West Virginia State ready to bury recent football past
INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- It's been a year of new beginnings at West Virginia State.
New athletic facilities are popping up around the Institute campus, the school's sports teams are ready to set sail with the fledgling Mountain East Conference and the football program sports a new coach.
The Yellow Jackets just hope the changes don't stop there.
West Virginia State has posted only two winning records in football since 1992, and has gone 3-28 combined the past three seasons.
Incoming coach Jon Anderson, 36, who worked with an NAIA powerhouse program in Sioux Falls (S.D.), looks to complete the metamorphosis at State.
"The vision that was sold to me throughout the interview process,'' Anderson said, "was that what had been done here wasn't good enough, and that was obvious through the records. But there has been administrative support and significant investment not only in football, but in all athletics that made this a very attractive job for me and for my family and for the assistant coaches who have come here with us as well.''
Anderson, who was part of three national championships in his 11 years of coaching at Sioux Falls, fancies himself much like the workers toiling on the school's new convocation center - constructing something from the ground up.
"To be able to build something was very intriguing to me,'' he said Saturday during West Virginia State's fall sports media day held on campus.
"I've been in a program that had been very successful for quite a while, and it was a great experience. We did it for a long time, and I'm blessed to have coached a lot of great athletes and worked with some great coaches. But I wanted a challenge to see if what we did there and what I had learned there through that process can work someplace else. I always think it's so rewarding when you build something and get to that level of success as opposed to maintaining a level of success.''
Anderson said there's been a lot of competition for playing time during preseason workouts, with 38 returnees dotting a roster that currently has 97 players.
"All the old guys are looking over their shoulders,'' Anderson said, "and looking at pressure from the new guys that can play. And the young kids - they're too young to know any better, so they're just going to go out and play. So that's exciting and it's also nerve-wracking and it's also frustrating, to coach as many young kids as we are in some spots.''
Running back LeFloyd Phillips, a fifth-year senior, has seen dramatic changes in the past few months since Anderson came on board.
"It's a whole new coaching staff,'' Phillips said, "and 30, 40 new players came in. It's really a different team when you look at it.
"It's exciting. New stuff is always exciting. Everyone's bought into the program, and we're looking forward to going into this new conference and playing new teams, stuff like that.''
Phillips said all the change is making it easier for players to forget the problems of recent seasons.
"When you look at the record from last year, 2-9, well, it's just now we're really a different team with different schemes on offense and different schemes on defense, different coaches. So we don't really worry about last year, we just look forward.''
State opens its new beginning on Sept. 7 at Lock Haven (Pa.), then begins a 10-game swing against MEC schools, playing every other member of the new league except Wheeling Jesuit, which doesn't have football.
Two of the three out-of-state schools that joined nine members of the former West Virginia Conference pay a visit to State's Lakin Field this season - Urbana (Ohio) on Oct. 5 and Notre Dame (Ohio) on Nov. 2. The Jackets visit Virginia-Wise on Oct. 26.
Anderson was asked if it was an advantage or disadvantage to be joining a new league at the same time his football program was undergoing an overhaul.
"It's completely different for everybody,'' he said. "There are three new [coaching] staffs and three new teams. Maybe we don't stand out as much now as we would have a couple of years ago when it had been status quo in the old conference.
"So from our standpoint it's a bit of an advantage in that, yes, we're an unknown, but there are also other teams that are unknowns to us. We've done as much research and film study as we can, and we'll be very basic and sound in our schemes and be able to adapt and grow as we go.
"But the biggest thing that we don't know is: What is the level of play? Everything looks great on film, but my staff is coming primarily from three very good Division II conferences in the Midwest - high-level Division II football.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.