Written by Chris Pendleton and Sean Dahlin
Date: August 30, 2012
Time: 7:00 pm EDT
Opponent: Morehead State Eagles
All-Time Series: 0-2
Last Meeting: September 5, 2009 at Morehead State (L, 10-61)
The Southern Virginia University football team will open its 2012 season—the program's tenth season since beginning in 2003—on Thursday, August 30 at 7 p.m. against NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent Morehead State University.
"There's a lot to be excited about for this football season," said Fitzgerald. "We have a talented team and a lot of experienced players returning on both sides of the ball."
Including Southern Virginia's season opener on the Eagle's home turf in Morehead, Ky., the Knights' tenth season begins with three of four games on the road. This Thursday, Southern Virginia is seeking its second season-opening win in the past decade as the Knights are currently 1-8 all-time during season openers, including a 1-5 mark for road openers.
Thursday's matchup between Southern Virginia and Morehead State marks the third meeting between the two schools and the first contest since 2009 with all three games being played on the Eagles' home turf—Jacobs Field in Jayne Stadium.
The Knights are 0-2 all-time against Morehead State, having lost at Jayne Stadium on both occasions, 10-61 in 2009 and 6-49 in 2008.
"Morehead State is a first class program with first class facilities," said Fitzgerald. "We know it will be a tough test, but we are competitive and want to measure our team with a top notch program."
Coincidentally, this will be the second time in program history that the Knights will be facing the Eagles in a season opener at Morehead State on August 30—Southern Virginia and Morehead State faced off on August 30, 2008 in Morehead, Ky.
DeLane Fitzgerald is in his fourth season as head football coach at Southern Virginia and is in his eleventh year of coaching collegiate football, making previous stops at his alma mater James Madison University (NCAA DI-FCS), the University of Tennessee at Martin (NCAA DI-FCS) and Bethel College (NAIA).
In his three years as Southern Virginia's head coach, Fitzgerald has posted an 11-22 overall record, including back-to-back 4-7 season in 2010 and 2011.
Fitzgerald became the winningest coach in Southern Virginia football's nine-year history last season, passing Mike Smith who went 9-13 overall from 2007-08.
Matt Ballard begins his 19th season as the head football coach at Morehead State and 25th year as a collegiate head coach.
Ballard has amassed a 98-98 (.500) record with the Eagles and is133-123-1 during his coaching career. In his 18 previous seasons at Morehead State, Ballard has led the program to four Pioneer Football League South Division championships (2002-05) and a program record nine wins on two occasions (1998, 2002). He was also named Pioneer Football League South Division Coach of the Year each year from 2002-05.
Before becoming head coach at Morehead State, Ballard served in the same capacity at NAIA-affiliate Union College (Ky.) leading the Bulldogs to their first Mid-South Football Conference championship in 1992. That same year he also garnished NAIA District 32 Coach of the honors. His first stint at Morehead State came when he was defensive coordinator from 1984-87. Ballard also made stops at Georgetown College (NAIA) and Gardner-Webb (NCAA DI-FCS).
Ballard received his bachelor's degree from Gardner-Webb University and master's degree from Georgetown College.
As the Southern Virginia University football program heads into its tenth season, the Knights are optimistic that 2012 will be their finest year to date. Armed with 12 returning starters and a solid incoming recruiting class, Fitzgerald is setting his sights on Southern Virginia football's second winning season.
In 2012, Southern Virginia will return what, according to Fitzgerald, is possibly the most talented offensive team in school history.
The Knights offense will be quarterbacked by last year's starting signal caller Mitch Stevenson (Muskogee, Okla.). Stevenson played quarterback in all 11 games for the Knights last year and the then-sophomore completed 52.6% of his passes (182-346-18) for 14 touchdowns and 2,084 total yards—the second most single-season yards in program history trailing only Luke Taylor's mark of 3,292 from the 2007 season.
Despite last season's returning quarterback, Fitzgerald explained that the true strength of his offense this season may actually be at the running back position where the Knights return last year's first and second leading rushers, Jerry Washington (Gloucester, Va.) and Tod Workman (Queen Creek, Ariz.) respectively, while also adding Jamal Coates (Hickory, N.C.) at the fullback position.
Washington had a particularly stellar rookie campaign in Southern Virginia's backfield last season leading the team with 906 rushing yards—second-most single-season rushing yards in program history—on 205 attempts, while also breaking the program's single-season record with 15 rushing touchdowns on route to becoming the program's first freshman to earn NAIA All-Independent Second Team honors.
Four of the Knights' five primary receiving threats from last season are also coming back for more fireworks in 2012. Slot receiver Chris Harper (Lynchburg, Va.) and Dewayne Beamon (Eastern Wayne, N.C.), will pair with wideout Cameron Williams (Sacramento, Calif.) and tight end Jeff Waldron (Costa Mesa, Calif.) creating a formidable receiving core for the Knights.
C. Williams led last year's squad in receptions (35), receiving yards (506) and touchdowns (5), while Harper was the team's second-leading receiver with 28 catches for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns from the slot position. Beamon added 26 catches for 318 yards and 3 touchdowns and Waldron scored twice with 20 catches and 305 yards as Southern Virginia's fourth and fifth-leading receivers respectively.
In addition to a solid group of offensive returners, Coach Fitzgerald is returning five of his eleven defensive starters from last season.
Southern Virginia's defense will be anchored by its two senior interior defensive linemen—Dylan Hall (Redding, Calif.) and Luke Herndon (Mechanicsville, Va.)—who are both captains this season and were a large part of the team's defensive production last season.
As a three-year starter, then-junior Herndon was a force in the Knights' front line last season finishing second on the team in total tackles (62) and earning 2011 NAIA All-Independent Second Team honors. Entering his senior campaign, Herndon already ranks second all-time in Southern Virginia football history in quarterback sacks (7.0), fourth all-time in tackles for loss (17.5) and fifth all-time in assisted tackles (55).
In the middle of the defense, Fitzgerald will move Dakoda Winsor (West Richland, Wash.) from outside linebacker, where he played last season, to middle linebacker. Fitzgerald believes that Winsor can increase the overall speed of Southern Virginia's defense as the junior-to-be will also return kickoffs for the Knights again this season.
Winsor will be flanked in the defensive backfield by Steven Andreasen (Burley, Idaho), who converted from running back to linebacker last season after the addition of Washington, and Robert Robbins (Glendale, Ariz.), who played for the Knights in 2008 and has recently returned from a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During his freshman season in 2008, Robbins recorded 48 total tackles (30 unassisted, 18 assisted) before leaving on his mission.
In the defensive backfield, senior captain Robert Williams (St. Cloud, Fla.)—the Knights' top cover corner a season ago with 3 interceptions for a team-high 61 interception-return yards—will look to shut down opponent receivers and lead the Knights' secondary. Southern Virginia's coaching staff is also enthusiastic about the addition of Snow College transfer Jake Palmer who will help solidify the Knights' secondary at the free safety position.
The Knights are also experienced in the kicking game with both their kicker and punter—Brett Murray (Hollywood, Fla.) and Brenton Estorffe (Mooloolaba, Australia)—from last season returning after solid junior campaigns.
In the return game, Winsor will again return kickoffs and Andreason is in the lead to take the punt return duties, but will have to stave off the competition from teammates this fall.
"We are very excited for the upcoming season," said Fitzgerald. "We have a great group of guys, who perform with integrity in the classroom and on the field. I think that will translate into a very successful tenth year of Southern Virginia football."
Morehead State is looking to have a standout 2012 season as it returns five individuals who earned Pioneer Football League postseason honors a year ago—Zach Lewis, Joey Clegg, Rainer Duzan, Eric Matteson and Donte Sawyer.
Morehead State set 17 school records a season ago—eight team and nine individual. The offensive unit led the Pioneer Football League in first downs (25.2), total yards (478.9), passing yards (358.2) and points (36.1) per game in 2011.
Eagles senior quarterback Lewis will look to lead the offense once again this season after establishing Morehead State football single-season marks for completions (324), attempts (513) and passing yards (3,585).
Senior wide receiver Sawyer will be Lewis' main target from the receiving corps in 2012 after tallying 60 catches last season for 904 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns.
The Eagles' will be anchored up front by senior offensive linemen Matteson and Joey Clegg who blocked for an offense last season that established 17 school records.
On the defensive side of the ball, Scott—credited with 49 tackles and 9 pass break-ups a year ago—will serve as the main threat for the Morehead State opposing offenses to keep at bay in 2012.
The special teams will look for consistency in the kicking game from three-year starting senior kicker Duzan. He led He knocked down 12-of-17 field-goal attempts and 49-of-51 extra-point tries.