Damron’s Cavs enter SAC fray with new coordinators

Kevin Mays • Aug 7, 2019 at 1:15 AM

Sept. 7 Chowan                                              Noon
Sept. 14 at Tennessee Tech                         7 p.m.
Sept. 21 Mars Hill                                          1 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Carson-Newman                       1 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Lenoir-Rhyne                                 2 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Newberry                                      4 p.m.
Oct. 19 Tusculum                                          1 p.m.
Oct. 26 at Wingate                                        6 p.m.
Nov. 2 Limestone                                            TBA
Nov. 9 Catawba                                               Noon
Nov. 6 at UNC Pembroke                               TBA


WISE — Virginia-Wise heads into football season as a new member of the South Atlantic Conference and with new offensive and defensive coordinators.

But Cavaliers coach Dane Damron said the team will not have a lot of newness when it comes to what it does on the field.

“We are who we are,” Damron said Tuesday when asked about big changes on both sides of the ball following the promotion of linebackers coach Chris Cunningham to defensive coordinator and the hiring of Zach Lewis as offensive coordinator.

“Hopefully on offense we’ll score more points and do a better job of holding on to the football. On defense we are going to do what we do,” Damron said.

Virginia-Wise played in the NCAA Division II Mountain East Conference for the last six seasons. Last year, the Cavs went 4-6 in the MEC but ended the season with an upset win over league power Shepherd.

That’s something Damron hopes to build on as the Cavs enter the SAC fray — including going against nearby league members Carson-Newman, Tusculum and Mars Hill.

“We’re excited,” Damron said. “We think it’s a great fit for our institution. It’s a historic league that plays football at the highest level. And we’re looking forward to seeing some new places.”


Virginia-Wise is most experienced on the defensive side of the ball.

“We have a chance to build off of last season with what we have returning,” Damron noted. “I like our talent at all three levels and feel like we have some depth across the board.”

The defense finished in the top 25 nationally last year in six D-II categories, including total defense. Virginia-Wise ranked 19th in the nation in total defense after allowing 302.6 yards per game.

Anchoring the Cavs’ defense is returning All-MEC defensive back Marcus Tarrer. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound redshirt junior made 79 tackles last year.

Marquis Hamilton, a 5-10, 190-pound redshirt junior who led the team with three interceptions last season, also returns to the defensive backfield.

The linebacking corps should also be strong.

Several linebackers with playing experience are back, led by 6-foot, 185-pound senior Buster Henderson. He was tops on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss last season.

He’ll get plenty of help at the position from junior Da’Jon Bellfield (6-3, 210), sophomore Deandre Williams (6-0, 220), junior Kreshawn Dikes (6-0, 235) and sophomore Veronata Jones (6-0, 195).

Tackle Bryce Harty — a 6-4, 240-pound senior who recorded 35 tackles last season, including 7.5 for loss — returns to anchor the defensive line.

Others likely to see action up front on defense include ends Keishoe Jarrett (6-4, 215, so.) and Michael Rowser (6-3, 200, so.) along with tackles Chavon Fields (6-1, 280, so.), Joel Burgess (6-1, 285, so.) and Rondre Knowles-Tener (6-0, 295, jr.).


On the offense, Damron said his players will have to grow up fast.

“We’re going to be very young, but very talented,” he said. “We’re going to have to have some young men step up on that side of the ball. They will get thrown to the fire early and they will have to step and perform.”

Sophomores Garrett Cropp (6-2, 215) and Tanner Bernard (6-2, 215) are the top candidates to be the starting quarterback.

Last year, Cropp completed three passes in the season opener before suffering a season-ending injury. Bernard had a completion rate of 65.7% with 10 touchdown passes in 2018.

Two freshman quarterbacks — Dobyns-Bennett grad Lendon Redwine (6-4, 200) and Jalen Jackson (6-0, 195) out of Northside in Roanoke — also join the Cavs.

Four wide receivers with some playing experience — juniors Eli Marks (6-1, 195), Matt Felton (5-9, 170), Chris Pritchett (5-10, 180) and sophomore Jordan Jeter (6-2, 195) — are back.

Terrance Lambert, a transfer from Troy, gets a crack at running back, along with redshirt freshman Caleb Grant, who missed last season because of injury.

Up front, the Cavaliers will be very inexperienced with returning starter Sage McBride serving as the anchor.


Senior Daryian Basco returns as both kicker and punter.

Depth at kicker comes from freshman Chase Droog, and Gate City’s Drew Vermillion could step in at the punter position.


Virginia-Wise opens the season at home on Sept. 7 against Chowan.

The Cavs play their first conference game on Sept. 21 at home against Mars Hill.

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