The VSU football team wrapped up its spring season on April 21 with its annual spring game, and unlike last year, there was no tie.
“We weren’t gonna have a tie,” head coach Tremaine Jackson jokingly said. “We’d be out here all night.”
The Red Team scored the go-ahead touchdown via an 11-yard pass from junior quarterback Sammy Edwards to senior wide receiver Jerson Jacques with 13 seconds left. The Red Team then stopped the Black Team in their tracks at the four-yard line to win 28-24.
The spring game, which featured 12-minute quarters with a running clock and player-drafted teams, gave fans their first look at what will be a drastically different team from last year. The Blazers went 5-6 in 2022 in Jackson’s first year at the helm, marking the Blazers’ first losing season since 1999.
Jackson, for one, is proud of his team’s effort that they put forward throughout spring.
“I’m proud of our fight,” Jackson said. “There’s been a lot of different adversity to happen this spring – guys injured, guys out, guys having to step up, and we just keep fighting. That’s a different attitude. I don’t like spending a lot of time on what was, but that’s just different than when we first got here. A lot of guys came in tonight and stepped up that hadn’t played a lot of reps in spring ball.
Jackson added: “I’m really excited about the growth on defense. I think both defenses on each team tonight played extremely well for the most part. We gave up some big plays, but I think we’re talented on offense too.”
The Quarterback Competition Heats Up
No area will be more different than under center as the Blazers look to replace a legend in Ivory Durham.
Jackson says the quarterback competition will continue well into fall camp as Edwards, redshirt sophomore Seth Smith and Western Kentucky transfer Darius Ocean all jockey to be QB1.
“I’m proud of all three of them,” Jackson said. “They played with different offensive line rotations so they didn’t get a chance to get with consistent O-lines, and that matters when you’re playing offense. … This battle is going to go into fall camp. We can’t figure it out right now. Too many guys do too many different things well. We’ll get it worked out, but really excited. Not many people have one quarterback. I feel like we have three.”
Though all three quarterbacks showed promise, it was Smith, who led the team’s third string unit throughout spring practice, that looked the most comfortable under center.
Smith credited his performance to being more comfortable in offensive coordinator Rick Bowie’s air raid scheme in comparison to last year.
“Coming in the summer last year, I’d played a lot of football, but Coach Bowie’s offense, I felt like I was a little in over my head to be honest,” Smith said. “Now that I’ve been in it for a full season and now have gone through 15 spring practices, I feel more comfortable than I’ve ever been playing quarterback, so it’s a lot of fun.”
That said, Smith says that there is no bad blood in the quarterback room.
“Every guy in that room – Sammy, Ocean, Trent (Townsend) – we push each other every day to be better, and there’s no animosity or anything,” Smith said. “We’re all great friends. We get after each other in meetings and in the lifts and everything. We’re just pushing each other to make each other better, and we’ve been doing that all spring, and I’m looking forward to carrying on to this summer.”
Running Back Rumble
Another big hole the Blazers have to fill is at running back as both Seth McGill and VSU’s all-time leading rusher Jamar Thompkins have also departed.
While they have big shoes to fill, the running backs provided reasons for optimism as several backs broke off big runs throughout the night.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Black Team got on the board first with an 18-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Ja’Daniel Nettles on the first play of the second quarter.
The Red Team answered back with a big touchdown run of their own as junior running back Bud Chaney scored from 33 yards up to tie the game. Chaney would add on another touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter from seven yards out.
Additionally, redshirt freshman Andrew Carner also found the end zone via a 40-yard run. In all, the Blazers’ running back room combined for four rushing touchdowns.
“We’re trying to replace two really good backs in this program’s history,” Jackson said of the running backs. “To see a lot of guys touch the ball, we’ll look at it, but I was pleased. Certainly not the yardage they would want, but to spring some big runs and to have some cuts there, I’m really excited about that group. And here’s the deal, we’ve got more guys on the way. We’re going to have to try to find enough balls for these guys, man.”
The Return of the Black Swarm?
While the offense played well, the defense showed huge signs of improvement.
The Blazers’ defense was the team’s Achilles’ heel last season. The Blazers gave up over 37 points per game while also allowing over 250 rushing yards per game.
On Friday night, though, it seemed like the defense was everywhere.
The Blazers got multiple sacks on the night, swarmed to the ball carrier and were readily in position to break up passes.
The Blazers even forced two interceptions, including a pick six by redshirt freshman safety Jordan Billups that put the Red Team up 14-7 late in the first half. Junior defensive back Montae Boyd came down with the other interception on a wild sequence that saw the ball go off the leg of the intended receiver before Boyd came down with it.
“We can run now, and I think, if you don’t notice anything else, the way that they swarmed to the football on both teams was way different than what we’ve seen,” Jackson said of the defense. “I looked up, and I thought they were coming after me. They run better, and again, we’ve got more guys on the way.”
Jackson added: “They hit people. They like to hit people, and they celebrate with one another when they hit people, and Valdosta State is gonna play defense. I made that promise when I got here. We’re gonna do that. People need to get ready for that because I really like the group, and I like what’s coming.”
Written by Austin Bruce, Sports Editor. Photo courtesy of Austin Bruce.