VIRGINIA — With five practices in three days already in the books for the Virginia football team, the 2019 season looks to be one of growth for the Blue Devils and first-year head coach Matt Anderson.
“We’ve had to take a couple steps back and look at things differently,” Anderson said following Wednesday evening’s practice. “And just because we did that, we saw a lot of growth in our kids today. We’ve got kids flying around everywhere and we’re learning a ton of stuff early on.”
The Devils took to the field as part of a mini-camp in July but getting the nearly 40-man roster on to the field in an official capacity has allowed Anderson and his staff to start putting the pieces together.
“We saw a lot of good things in these first few days. We finished today with some offense and defense in helmets, not live, maybe about 70%, and we saw a lot of good things.
“We saw the tools available to us on offense and defense and it’s really nice to be able to take that step back and evaluate where we want to put guys and where we think they’ll work out in the long run. We’re at a good place right now three days in.”
The Blue Devils look to be a young team this year, boasting only “five or six seniors,” according to Anderson. Still, the ones that are on the field have proven to be instrumental leaders for Virginia.
“We have some older guys stepping up, some are vocal leaders and some might be a little more quiet and lead by example. Seniors JJ Bridgewater and Will Buggert are two very vocal guys and that’s nice to see. It’s something we definitely need. Another senior, Jayden Bernard, has been setting a great example for us on the field, offense and defense. He gets the work done and leads by example for us.
“Right now we have two captains and we’re hoping we can extend that to three or four and possibly a fifth captain possibly on a rotating basis. We want to have more of these leaders that act as a voice for the team. Some of our guys are soft spoken and some are outspoken. It’s a good mix of guys with this group of gentlemen.”
As for the team’s strengths, Anderson believes his squad will rely on their speed and attitude in 2019.
“We have some quickness. We definitely have some quickness and I think we have some kids who are ready to buy in to some of the stuff that’s going on. We’re really pushing our culture and I think that’s something we can rely on in the long run.”
Anderson says he and his staff are taking a page from the playbook of Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and the importance of how players respond to the events that happen around them.
“The kids are responding already. They’re taking the reins and are getting comfortable being vocal. It’s been really nice to see players telling players what to do instead of seeing the coaches have to be the ones to tell the players what to do.”
From the outset, the players themselves have decided their own goals for the season, another method Anderson and his staff have used to help build the players up. Instead of circling one or two games on their schedule, the Devils will take on the season piece by piece.
“The team decided on their own goals and right now we want to go 1-1 every two weeks and learn from our mistakes. So we can watch film, see the good, see the bad, fix our mistakes and reestablish ourselves. If we go 2-0 in that stretch, that’s great. If we go 0-2 then obviously we didn’t meet our goals so we have to reevaluate ourselves and look ahead to the next set of goals.”
One of the bigger adjustments that came along with a new head coach was starting practice at 7:30 a.m. three days of the week, as well as implementing weight training as part of the practice schedule.
“It’s been a little bit of a transition to be here at 7:30 for practice. Getting the kids to be here on time is a challenge but it’s nice to give them a longer break before the next practice so they can rest, get in a good meal and compartmentalize what they learned in the morning.
“With the weight training, that’s a bit of extra adversity that we added in ourselves. Twice a week, we’re lifting and then we head out to practice. The guys get tired. You can see the guys doing lunges in warm ups and they go down and take a step and their whole body is shaking because they’re so tired. It’s a transition to a new system but I think they’re slowly adjusting to it.”
By the end of the second week, the Devils hope to have things figured out when they head to Deer River on Aug. 24 for a set of scrimmages with many area teams.
“We want to be setting people in stone or give them an opportunity to prove themselves that day. If they have a good play, we want to get them on film and see what they can do in those conditions. We can’t simulate a scrimmage in practice. It doesn’t work that way. Even if what we see isn’t perfect, we’ll be okay and it’ll give us more to think on and grow from.”
Less than a week into the season, Anderson says he’s still on the hunt for more players that want to give the team a try.
“If there’s any Blue Devils out there, any Virginia High School kids that want to give this a try, then come try it. It’s an open invitation and you won’t know until you try. We’ve got a fun group of kids who want to be successful but they’re going to be more successful with more bodies on the field at the end of the day.”
The Blue Devils will open their regular season on Thursday, Aug. 29 when they host Rush City.