it extremely well,” Wachenheim said. “They understood.

“They acted like men. … When given a little bit of a hard pill to swallow, they swallowed it and said, ‘OK, Coach, how do we get better?’

“I reminded them how their VMI degree and education would lead them to tremendous success when they graduate and that all of our purposes are still in place — we still have a chance to win the Southern Conference championship.”

VMI was supposed to play eight SoCon games this fall. The league has yet to determine how many games will be played next spring.

Senior quarterback Reece Udinski has NFL dreams. Is he willing to risk injury and play for VMI next spring, with the NFL Draft (and the signing of undrafted free agents) looming in late April and early May?

“Reece right now is solidly committed to playing football for VMI in the spring,” Wachenheim said. “He likes to compete. He likes his teammates. He likes what VMI’s all about.

“If he goes out there and plays in the spring like he was playing in fall camp, it’s going to do nothing but help his draft stock. So he’s going to go out there and play.”

VMI went 5-7 overall and 4-4 in SoCon play last fall — the Keydets’ most overall wins since going 6-6 in 2003 and their most victories in any league since going 4-1 in the SoCon in 1979.

The Keydets had been picked to finish sixth in the SoCon this fall by the Street & Smith’s preview magazine and last in the Lindy’s Sports preview magazine.

VMI began preseason practice last week. Wachenheim said no player had a positive COVID-19 test during preseason camp.

The freshmen were previously on campus for freshmen-only workouts last month. VMI has said one of the freshman football players tested positive on July 17.

Football practices have now ceased in the wake of Thursday’s developments. The NCAA has not yet informed the many teams nationwide that won’t be playing this fall how many fall practices they can have.

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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