The Valdosta State Blazers have seen the option a lot this season.
West Alabama, Edward Waters, North Alabama, Delta State and Shorter all ran a form of the option this year against the Blazers.
Edward Waters and Shorter ran the more traditional veer-style option, which the Blazers will once again see this weekend when they host the Carson-Newman Eagles (9-2) in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals in Valdosta.
“Seeing it this year, I don’t think it is going to be as much of a surprise as it was,” linebacker Ryan Smith said. “But this is a much better team than the first two we faced, so we have to stay humble and follow the game plan and not get too cocky knowing we stopped the first two teams.”
While the Blazers may have seen the option the majority of the season, they may not have faced a team that runs it as well as the Eagles’, who are averaging 380.1 yards rushing per game.
“You are never comfortable seeing the option,” head coach David Dean said. “There are so many things they can do. You don’t see it as much and it is hard to simulate it in practice. Whenever you see it, you always go in with a little bit more nerves.”
The majority of Carson-Newman’s attack comes from running back Brandon Baker, who is the team’s leading rusher with 1,313 yards with 12 touchdowns, and quarterback Brandon Haywood, who has rushed for 945 yards with a team-high 15 touchdowns. Tryon Douglas has also scored 10 touchdowns.
“Those guys are three yards from the line of scrimmage and when the ball is snapped, whoever the dive guy is, he is just shooting straight ahead,” Dean said. “So everything happens so fast, it is very tough on your linebackers.”
To help prepare for the Eagles, the Blazers are using graduate assistant Doug Belk, a former Carson-Newman quarterback and receiver, to run the scout team this week in practice.
“(Doug) was in that system for a long time and he understands the basics of what they try to do,” Dean said. “It has been a big help.”
Blazers pushing for big crowd
After having a season-low 1,984 fans in attendance at last Saturday’s second round game against West Alabama, Valdosta State players are pushing for a large crowd this week against the Eagles.
Several players gave gone to social media Web sites like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about Saturday’s game.
With a win and a supportive crowd on Saturday, the Blazers could host their national semifinal matchup against either Minnesota State-Mankato or Missouri Western State, which will air live on an ESPN affiliate.
“It would mean a lot, knowing that we have the support of the community, the city, anybody would like that,” said Blazer captain Cam Short. “But in the end, we know we are Division II; we know guys are bandwagon Georgia fans, Florida Fans and that is OK. We are going to win our game and if that want to bandwagon us in two weeks, that is fine. But as of right now, we love the support, we love the fan base, we love them back.”
With the game being an NCAA event, students are not admitted to the game free of charge, like they are throughout the regular season.
To help offset the cost of tickets for students, who were on Thanksgiving break last weekend, the Dean of Students Office and the Valdosta State Foundation have purchased enough tickets so that all current students will be given free admission into the game with an active student ID.
Three Blazers named NFL Draft prospects
Three Valdosta State football players have found their way onto a list of prospects for the upcoming April NFL Draft.
Valdosta State linemen Ryan Schraeder and Edmund Kugbila and defensive back Greg Reid are listed as potential prospects for the upcoming draft, according to CBSsports.com.
“It is good as long as they keep their focus on Valdosta State right now,” Dean said. “They have a future and will be able to go on to the NFL and make money, and that is great, but I think the one thing that they do a great job is keeping their feet on the ground. They are not looking ahead. Their work ethic hasn’t changed because they are getting the NFL looks.”
Schraeder, who joined the Blazers in the spring of 2011, is ranked as the 26th best offensive tackle and the 325th best overall prospect for the upcoming draft. Listed at 6-foot-7, Schraeder was named an All-American following the 2011 season with the Blazers and will likely be named an All-American this season.
In his one season at Butler Community College, Schraeder, who didn't start playing football until college, led the Grizzlies to the NJCAA National Championship Game while being named an All-American.
The 6-foot-5 Kugbila was named a third-team All-American following the 2011 season that featured him being named a unanimous All-Gulf South Conference selection. Kugbila began playing for the Blazers as a freshman in 2009 and turned into a starter in 2010.
Reid, a former Lowndes standout, joined the Valdosta State football team in August. Less than two weeks after joining the team, he tore his ACL during a scrimmage and was later ruled out for the remainder of the season. Despite not playing a snap for Valdosta State, Reid could hear his name called in April's draft following a successful three-year career on the field at Florida State.
With the Seminoles, Reid was the nation's top punt returner and was projected as a late second or early third round selection following his junior season in 2011. Reid chose to return to FSU to help improve his draft stock but was dismissed from the team for violation of team rules.
Currently, former Blazer Larry Dean is the only Valdosta State alumnus playing in the National Football League. A member of the Minnesota Vikings, Dean was named a special teams candidate on the NFC Pro Bowl ballot this year.
The Valdosta State Blazers have seen the option a lot this season.
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