The Southern Virginia University football team recently capped a very successful spring campaign, which began on Monday, Mar. 12 and ended five weeks later on Friday, Apr. 12.
According to fourth-year Head Coach DeLane Fitzgerald, the Knights improved daily this spring, while focusing on their mantra of "Turnovers, Toughness, Teamwork."
Fitzgerald challenged his squad to focus on creating turnovers with its defense, while limiting turnovers on offense, as well as building both mental and physical toughness and increasing team unity.
"Through outstanding leadership from the team's upperclassmen, we made tremendous strides in all three categories [turnovers, toughness, teamwork] during the spring," said Fitzgerald.
On offense, Coach Fitzgerald has emphasized protecting the football and making big plays.
Freshmen Jerry Washington (Gloucester, Va.) and Tod Workman (Queen Creek, Ariz.)—the Knights first and second leading rushers this past season—have been standouts again in the run game, while Kyle Leslie (Tempe, Ariz.) and Jamal Coates (Hickory, N.C.) have shown improvement at the fullback position.
Washington had a particularly stellar rookie campaign for the Knights last season earning 2011 All-Independent Second Team honors after eclipsing the century mark against four different opponents—Pikeville College, George Mason University, Webber International University and Ave Maria University—on his way to a team-best 967 rushing yards on 205 attempts.
As a true freshman, Washington averaged 84.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks first all-time in Southern Virginia football history, while also breaking the program's single-season record with 15 rushing touchdowns and single-game record with 5 rushing touchdowns on Oct. 29 at George Mason University.
After only one year carrying the ball for the Knights, Washington has already accumulated the second-most rushing touchdowns (15) and third-most rushing yards (928) in Southern Virginia football history.
"Our running backs and fullbacks have a better understanding of the offense and have shown great improvements with their field vision," said Fitzgerald.
Offensive lineman Tyler Condiff (Spring, Texas) has anchored a young, but very talented offensive line, which welcomes back Stephen Jensen after a one-year absence.
According to Fitzgerald, one of the keys to the Southern Virginia's success in 2012 will be quarterback play explaining that consistency from the quarterback position has been key to limiting turnovers this spring.
In his first year as Southern Virginia's starter, Stevenson, who is already third on the Knights all-time passing list, completed 182 passes (182-346-18) for 2,106 yards—both the second-most single-season completions and touchdowns of any quarterback in Southern Virginia football's nine-year history.
This spring, Stevenson and Housley have developed great chemistry with wide receiver Chris Harper (Lynchburg, Va.) and tight end Jeff Waldron (Costa Mesa, Calif.), two players that have become reliable targets in the Southern Virginia's passing game and look to make big impacts come fall.
Harper was the Knights' second-leading receiver last season with 28 catches for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Waldron also scored twice as Southern Virginia's fourth-leading receiver with 20 catches and 305 yards.
Coach Fitzgerald and his staff are also very excited about the returning Knights on the defensive side of the ball.
"Our core group of returning defensive upperclassmen is more talented than any other group before them," said Fitzgerald. "We battled through some injuries this spring, but came out in the end a better defensive line."
According to Fitzgerald, Southern Virginia's defense will be anchored by its two inside defensive linemen—Dylan Hall (Redding, Calif.) and Luke Herndon (Mechanicsville, Va.)—who were a large part of the team's defensive production last season.
As a junior, Herndon was a force on the Knights' front line earning 2011 NAIA All-Independent Second Team honors and finishing with the second-most total tackles (62) and assists (33) on Southern Virginia's defense. He also recorded the second-most sacks (4.5), yards from sacks (37), tackles for loss (14) and yards from tackles for loss (62).
Entering his senior campaign, Herndon already ranks second all-time in Southern Virginia football history in quarterback sacks (7.0) and yards from tackles for loss (85). He also ranks third all-time in yards from sacks (52), fourth all-time in tackles for loss (17.5) and fifth all-time in assisted tackles (55).
At the linebacker level, Fitzgerald moved Kody Winsor (West Richland, Wash.) to middle linebacker replacing Tommy Davidson (Paradise, Calif.), who became Southern Virginia football's first NAIA Defensive Player of the Year last season.
"Dakota's speed makes our entire defense faster and he'll be a major play maker next season," Fitzgerald said. "Steven Andreason (Burley, Idaho) has also come a long way since moving to linebacker during the middle of last season and had a great spring."
Southern Virginia's defensive secondary returns Robby Williams (Philadelphia, Pa.), who was the Knights' top cover man a season ago, with 3 interceptions for a team-high 61 interception return yards.
"Robbie has worked harder in this offseason than ever before," said Fitzgerald. "He'll be a great help this year to our guys up front giving them time to get to the quarterback."
This spring also brought a few new faces to the program, an exciting topic for the coaching staff according to Fitzgerald.
One such example is Jake Palmer, a transfer from Snow College, who joined the Southern Virginia's secondary this spring and will be roaming the middle of the field this fall as the Knights' free safety.
"Jake brings great football knowledge and a huge desire to win," said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald also explained that his rover position has been greatly upgraded by the addition of two returned missionaries—Robbie Robbins and Colter Evans—who have both come in and made great strides in learning his defensive system.
Another area that Fitzgerald has greatly emphasized during his tenure as Southern Virginia's head football coach has been missionary service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Last semester, the football program sent out 11 players to serve two-year LDS missions," said Fitzgerald. "At the end of this semester, the program will send out another 16 missionaries. By December 2012, there will be over 30 full-time missionaries from our 2012 recruiting class."
Southern Virginia will open its 2012 season on August 30th at Moorehead State.