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VUU starts season with quarterback options

Fred Jeter | 8/20/2015, 11:33 p.m. | Updated on 8/20/2015, 11:33 p.m.
Last year, Virginia Union University led the CIAA in passing. This year, the Panthers hope to be No. 1 in ...

Andre Coble

Andre Coble

Shawheem Dowdy

Shawheem Dowdy

Dane James

Dane James

Austin Parker

Austin Parker

Last year, Virginia Union University led the CIAA in passing.

This year, the Panthers hope to be No. 1 in passing again. But the team also wants to rank first in a more significant category — wins.

After reversing its record from 3-7 in 2013 to 7-3 in 2014, VUU starts its second season under coach Mark James Sept. 5 at Hovey Field against Brevard College of North Carolina in the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Conference.

James juggled quarterbacks a year ago, and there are signs he may again.

There are at least three quarterback options: Returnees Shawheem Dowdy and Dane James and newcomer Austin Parker, a transfer from Purdue University.

Also in the picture is Andre Desmond Coble, a versatile transfer from James Madison University, who is capable of playing receiver and defensive back. Coble saw action as quarterback in last Saturday’s scrimmage at VUU.

Missing from the mix is Kenneth Graham, who is still recovering from two knee surgeries. Graham likely will receive a medical redshirt and return in 2016.

“Kenneth would have likely been the All-CIAA quarterback if he hadn’t gotten hurt,” said Coach James.

“Since he probably won’t be cleared to play until October, it might be best to sit him and save his last season of eligibility.”

Graham passed for 1,376 yards and 10 touchdowns in VUU’s turnaround season.

Dowdy, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Grambling State University, threw for 779 yards and five touchdowns, and can be a punishing runner.

“Shawheem looks like he’s ready for the challenge,” said Coach James. “He’s got a big arm and, at 230 pounds, he’s hard to bring down.”

Dane James, son of the coach, transferred from Florida A&M University. James became the starter by default in VUU’s final game because of injuries to both Graham and Dowdy.

In his first action under fire, James hit 17 of 28 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown in the season-ending loss to Virginia State University.

The VUU vs. Virginia State University game decided the CIAA North Division champion last season and likely will again when the teams meet Nov. 7 in Ettrick. VSU is picked as No. 1 and VUU a solid No. 2 in a preseason coach’s poll.

Another intriguing quarterback candidate is Parker, who starred at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Fla., and East Gadsden High School in Havana, Fla., before enrolling at Purdue University.

James, a longtime high school coach in the Sunshine State, got in contact with Parker through his old Florida connections.

Parker played in just one game for Purdue in 2012.

Another newcomer who could have a major impact on the aerial game is Troy Taylor, hired as VUU’s quarterback coach and Virginia recruiting coordinator.

Taylor, who is no relation to VUU Athletic Director Joe Taylor, posted a 49-24 record in six seasons at Meadowbrook High School, while producing three All-Region quarterbacks, Rodney Nichols, Gerard Johnson and Coble, who is now a Panther.

VUU did not have a quarterback coach, per se, last year.