So Ferrum has finished the first season under Coach Harper. I for one am very impressed and satisfied with the results of this season. While Ferrum did not win the USA South conference, they did far better than some people would have predicted, and even outpaced the coaches poll projection from Media Day.
So where does Ferrum go from here? While the 2011 season was one where the Panthers were in contention, and put themselves in a position to play for the conference championship, there is still room for improvement.
First they need to assess their talent. Who is returning, and who is not?
The offense looks to me that it will suffer the most losses:
QB/PR Marcus Mayo
OL Jack McDowell
OL Michael Walker
OL Ivan Eames
RB Steven Harris
RB Corey Smith
RB Justin Donnelly
TE Chris Duble
On the defensive side of the ball, Ferrum will lose only two players:
DB Delano Hall
LB Tremaine Whitney
While it would appear that the Panthers are fortunate on defense, the offensive losses will leave the coaches in a position of having to fill quite a few holes.
The loss of Marcus Mayo is huge to the offensive productivity. Look for this void to be filled by Tim Reynolds, or Tyler Brubaker. Reynolds appeared in eight games for the Panthers, and in his freshman season, ran for 106 yards on 9 attempts. That translates into an 11.8 yard per rush average.... he also scored two rushing touchdowns. Reynolds played his high school football in Arlington at Yorktown High School, and had a successful high school career. He has a strong arm, and good speed. I look for him to have very productive years at Ferrum. Tyler Brubaker also is in contention for the starting assignment. Very athletic, Brubaker brings good speed, and ability to what will be his Senior year. He has been used mostly at Wide Receiver where this past season, he caught 13 passes for 224 yards and one touchdown. While Brubaker has been valuable in that role, look for him and Reynolds to be in strong competition for the quarterback job.
The offensive line is an area that Ferrum really must solidify. Losing Jack "fear the beard" McDowell, and Michael Walker leaves two gaping holes in the O-line. These two players were very instrumental in Ferrum's conference leading rushing attack, and someone will need to step up the take their place. I look for Zach Bossio, and Cam Bailey to return as starters, as well as J.L. Tyree. Beyond that, experienced players seem hard to come by. Michael Cherry is a possibility, but he only appeared in two games this past season after playing in 7 in 2010. If available, I would look to him as a potential starter. Other names that jump off the page are James Schambach, and Robert Reed. The O-line has plenty of depth, but whoever fills these voids, will lack experience. In the long run I doubt that this will be a problem.
Ferrum will lose three running backs, and while all three had major roles in the offensive game plan, Ferrum has seven returning backs for the upcoming season. Among those are Dontavious Gilbert, Dominique Lesine and Ty Saunders. Look for these three to get the majority of the carries, but I would expect some rotation of less experienced backs when appropriate to build playing time.
On defense, Ferrum will have to replace two major contributors to this year's team. Delano Hall and Tremain Whitney were involved in 121 tackles, and combined for 5 interceptions. The loss of these two players are key, but Ferrum is fortunate in that losses are minimal on the defensive side of the ball.
Look for the DB position to be filled by either Alphonso Green or Devaris Mosley, while the LB position will likely be filled by Jatavious Adams. Ferrum will be solid at linebacker.
From my perspective, I look for Ferrum to again be a solid team. If I were to guess, I think they will be recruiting for all of the positions being vacated, but overall the cupboard is quite full, and I look for Ferrum to have another successful year.
Strength and conditioning training will be of paramount importance as time goes on. It is vital that Ferrum build a team that is well conditioned, bigger, faster, and stronger than their opponent. This past season, Ferrum was successful in most of their endeavors, but in their three losses, of which I saw two, I personally believe that a lot of the problem was size, speed, and strength and conditioning. To me this is one of the next hurdles that Ferrum must cross to compete for a conference title, and beyond.....and beyond is where the goal should be. Ferrum, in my opinion must seriously look into implementing a department of strength and conditioning for all athletes. This will mean hiring a staff that is dedicated solely to athletic conditioning. This is already in place at CNU, and other colleges around Virginia. Yes this would mean hiring more full time staff, and more expense to the college, but it is necessary to take all Ferrum sports forward.
I was in a restaurant this past week, and was wearing my Ferrum Alumni cap. The cashier commented that he had never heard of Ferrum, and asked where it was. After answering, the poor guy probably wished he had never asked. I can get pretty enthusiastic when talking about Ferrum, and before I had my change in my pocket, he knew where it was, its football history as a Junior College, when it transitioned to DIII, that all pro running back Chris Warren went there, and is now on the coaching staff, and that the Norton Center will be opening in the spring of 2012. He may have wished he had never asked, but one thing is for sure...He can never say that he has never heard of Ferrum ever again.
I bring this up as I see this as another opportunity for the college to put the focus on getting the word out about Ferrum, and in particularly Ferrum athletics. I believe that all of the athletic teams can benefit if Ferrum will dedicate another full time position in the office of Sports Information. This, as I have said before, is important mainly due to the growth that Ferrum athletics is experiencing. (Men's Lacrosse, and Women's Swimming are the newest sports at Ferrum), and while there are two other coaches that share the title of Assistant SID, this, in my opinion needs to be a full time position.
This will likely be the final post of 2011. It's been a great year, and I can't wait to see what 2012 holds. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!