By Marty Gordon
The 2021 spring football season will have a lot of uncertainties, and especially is that true of the Blacksburg Bruins. The big question for head coach Eddie Sloss is who he will put on the field since the team returns only one starter on offense and four on defense.
Will the team rebuild or reload after a 6-5 season last year?
If the past is any example, it simply could be a reload. Last year, the Bruins finished 6-5 and fell in the opening round of the regional playoffs. But this year could be more successful than that despite the loss of so many starters given the team’s consistency year after year.
Thanks to graduation, the team lost the bulk of its offense in running back Brian Mitchell (111 carries for 820 yards and 10 touchdowns, 7.4 yards per carry) and receivers Josh Gholston (22 receptions for 435 yards for 19.77 yards per catch) and Karim Mohamed (41 receptions for 676 yards, 16.49 yards per catch).
Mohamed was also a key cog on special teams with 14 kickoff returns for 404 yards for a 29.5 average with a long of 91 yards.
Last year, Parker Epperley split time at quarterback with Luke Goforth, but this year, it’s all his.
Defense, though, could be where Epperley, a junior, will be depended on the most after racking up 71 total tackles, including 27 solos with 15 for loss last season.
Will Thomas (6-1, 220) is a returning offensive lineman and defensive end, and big men Zach Early (6-1. 290) and Jmare Hairston (6-1, 300) will be returning as defensive linemen.
The team should have an advantage in the trenches with 11 players over 200 pounds, four over 250.
One of the biggest returners could be kicker James Pollard who has two years of play under his belt and has been one of the most reliable kickers in Southwest Virginia.
Sloss said the COVID-19 situation has been a challenge “but the players have responded well.”
The team, according to Sloss, did lose some players during the extended break. “However, the players that persevered are ready to play.”
The roster shows 41 players, making it one of the deepest in the areas, but again the question comes back as to how they will perform without any true preseason or scrimmages given the squad’s relative inexperience. Instead, the team will have to learn on the fly to match the consistency the program has enjoyed over the past eight seasons.
The season doesn’t start on an easy note for the Bruins as they will open at Salem on February 22.
Games against Cave Spring and Hidden Valley have been replaced by Franklin County and Radford on this year’s schedule.