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September 28, 2011

Blazers face first flight on Saturday

VALDOSTA — This Saturday, the Valdosta State Blazers will face their first airplane trip of the season, when they take on the Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils.

On paper, the fourth-ranked Blazers seem to have the edge. An undefeated record compared to a 2-2 Monticello team that is coming off an embarrasing 21-5 loss to the West Georgia Wolves.

Although it may seem like the Blazers have the edge, they face a rather daunting challenge by flying the same day of the game.

“Well it is different,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “When you get to sleep in your bed the night before, that is nice. But, when you have about three hours of travel that day, it is different and there is no way of really telling (the team) how to do it. There is no way to practice it.”

Part of the challenge that goes into flying the same day of a game includes waking up early, going through security at the Valdosta airport, a plane ride and an hour-and-half bus ride just to get to the stadium. Then, the Blazers have to worry about playing the game.

To add to the challenge of flying, VSU’s roster is filled with young players, 10 to 12 of whom have never flown before.

“It is my first time flying, so I am kind of nervous,” Freshman running back Troy Braswell said. “It is going to be a long day, but it is football, you have to get ready for it.”

Although there are several that have never flown, Dean isn’t worried that it will affect his team come Saturday.

“I told them today it is just like riding in the backseat of a car,” Dean said. “You’re just a little bit higher and when you go to stop, you’re just going a little bit faster.”

Since Dean took over the team in 2007, the Blazers have posted a 3-1 record in the first flight games of the season. The lone loss came in 2009 when VSU fell to Ouachita Baptist. The same Tigers team that VSU will face, when they fly to Arkansas.  

Despite the wins, the victories haven’t come easy, even when playing against less inferior teams. Last season, Valdosta State flew to Magnolia, Ark. to face a winless Southern Arkansas team. The Blazers’ offense sputtered, with the defense scoring all the touchdowns in the 21-0 victory.

In 2008, VSU defeated Henderson State 27-23, after outscoring the Reddies 20-0 in the fourth quarter. Henderson State finished the 2008 season with just a 5-5 record, while Valdosta State made the playoffs.

The Blazers first flight under Dean came in 2007, when they paid a visit to Arkansas Tech. VSU pulled out a narrow 28-27 victory, with Maurice Leggett blocking a Wonder Boy extra point to secure the victory. VSU went on fly three more times that year, en-route to winning a national championship.

“For the majority of (the game), you have to deal with jet lag,” Defensive lineman Larry Bryant Jr. said. “For the guys that did it last year, we are used to it. It is just something the true freshman have to get used to.”

Much like last season, and seasons past, Dean said he isn’t making a big issue of the flight, nor is he talking about the early game struggles during the games that include flights.

“It may be mental, it may be coincidence,” Dean said. “We’re not going to address it, at all. We’re just going to talk about going out and doing our job and doing the things we need to do to win.”

The team will meet in Valdosta around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday and will eat breakfast at the fieldhouse before departing for the airport. The plane will depart Valdosta around 11:40 and will arrive in Monroe, Ark., where the team must endure an hour-and-half bus ride to the stadium.

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