MEC football: State hopes change pays off
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Change has been a theme around the West Virginia State campus recently.
Jon Anderson represents a large part of that change. In the eight months since Anderson was introduced as the new head coach for the Yellow Jackets football program, there has been change in the form of new facilities on campus, a new scoreboard with video capabilities at Lakin Field, a new conference - the Mountain East Conference - and even new helmets.
Where that change is most telling, perhaps, is on the roster. Not counting redshirted players (or player, to be exact), the Yellow Jackets feature 45 true freshmen to go with a handful of new faces in the upper classes that have joined the program in Institute since Anderson took charge.
That youth is the foundation of what Anderson said he hopes can change the attitude around a program has won just seven games since the 2008 season.
"I think it fits with where we're at, even with our veterans," he said. "It's not starting over it's starting anew. If you want to build something you don't start on the fourth floor you start with the basement. That's what we're doing. We'd be teaching and doing this exact thing schematically if we had a full, veteran team back because we believe that good teams start with the basics."
Some of those freshmen will see playing time this season - either because they are ready to be on the field or out of necessity.
"It's equally rewarding and frustrating," Anderson said. "Because when you work so hard to have a breakthrough - whether it be a scheme or understanding how to be a college athlete, how to do film work and study - when you see a breakthrough and see the light come on for these guys, that's rewarding. It'll be very rewarding when we get the light on for the whole team that first time and get that first 'W'. That will be our payoff.
"We've got some kids that are capable of playing right now and some of these kids are going to have to play before they're ready. We'll grow up quickly as a team that way."
Prior to becoming the 13th head coach in State's history, Anderson spent the last three years as defensive coordinator for NAIA power Sioux Falls (N.D.), where his unit was consistently among the best in the country at that level statistically.
Anderson said he plans to bring a physical approach that worked well for him at Sioux Falls to both sides of the ball at State. The depth charts, however, are still being set.
On offense, senior running back Le'Floyd Phillips returns after seeing action in 10 of 11 games in 2012. The native of Atlanta, Ga., served as the backup to Aubra Taylor, accounting for two touchdowns and 118 yards on 34 attempts, including a 70-yard run that was the longest rushing play of the year for State.
At quarterback there is a three-man race between senior-transfer Tyler Seals, sophomore Joe Thornton and redshirt freshman D'Von Dorsey. Seals comes to State from Northwest Missouri State, while Thornton and Dorsey were both with the program. Anderson said the competition is wide open with all three getting first-team reps. True freshmen Matt Kinnick and Trent Williamson are pushing to get into that top tier, Anderson said, but for now the job appears to be going to one of the other three quarterbacks.
"All three of those guys are working to separate themselves right now," he said. "We're going to have to make some decisions very quickly."
On defense, the Yellow Jackets return their second-leading tackler from 2012 in junior linebacker Edward Blair. Joining Blair in the linebacking corps will be sophomore Mark Guerin. Anderson said Guerin had impressed him after initially not appearing to be a part of his plans at State.
"He really earned every opportunity he is getting and he's slated to be a starting outside linebacker for us," Anderson said. "It took him a little bit to buy in, like we've been talking about, to this program but in the last six months he has really blossomed. He was, I don't want to say written off, but when he wasn't producing and doing the other things he needs to do he was out of sight, out of mind. Now he does the right things."
West Virginia State begins its 2013 season on Sept. 7 at Lock Haven University. The Yellow Jackets open MEC play at Concord Sept. 14 before hosting West Liberty on Sept. 21.
Contact sportswriter Tom Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports.