Willie Copeland

Willie Copeland has been named Valdosta State’s starting quarterback. Copeland was one of four players battling for the starting job.

VALDOSTA — It’s game week for the Valdosta State University football team, and its lineup is set.

Valdosta State released its depth chart Friday, naming those players who will start when the Blazers travel to their first game at Albany State on Saturday.

The Blazers will be led on offense by newly-named starting quarterback Willie Copeland.

The Fort Valley State transfer, who put up 138 yards and nine completions in Fort Valley’s 2005 season opener against VSU, was anointed the Blazers’ starter against tough competition.

“It feels great,” Copeland said. “I had to go through a lot of competition.”

All camp, Copeland battled for the starting job with Clay Callaway, Barrett Wilkes and Allan Tillman.

His performance throughout practices and in two scrimmages secured him the No. 1 spot against the Golden Rams.

“We’re counting on Willie being our starter going into the first game,” VSU coach Chris Hatcher said. “He’s done really well, and I’ll tell you what, Barrett’s done a really good job. But I think if you ask those guys right now by practice, I think Willie deserves to be the starter.”

As usual with Hatcher-led Blazers teams, No. 1 in the depth chart heading into the season, doesn’t necessarily mean Copeland or any other of the named starters will stay that way.

“Like any other position,” Hatcher said. “We’re going to probably play a lot of folks, especially early in the year, until we get in shape.”

Along with quarterback, other position questions were answered such as running back, where Chad Bryant will be the No. 1 guy out of the backfield.

The Blazers bring a talented starting corps to the wide receiver position, including freshman Cedric Jones, and juniors Travis Taylor, Jeffrey Felton and Tyler Aurandt.

After last season’s offensive line was hit hard by injuries, a number of new starters with experience will step up to the ball this season.

Juniors Jos Edison, C.A. Sanders, Davis Russell and Gerald Davis will team with freshman Mike Williams to form the Blazers’ starting offensive line.

On the defensive side, the Blazers’ strength will be depth and its ability to switch talented players for talented players.

At one of its strongest positions, linebacker, VSU will start freshman Jamaal Clark, junior William Montford and senior Gio Blalock. The Blazers will bring two of 2005’s leading tacklers off the bench in Lavarus Dollar and Michael Cullen.

“By game time, they could be starters,” Hatcher said. “They’re all going to play. You have to have a group one and a group two. That’s just the nature of the business.”

Kelvin Roberts, Melvin Black, Travis Harrison and Ismail Abduanfi will form the Blazers’ front four on defense.

In the secondary, juniors Shawn Harrison and Kevin Bray will start at the corner positions, with sophomores Everett Kitchens and Sherard Reynolds at the safeties.

“The team looks good,” Copeland said. “I think this season we’re going to win another national championship.”

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