VMI Football is coming out of consecutive winning seasons for the first time since the 1960s, but Southern Conference coaches don’t have high expectations for the Keydets.
VMI was selected only seventh out of nine teams in a pre-season poll of SoCon coaches on Thursday.
But Keydets coach Scott Wachenheim has high hopes for his team.
“We have every chance of winning the conference championship,” Wachenheim said Thursday in a phone interview from SoCon Media Day in Asheville, North Carolina. “We are a very competitive football team. I love our chances.”
VMI was selected sixth in a pre-season media poll at SoCon on Thursday.
Chattanooga topped both polls.
Lindy Sports College Football Preview magazine has a higher opinion of VMI, selecting the Keydets for fourth place in the conference.
People also read…
VMI went 6-2 overall in the spring 2021 season, when they won the league title with a 6-1 SoCon score and made their FCS playoff debut.
The Keydets finished 6-5 overall last fall, when they tied for fourth with a 4-4 mark in the league. The Keydets scored consecutive winning seasons for the first time since they had six straight seasons from 1957-1962.
VMI was on its way to making another playoff show last fall before losing the last three games of the season.
“A lot of key players were injured at the end of the season,” Watchenheim said. “So [we need to] Develop depth in case you sustain an injury.”
VMI, who opens the season September 1 at ACC Atlantic Division Champion Defender Wake Forest, will begin pre-season training on Monday.
“We may be training without helmets,” Watchenheim said. “We’re waiting for Riddell to ship our helmets.”
VMI brings back six starters in attack and six more in defense.
Ten Keydets earned pre-season all-conference honors from SoCon coaches on Thursday — the second-highest total in the league.
Senior full back Stone Snyder made the first team pre-season. He scored 120 tackles and four sacks last fall.
“He must have a great season,” Watchenheim said. “Really excited about Nick Reeves, the new defensive coordinator who played quarterback for Tennessee, working with him and taking the Stone game to the next level.”
Kicker Jerry Rice, a graduate of Lord Petitourt High School, was also named to the first team Thursday. He made 17 of 19 shot attempts last fall.
“The kicking element in our team really transformed our team,” Watchenheim said.
This component also includes gambler Jack Culbreath, who averaged 43.7 yards per kick last season. The first team also played Thursday.
“We’ve already worked on Jack to get more height on his ball,” Watchenheim said. “I’m expecting a huge year from Jack.”
Long snapper Robert Soderholm also played the first team on Thursday.
“He’s probably been taking pictures for a long time and has a successful career in the NFL,” Watchenheim said.
Quarterback Seth Morgan made the second team Thursday. He threw for 2,175 yards and 14 touchdowns with 11 interceptions last season.
“He’s always been an outstanding instinctive player, but his discipline of reading the progression of the road concept really took a huge step this spring,” Watchenheim said. “He will be one of the best midfielders in the entire nation this year.”
Recipient Leroy Thomas, a graduate of Patrick Henry High School, also joined the second team on Thursday. He had 55 catches for 557 yards last fall.
“He’s going to have a special season,” Watchenheim said. “It will be our flagship receiver and one of the best receivers in the country.”
Thomas and his teammates Jacob Heyeres and Chance Knox were injured last season.
“We did an extensive study because we had some infections at this wide reception site,” Watchenheim said. “Our primary target tends to have a corrosive factor. So we definitely took a look at how to…get redundancy in practice for our receivers to try to do a better job of keeping them healthy.”
The second team chosen by VMI on Thursday were attacking line Jarvis Chandler, Aidan Twombly, linebacker Eric Weaver and defensive linebacker Alegrek Mallery.
VMI, which does not have a graduate school, must replace five offensive starters who have joined other teams as alumni transfers – Hearse (Richmond), receiver Michael Jackson (Delaware) and offensive linemen Nick Hartnett (Buffalo), Jacob Pace (Florida International) ) and Shane Strand (South Charleston).
The Keydets also lost three defensive rookies to the transfer gate — defensive tackle Warren Dabney, who joined Western Michigan as a freshman transfer; safety of Ethan Castleberry, who joined Austin Bay as a transfer graduate; and defensive end Jaylon Haney, who joined Eastern Kentucky as a college transfer.