Defending SoCon champ VMI: And the pressure of expectations

VMI AthleticsJust a few months ago, you might remember, VMI still hadn’t had a winning season since 1981.

“We’re, like, the hunters now,” said Stone Snyder, the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year in the spring campaign, which saw the Keydets make the program’s first-ever playoff appearance.

The returns of Snyder, starting QB Seth Morgan (1,374 yards, 10 TDs/4 INTs) and top wideout Jake Herres (80 catches, 978 yards, 8 TDs) are at the heart of why the Keydets are ranked 19th in the preseason AFCA FCS Coaches’ Top 25 Poll.

One thing VMI football is not used to this time of year: dealing with the pressure of expectations.

It’s a good problem to have, of course.

“Before, Samford, Furman, all of them, they had the target on their backs. Now, you know, we’re the team that everyone has on their schedule, you know, like, you got to worry about VMI. So, yes, it’s a change, but we’re ready for it, we’re excited,” Snyder said.

“There’s a little bit more excitement in the air, for sure,” coach Scott Wachenheim told reporters after a morning practice earlier this week.

The Keydets won the SoCon regular season title with a 6-1 record, before falling 31-24 to FCS national power JMU in the first round of the playoffs, rallying from a 28-10 second-half deficit to make it interesting late.

Wachenheim said fall camp has gone well, that he’s happy where his team is to this stage.

The focus through the end of next week is on working on fundamentals, trying to get incoming freshmen incorporated into the VMI way of doing things.

“I think it’s been very positive thus far. We’re relatively injury free. Everybody should be available for the season opener at this time. And I’m hoping that we stay that way, because that’s critical to the success of any program,” Wachenheim said.

Snyder said “the first day of camp, it felt like we just picked right back up where we left off JMU week.”

“It’s only a few months ago, honestly,” Snyder said. “We feel like we have that rhythm going. We have chemistry, a lot of returning starters with experience. We’re real confident about this fall.”

“I think this is definitely the most momentum that we’ve had since I’ve been here coming into a season,” said Herres, a senior. “That spring season was really special for all of us. But we have to learn, it’s a new kind of thing for us, so we have to learn to deal with it and kind of just put it in the past now, you know, celebrate it for a little bit, but we have to just move on.

“We have the same goals this year and bigger goals this year. But I definitely think last year is going to help. You have a good foundation to build on, and I’m excited for what’s to come,” Herres said.

The hard part will be not buying into all the nice things being written about them.

Actually, Morgan doesn’t think that will be so hard.

“To be honest, we don’t even think about it that much,” Morgan said. “I think we’re all just really focused on, you know, what’s ahead. We don’t want to look behind. Obviously, we acknowledge it was great, but you know, we’re hungry, we want more. So we’re just really focused on just building off of what we did last year, and just, you know, keep doing it.”

Story by Chris Graham

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