Youth movement fuels optimism for VMI football in 2018

vmi football 2018

VMI football coach Scott Wachenheim, out of necessity, oversaw a youth movement in 2017, playing 30 true and redshirt freshman.

The young Keydets took their lumps on the way to an 0-11 season, but they’re a year older, a year bigger, a year stronger – and a year wiser.

“Experience is valuable to everybody in every endeavor you do. It’s no different in football. Those guys went out last year and played in a lot of big ballgames against a lot of good competition, and I think they gained confidence from that. And they realized, you know, hey, this is what I need to work on to be able to compete with those guys at a little bit higher level. I feel we’ll be in much better shape with the experiences those players took on last year,” said Wachenheim, who is entering his fourth season at the helm at VMI.

Wachenheim has to replace his top four tacklers from a year ago, including All-SoCon linebackers Allan Cratsenberg and Brian Lipscomb and All-SoCon safety Greg Sanders, and the leading passer from last year’s team, Duncan Hodges.

Two other QBs saw significant time last season – sophomore Reece Udinski (432 yards, 54.3 percent completion rate, 2 TDs/4 INTs) and Austin Coulling (364 yards, 47.1 percent completion rate, 0 TDs/4 INTs).

Wachenheim has yet to name a starter for the Sept. 1 season opener at FCS opponent Toledo.

“Both are showing signs of being outstanding quarterbacks. I really like the way they’re competing to be the best they can be, and like iron sharpens iron, they’re sharpening each other, and they’re both getting better out there every day,” Wachenheim said.

The QBs are working with a new offensive coordinator, Brian Sheppard, who served as the offensive coordinator for FCS playoff participant Northern Arizona in 2017, where Sheppard mentored quarterback Case Cookus, who threw for 3,413 yards and 22 touchdowns while the offense averaged 30.2 points per game.

Coulling, a redshirt junior from Salem, is learning his third offensive scheme at the college level.

“A lot of things are similar. It’s football. A lot of terms are called differently by different coaches, so there’s a lot of terminology that I need to learn. Coach Sheppard has done a great job teaching us the offense,” said Coulling, who was the starter for last year’s season opener at Air Force.

Udinski started the season finale, the 45-14 home loss to SoCon champ Wofford, throwing for 207 yards and two touchdowns, completing 24 of his 39 pass attempts.

The North Wales, Pa., sophomore felt the live game action from late last year was a plus for him going into the offseason.

“Having that game experience has helped me a lot, just getting out there on the field and seeing what it’s like has really helped me, and I think it will help me going into this season,” Udinski said.

The football program held its annual media day event on Wednesday at Foster Field. The mood wasn’t what you’d expect from a team coming off a winless season.

“The purpose for the team is to just be the best at getting better. Coach emphasizes that a lot, that every day we should be better than we were the day before,” said Riuq Trotman, a senior cornerback from Virginia Beach, a two-year returning starter in the defensive backfield.

“We had a lot of adversity, coming off an 0-11 season, and now we just have to fight through and show that that’s not the kind of team we are, and that’s not an identity that we want to keep,” Trotman said.

“Like Coach Wach says, we’re just trying to be the best at getting better,” Udinski said. “I think guys have really bought in. We’re not going to look at last season or look at who we’re playing. We just want to take it one day at a time and continue to get better.”

“Everybody is positive. Everybody is expecting wins,” Coulling said. “You can’t think about last season or the season before. You think about the moment. And I think that confidence and positivity going forward is going to be big for us.”

Story by Chris Graham

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