Football season is near as the Urbana University squad gears up for the start of preseason camp. Players will report to campus Wednesday and the excitement begins with the first practice set for Thursday at UU Stadium.
The Blue Knights will train every day and break camp on Sunday, Aug. 21, before classes begin Monday, Aug. 22.
Here are five things you need to know heading into camp:
This year marks the 30th full season of football at Urbana University. UU started the modern-era program under head coach Ray DeCola in 1985, primarily playing a junior varsity schedule, but also competed in the first NAIA varsity game that same year with a historic 30-7 victory over Tiffin. UU then played a full slate in 1986, going 4-4-1 with wins over Waynesburg, Tiffin, Iowa Wesleyan, and Defiance. Junior quarterback Doug Rutan led the way with 14 touchdowns while throwing for nearly 2,000 yards. Freshman Grady Parks out of West Palm Beach, Fla., rushed for over 500 yards and scored three times. Parks still holds the program record for most career touchdowns by a UU running back with 24.
Coach Haines’ second year
Head coach Tyler Haines enters his second season at the helm of the Blue Knights. Haines is among the youngest head coaches at any collegiate level at 32 years old, and hopes to make a significant leap forward this year. He jumped right into his first head-coaching gig last summer and picked up two wins during his first campaign. With a full year under his belt to stabilize the program, Haines now has UU on the path to success. Additionally, one of the top recruiting classes in program history will report to campus this week aiming to contribute right away on the field.
UU has played three quarterbacks in each of the past two seasons and will hope to have more consistency at the position in 2016. Haines indicated at MEC Media Day that the starting role will feature open competition during camp with senior Cale Burdyshaw and redshirt junior Tajuan Green pegged as the front runners. Also in the mix are sophomore transfer Rob Walton, sophomore Riley Sims and redshirt freshman Chance Short. Senior Eric Pelfrey will return to his wide receiver position this year after filling in admirably at QB in 2015.
Burdyshaw is the most experienced player with 17 career appearances and began the 2015 season as the starter. He’s healthy after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 4 last year and will be counted on for leadership. Green, who is a converted wide receiver, put on a display in the final two games with five touchdowns and zero interceptions, while showing maneuverability skills with 88 rushing yards on 15 carries.
Saunders looking to Lead
All-MEC wideout Trevon Saunders is back for his junior season and will be the biggest weapon on offense. Saunders is coming off a breakout year where he caught eight touchdowns and led the team in receptions (48), receiving yards (878) and average-yards per catch (18.3), while also proving to be a threat in the return game. He finished second in the league last season with 144.6 all-purpose yards per game. Whoever is at quarterback will be looking to get the ball in Saunders’ hands.
Season opener in prime time
Urbana is set to open the 2016 season on the road in a big matchup against Glenville State on Thursday, Sept. 1. The game is deemed the MEC Game of the Week, and will air on WV MetroNews in prime time with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. at I.L. & Sue Morris Stadium. The Blue Knights will have revenge on their mind after the Pioneers posted a 49-0 shutout at UU Stadium in last year’s opener.