“It all boils down to 10 Saturdays,” Damron said during the Cavaliers’ media day Saturday at Carl Smith Stadium. “We have to make sure that we’re the best team on that Saturday. Nothing else matters.”
Damron enters his third season at the helm of the Virginia-Wise program. In his first two years the Cavs have gone 11-11, including a 5-6 record last season.
Virginia-Wise is going into its final season as a member of the Mountain East Conference and Damron feels like the squad has the tools to be successful.
“We think this is the most athletic team that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” said Damron. “We have to be more consistent.”
A LOOK AT THE LEADERS
Virginia-Wise will have several starters back, particularly on offense. Eight starters return on that side of the ball, including 6-foot-6 senior wide receiver Kaian Duverger.
Duverger came on strong during the last half of last season. He led the Cavs in catches with 41, yards receiving with 530 and touchdown receptions with eight. Five of his eight TD catches came in the final three games of the season.
Damron said even bigger things could come this year for Duverger.
“He has a chance to maybe play this sport on the next level, but he’s got to understand what it takes to do that. It’s not something that’s just going to roll out and that’s going to happen. He’s got to work to get there,” Damron said.
Duverger knows this could be his year to shine.
“I’m just trying to exceed what happened last year. Put the offense on my back and do what I’ve got to do to help us win,” he said.
Another big playmaker for the offense should be junior tight end Jake Barnett, who had 17 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Damron is looking for bigger things from the Union High School graduate.
“Jake has got to play a bigger role in our offense,” the coach said. “We’ve got to get him the football. Because if you look at our two years here when Jake Barnett has a good game, we win.”
Barnett is ready to step into a greater leadership role.
“I’m just hoping I can use my abilities to help the team as much as possible,” he said. “I’m just trying to perfect my role as much as possible.”
The Cavs will also be using a second tight end this year in Bret Wadell, a transfer from Butler Junior College in Wichita, Kan.
The quarterback position remains a big question mark for the Cavs heading into the season.
Redshirt junior Brycen Lee, sophomore Jarome Johnson and Garrett Cropp, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Concord, are the top three contenders.
Lee threw for 1,561 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games last year, while Johnson played in all 11 games. He threw for 754 yards and eight touchdowns.
Cropp saw limited action last season at Concord.
The offensive line was devastated by injuries last season. This year, however, the Cavs have plenty of experience up front with senior Chase Cluesman, a Lee High grad, sophomore Sage McBride, senior Donovan Lynch, senior Will Pendegraph and senior Connor Patton.
In the backfield, running backs Victor Mitchell and Von Purvis will join converted linebacker Jamorya Cousin.
There’s little question as to the defensive leader for the Cavs.
Linebacker Donovan Montague, a second-team All- MEC pick last year, is back for his senior season and ready to lead the defensive unit.
“It’s going to be a good year. I’m excited,” Montague said.
He said he wants to lead by encouraging the younger players around him.
“Coming in as a freshman is tough enough. It’s going to be a learning curve for a lot of them, but they’ve just got to stick to it and they’ll be fine,” he said.
Montague led the team in sacks last year with 8.5 and had 16.5 tackles for loss, another team high.
Junior Buster Henderson and senior Dylan Giovine are the leading candidates for the other linebacker positions.
Along the defensive front, Chris White, Bryce Harty, Davon Clayton, Rondre Knowles-Tener and DiAndre Stubbs will likely see playing time.
The secondary includes returnees Marcus Tarrer, Steven Hill, Josh Saunders, Marquise Hamilton and Demetrius Mann.
Hamilton also is back as the kick returner. Last season, he averaged 37.1 yards per return with two returns for touchdowns.