The defense, which closed 2018 with a solid performance in a 21-16 win over Shepherd in November, controlled Saturday’s annual Red-Gray spring game at Carl Smith Stadium. Led by rising redshirt junior Marcus Tarrer’s nine tackles, the defensive unit held the offense to 189 total yards and one touchdown on 57 plays from scrimmage.
“We’ve been working hard over the spring and we’ve had a lot of people coming back,” said the defensive back, a J.R. Tucker graduate out of Richmond.
“I’ve got to give that to the whole defense. They put me in the position to make the plays. I say all the time I’m just picking up the scraps.”
Tarrer had a team-high 78 tackles last season. Coach Dane Damron said having a leader like Tarrer on and off the field is a huge plus for the program.
“His redshirt freshman year he showed some glimpses of just how special he could be and then what he did last year is special,” Damron said. “In addition to being a great football player, he’s a great kid. As good as that kid is on the field, he’s five times a better person.”
Tarrer feels good about moving into a leadership role.
“Our coach always tells the team that we need a player-led team, so I just want to be a person to put myself in that role and make sure I’m a leader on and off the field and make sure that I’m a role model for each and every one of the players,” said Tarrer.
Demetrius Mann, another returning starter to the defensive backfield, had a big spring game with four tackles.
“Our secondary is very strong. We’ve got Marcus Tarrer. We’ve got Marquis Hamilton, as well as myself and we’ve got some young guys that are ready to roll,” the rising senior said. “I think we’ve got the best secondary in the nation and we’re going to prove it this year.”
Best in the nation may be a lofty goal, but it’s not as farfetched as it first sounds. Among NCAA Division II teams, Virginia-Wise ranked 19th in the nation and second in the Mountain East Conference last year in overall defense.
It was not all gloom and doom for the Virginia-Wise offense Saturday.
Quarterback Garrett Cropp was 8-of-16 passing for 86 yards with no interceptions, and Tanner Bernard finished 6-for-16 for 37 yards and one interception.
Rising sophomore Caleb Grant led the ground game with 27 yards on 10 carries. Darrien Newton’s only carry went for 19 yards and the day’s only touchdown.
“We’ve been working hard all spring,” Newton said of the offense. “It’s kind of like a chess match. We’d do something, they’d adjust to it and then we’d do something new and they’d adjust to it.”
NEW SEASON, NEW CONFERENCE
When the new season arrives, the Cavaliers will be competing a new league, the South Atlantic Conference. That doesn’t necessarily mean a new approach for the team.
“I think the new process going into the new conference is staying hungry,” Mann said. “We don’t need to talk too much. We just need to go in there and prove ourselves. It was a down year, but we know that. We’ve just got to dig more and prove ourselves.”
Damron said the focus of the spring season has been on team improvement. Dealing with SAC play will come with the season.
“I know that it’s been a very good league for a long time,” the coach said. “The travel is hard to beat. Charlotte is going to be our longest trip with four hours. We’re going to have a lot of day trips.
“I’m looking forward to going to some different places and I know North Carolina in November is a lot better than Cleveland.”