For nearly every college student across the country, finals week is one of the toughest, most stressful weeks of the year.
This week, members of Valdosta State’s football team were forced to balance the hectic schedule of final exams and a full practice schedule in preparation for Saturday’s Division II national semifinal matchup against Minnesota State-Mankato.
“It is pretty hard,” receiver Quin Roberson said. “But at the end of the day, we are student-athletes and our books come first. It is hard to balance this week.”
One major obstacle players faced this week was rescheduling exams that were originally scheduled for today. The Blazers are set to depart for Mankato from Valdosta Regional Airport at 11 a.m.
“If I was younger, I think it would be tougher,” senior offensive lineman Mesh Wokomaty said. “I think as you get older, it gets easier. I’m a senior now; I know how to manage my time. That is the biggest thing, managing your time.”
Throughout the week, head coach David Dean has stressed the importance of finals to his players.
“They came here to be student-athletes, so they have to take care of their finals,” Dean said. “One thing that I have stressed to these guys is, ‘Take your academics serious and do well in your studies. When you’re away from the fieldhouse, make sure you’re studying and not goofing off. But when you come out here for practice, the reason you came to Valdosta State was for football, so come out here and have some fun. Let this be your outlet from the work you have to do.’”
Blazers not worried about natural grass
Saturday’s game will mark just the second time this season Valdosta State will play a football games on a natural playing surface.
Eleven of the Blazers’ 12 games this season have been played on artificial field turf. The Blazers’ only other time playing on natural grass this season was Oct. 6 at West Georgia. They won the game 42-6.
Despite temperatures in Mankato being projected to be in the mid-30's on Saturday and a 40 percent chance of snow being forecast for Friday, the Blazers are not concerned about the playing surface for Saturday's game.
“It looks great,” Dean said. “It's nice and green.”
Dean said several Blazer players actually thought the playing field at Mankato's Blakeslee Stadium was an artificial surface, when watching game film.
“Our guys were looking at film and I told them it was natural grass and they all thought I was lying to them,” Dean said. “They all thought it was a turf field. It looks that good. It looks like they take good care of it and it is well-manicured. So I think it is going to be a good, fast surface.”
Despite the game being played on a natural field surface, the Blazers will not wear their black pants, which they wore at West Georgia. When the Blazers unveiled their new uniforms in August, it was announced they would wear white pants on the road on artificial surfaces, but black pants on natural grass.
That isn't the case this weekend.
“The guys said they wanted to wear white-on-white,” Dean said.
Instant replay to be used Saturday
Instant replay will be utilized in Saturday's football game.
Coaches and administration from both schools will receive more information regarding how replays will be used and how teams may challenge calls during Saturday's game on Friday night in Mankato.
“If it is like it was in 2007, then it is just like you see it on TV,” Dean said. “It is going to be a situation where if you want to challenge something, you can. But, all plays are reviewed; All the touchdowns are reviewed, all the turnovers are reviewed. Now if you feel like they are missing something and you want to challenge, you just tell the official on your sideline.”
Instant replay at the Division II level is only used in national semifinal games and the national championship game, which airs live on ESPN2 next weekend in Florence, Ala.
If a coach challenges a ruling on the field and the play is not overturned, that coach's team will be charged a timeout. If the challenge is successful, the team will not be charged and the game will be reset to reflect the outcome of the review.
When Valdosta State was in the midst of its championship run in 2007, the Blazers visited California (Pa.) in the national semifinals. As Dean remembered following Tuesday afternoon's practice, he nearly challenged a play that would have cost the Blazers a timeout in a game that was decided by four points.
“I started to challenge an interception that we had in the end zone, right before Maurice Leggett had an interception to win the game,” Dean said. “But I was going to challenge (the first interception), but they blew it dead and reviewed it, and it was actually not an interception. The ball had hit the ground.”
A replay booth will be set up in the press box at Mankato's Blakeslee Stadium on Saturday. All scoring plays and turnovers are reviewed by the replay official, who will signal down to the field if play needs to be stopped for a longer review.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 3 p.m. Eastern in Mankato, Minn.