At the halfway mark of last year’s high school football season, many Blacksburg fans were scratching their heads about its team play.
After a 5-5 regular season, the Bruins slipped into the playoffs and others had written them off. Four games later, they were in the state championship game and when the dust settled, they were the 2016 3A state champions.
At a 2-4 point, the team adjusted the way they approached its lineup and the year became a Cinderella one. Coach Thad Wells said after the turnaround that his kids bought into the changes, and without that, they wouldn’t have accomplished what they did.
The question is whether they can hold onto the trophy with the face of opponents being a little different this coming season.
Wells has had a whole off-season to let the state championship set in. While he said the memories of that season would always be with them, they have moved on and are now thinking about this year.
“This has been our best offseason in the weight room. I have never been around a group of high school athletes this strong. As coaches, we look forward to being around the players more as the season approaches,” Wells said.
The Bruins have also had a great spring of 7-on-7 competitions.
“7-on-on7’s gives the young guys a chance to compete with the older guys more than anything. We were able to win the Ferrum and Emory and Henry tournaments this summer,” Wells said.
The team returns almost all of its offense including the running back tandem of Cole Beck and Tyquest Terry from that state run, but things will be a little different this year as a higher student enrollment will push the school from the 3A to 4A classification. The district competition will be the same, but when the program moves to the playoffs, they will face the likes of Salem and Pulaski County.
But that doesn’t faze Blacksburg’s coach.
“We are now at the bottom of our classification in terms of enrollment. It just means other teams will have more kids to pull from,” Wells said.
Beck has won several 100 and 200 races, and is listed as the fastest runner in the state of Virginia. During a recent national meet, he surprised a lot of people by finishing second with a group of the country’s fastest runners. He has received over 30 college scholarship offers, including almost everyone school in the ACC.
This year’s roster includes as many as four players that could receive other Division I offers before they even play a down.
The upcoming schedule is loaded with state power teams, and Wells admits he wanted it that way.
“We wanted more points for playoffs and we wanted to be ready for 4A competition when playoffs approach,” he said.
That schedule includes familiar River Ridge teams like Patrick Henry, Cave Spring, Salem, Pulaski and Christiansburg. But this season they added Lord Botetourt, Amherst and Richlands.
The Bruins will open the 2017 season at Giles on Aug. 25.