VUU Panthers anxious to get back to the game

Fred Jeter | 7/29/2021, 6 p.m.
The upcoming Virginia Union University football season might be titled unfinished business.

The upcoming Virginia Union University football season might be titled unfinished business.

The plan is for the Panthers to achieve in 2021 what they were deprived of in 2020. Following a lost season because of

COVID-19, Coach Alvin Parker has welcomed back 13 athletes who essentially will be playing a second-chance senior season.

The listed seniors of 2020 were granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA due to the pandemic. The 2020 seniors had the options to move on or remain in school.

“We had 18 guys who had the opportunity to come back; 13 said ‘yes,’ ” said Coach Parker.

Three of those four were named to the All-CIAA Preseason team. They are tight end Desmond Smith, from Richmond’s Thomas Jefferson High School; kicker Jefferson Souza of Deerfield, Fla.; and wide receiver/ kick returner Jaiden Reavis, from Highland Springs High School in Henrico.

Another second-chance senior is quarterback Khalid Morris from Thomas Dale High School in Chesterfield County. Morris threw for 2,080 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2019.

“We have a few taking extra undergraduate courses and some are in master’s programs,” Coach Parker said of his returning two-time seniors.

The fourth All-CIAA Preseason pick is receiver Charles Hall, a junior from Trenton, N.J. Hall caught 33 passes for 855 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019, leading Division II with 25.9 yards per grab.

There are other Lombardy Street storylines for 2021.

History lesson: In 2019, the Panthers were 7-3 overall, 3-1 in the CIAA, narrowly missing a CIAA Northern Division title and NCAA Division II berth. VUU is 15-5 under Coach Parker overall.

New digs: A major upgrade has turned 113-year-old Hovey Field into Willie Lanier Field at Hovey Stadium. The new playing surface features 86,000 square feet of syn- thetic surface.

“It’s like a new toy; very eye-catching,” Coach Parker said. “It will be the most beautiful facility in the CIAA, and only the second stadium anywhere that can be seen from I-95.” The other stadium visible from the interstate, Coach Parker said, is M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, home of the NFL Baltimore Ravens.

Also, Hovey Stadium will be getting a Jumbotron, new bleachers for the visitors’ section as well as upgraded concession stands and restrooms.

Better buckle up: There will be no time to dip their toes in the water. The Panthers are jumping into the deep end with an opener on Saturday, Sept. 4, against Hampton Univer- sity of the FCS at Hampton, and a Saturday, Sept. 11, home game against Valdosta State University of Georgia.

Valdosta State also sat out the 2020 season, but was 10-1 in 2019 and won the Division II title in 2018 at 14-0.

Doubters: The Panthers have received so-so reviews in the CIAA preseason balloting.

The Panthers were picked to finish fifth overall and fourth in the CIAA Northern Division behind Bowie State, Chowan and Virginia State universities.

Missing something? Gone from the 2019 team are former CIAA Defensive Player of the Year Sterling Hammond and standout running back Tabyus Taylor.

In Taylor’s absence, the lead ball car- rier may be another second-chance senior, Rodney McKay. The Florida native ran for 251 yards and two touchdowns in 2019 as Taylor’s backup.

Let’s get started: The Panthers will begin popping pads on Aug. 9. The roster will include essentially three groups of newcomers—the 2019 freshmen who were red-shirted, the 2020 freshman who didn’t play due to the pandemic, and the 12 true freshmen this year.

“The guys are pretty hungry,” Coach Parker said. “We’re so anxious to get back out there.”