Valdosta State is hoping past trends continue in 2010.
After winning its first ever national championship in 2004, VSU was eliminated from the playoffs early the following year. Then uncharacteristically the Blazers missed the playoffs despite a top 10 national ranking in 2006. David Dean took the reigns as head coach of the program in 2007, leading VSU to its second national championship.â†µ
Then once again in 2008, a team littered with major Division 1 transfer talent, thought to be among the elites in program history was knocked out of the playoffs early. 2009 saw them follow up 2008 exactly like 2006 -- without a playoff berth.â†µ
If the trend continues, Dean could be putting another ring on his finger this year. Realistically this program doesn’t have the same continuous talent as those national championship years. But at the beginning of both of those seasons nobody was picking the boys from Titletown to be playing for a ring.â†µ
Defensively Valdosta State is led by two of the nations' best at their positions. Student government president and all-conference defensive tackle Demario Jones is a load. His 5-foot-10, 316-pound frame is tough for offenses to combat. His strength and speed are uncanny for his height and weight, leaving him to create havoc in most backfields. Linebacker Larry Dean reminds many of a former Blazer at the same position; Ex- Atlanta Falcon Jessie Tuggle. Dean is a slightly undersized, speedy, weight and film room warrior who has been calling the defensive plays since his sophomore season. Now a senior, it’s only fitting that he is approaching Tuggle’s school record for career tackles.â†µ
Offensively, Valdosta State will have a new man under center. El Camino Junior College transfer Jimmy Coy was redshirted upon 2009’s arrival of Kellen Lewis from Indiana. This is likely Coy’s offense to run after a quarterback battle with fifth-year senior Russ Callaway was cut short on a career ending knee injury. Callaway, the son of UAB head coach Neil Callaway, had returned in 2009 just five months after a torn ACL and unfortunately for the offensive captain, suffered the same injury early in camp this year.â†µ
As usual Valdosta State brought in players from all levels to fill needs on the depth chart. What was a young inexperienced defense a year ago now has highly praised junior college talent mixed in. After the graduation of all-time leading receiver Cedric Jones, the Blazers hope Southern Mississippi transfer Jordan McNair can fill that void. But the Blazers will rely on their experience in the ground game, headlined by senior halfback Ronnye Nelson, who also runs the "Wildfire" (VSU’s version of the wildcat).â†µ
Expectations in South Georgia aren’t at the usual national championship level this year. However, the Blazers tend to do their best flying under the radar. The problem for them is they play in the Gulf South Conference, Division 2’s version of the Southeastern Conference. Even with curbed expectations, most envision a top 20 possibly even a top 15 team playing at Valdosta State in 2010.â†µ