PIKEVILLE – In eight days, the University of Pikeville football team will kick off its 2016 campaign, hitting the road to Bluefield (Va.) where it will face the Rams in a season opener for the third straight season.
Since Bluefield resumed football in 2012, the Bears are 4-0 against it, winning by a margin of 24.5 points per game.
But the Rams have continued to get better behind fourth-year head coach Ordell Walker, losing at home to UPIKE 62-40 in 2014, followed by a 32-13 loss in Pikeville last season.
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 at Mitchell Stadium, located in the City Park Complex near the Bluefield campus. The action can be heard on Z1075 FM, with live tweets coming from @UPIKEAthletics.
SANI IN THE POCKET
While the week-one depth chart hasn’t been released, if Sani Warren is on the field at quarterback, it will be his third straight year playing in the season opener against Bluefield. In fact, in his collegiate debut he had arguably his best outing, throwing five touchdowns and rushing for another, while completing 16-of-20 passes for 346 yards.
As a sophomore, Warren did more damage on the ground, rushing for 57 yards while throwing for 122 on 10 completions in a game the Bears grinded for a win.
One of Warren’s goals for this season has to be staying on the field as he has played in just seven games in each of his first two seasons due to injury. Despite missing some action, Warren is fourth on the all-time passing list with 2,791 yards and fourth all time in touchdowns with 19.
PARSLEY LOOKING TO IMPROVE AS A SOPHOMORE
Linebacker Camron Parsley had a season to remember in his first year of college football, emerging on the scene to take Mid-South Conference East Division Defensive Freshman of the Year honors with 46 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and seven stops for a loss.
For the Bears to achieve their goals this season however, Parsley won’t be able to rest on past laurels. Instead the Wheelersburg, Ohio native will be looking to turn things up a notch or two as he helps lead a veteran group that continues to gain confidence each day.
“I’ve been running, lifting and working on things that I wasn’t good at in the past because everything is behind me and I’m not looking for individual awards,” said Parsley. “I’m looking for us to win as a team and get that conference championship.”
Luckily, Parsley won’t be alone in leading the charge as seniors Jack Hopkins, Derek Harris and Jordan Mattingly – all regular starters last season – are there to help him along. Hopkins stood out among that trio, collecting a team-best 89 tackles in 2015, including 63 solo stops and two interceptions on his way to First Team All-MSC East honors.
RANKED TEAMS ON THE SCHEDULE
With the recent release of the Preseason NAIA Coaches’ Top-25 Poll, the Bears got a look at which of their opponents were showing up in the early ratings.
Currently there are three ranked teams on the slate, starting with No. 17 Campbellsville at home in week two on Sept. 1, followed by No. 11 Reinhardt at home on Sept. 24 and a trip to No. 18 Georgetown bringing the regular season to a close on Nov. 12.
OPENING UP WITH A DIVISIONAL CLASH
Nothing gets the blood pumping like opening the season with an important MSC East matchup, and that’s just what UPIKE is getting when it arrives in Bluefield next Thursday. Like the past two years, the divisional clash gives the Bears an opportunity to start the season unblemished in the league play without having to face another team from the East until week seven on Oct. 15.
“It gets us more excited when we know its conference play,” said senior defensive back Jack Hopkins. “At the end of the day we’re playing for a ring, even if it is week one, this could make the difference between us getting it done or not.”
While the Bears will face off against a number of teams from the MSC West throughout the season, only games against teams in its division count as conference games. Win the division and the Bears earn an automatic bid to the NAIA National Playoffs.
QUARTERBACKS FIND NEW SPOTS ON THE ROSTER
Senior Russell Gordon and sophomore Jarredd Jarrell spent last season competing for reps at quarterback, but now their focus has shifted to a new role to help the team, catching the ball as a receiver instead of throwing it.
Gordon played in six games last season, completing 9-of-24 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, while also running for 114 yards. By leaving the quarterback spot and joining the receivers, Gordon is taking on something completely new.
“I’ve never played wide receiver before, I’ve been a quarterback since I was a kid,” said Gordon. “It’s been fun so far.”
Jarrell, who prepped at nearby Prestonsburg High School, goes into the change with a little more experience.
“I played receiver one year in high school as a freshman, so that was a little bit different then how it is here,” said Jarrell. “We’re just trying to work hard and the quarterbacks and coach Justin Lamb are helping us along and giving us confidence.”
ROMON MORRIS LOOKS FORWARD TO THE PRESSURE
Junior defensive back Romon Morris out of Ballard High School in Louisville has been on the cusp of breaking into the starting lineup in each of his first two seasons. With a productive spring behind him and added strength and leadership shown in preseason camp, it looks like Morris is finding a larger role on the field in 2016.
“I’m looking forward to all the pressure on me,” said Morris. “Coach prepares me every day to know I’m that guy to step up on Saturdays. I’m doing a lot of film study to be ready to play a huge role.”
Morris has been a consistent performer when called on over the last two seasons, registering 19 tackles and one interception as a freshman, followed by 29 tackles and two picks last season.
Morris describing Associate Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator Brian Williams:
“He’s a funny guy and by coming from some big division one schools, he knows it all,” said Morris. “He puts that knowledge in our head, and then we just go out there each day and do what he tells us to do.”