For decades, Gate City has been known as a football powerhouse in Southwest Virginia and throughout the state.
Last year, however, was a struggle.
The Blue Devils suffered through nine straight losses before winning their final game of the season to finish with a 1-9 mark, one of the worst records in the storied program’s history.
A repeat of last year is not acceptable for most, including third-year coach Chris Akers.
“We try to put the past behind us, but we do want to prove people wrong,” said Akers. “We still are Gate City and we don’t like the fact that we’re being overlooked.”
However, Akers said, being overlooked has been a motivating factor of sorts for the Blue Devils.
“We do embrace the underdog role. And I still believe that regardless of our record, anytime somebody plays Gate City we’re going to get their best shot. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. Nobody’s going to take it easy on us and we know that,” said Akers.
The coach said last year’s devastating season was difficult for all involved. A tough schedule and multiple injures hampered any progress that the Blue Devils looked to make last season.
At one time or another during the 2017 season, Gate City had 23 different players injured.
“Injuries played a big factor in our record last year,” said Akers. “It was tough. It was a lot of injuries.”
The Blue Devils’ schedule doesn’t make picking up a win any easier.
“The first part of our season is tough. Our nondistrict schedule is tough,” said Akers.
Gate City opens the regular season on Aug. 24 at home against Richlands before traveling to Class 3 and Mountain 7 District foe Abingdon.
The Blue Devils also face Sullivan South, Daniel Boone and Marion in non-district games this year, along with having to play in the tough Mountain 7 District that includes powers Union and Ridgeview, among others. But Akers said his team is ready for the demands of the schedule and enters the season with a chip on its shoulder.
“We’ve made great strides in the weight room and our kids have just matured physically and mentally,” said Akers. “We’re looking forward to it. There’s no doubt about it that we play one of the toughest (Class) 2A schedules around and we know that. But we’ve kind of embraced the challenge,” said Akers. “There’s not an off week for us. There’s always a challenging week and it’s a grind for our kids and we know that. We’ve got good kids. We’ve got mentally tough and physically tough kids.
“We’re excited for this year. We really are.”
One reason for the excitement in Gate City is a host of returning starters for the Blue Devils. Gate City returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense.