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Football's Return to Bluefield College

After several years of rumors and speculation, Bluefield College formally announced the return of its football program last June. This was welcome news to a campus where many students are starved for college football action.

Trey Wilson

January 22, 2011

After several years of rumors and speculation, Bluefield College formally announced the return of its football program last June. This was welcome news to a campus where many students are starved for college football action.

 

“I’m excited about football,” said Zach Breland, junior goalkeeper on the Bluefield soccer team. “It’s a great opportunity for the school.”

 

The buzz around campus is only going to grow as the first kickoff draws closer.

 

“Football is my favorite sport,” said Drew Hinton, a sophomore from Salem, Va. “The atmosphere (at the games) is going to be intense.”

 

The program will mean more than a game played on a field every weekend. Football brings traditions, such as the smell of burgers and hot dogs coming from grills during pregame tailgates as everyone prepares to unify in support of their team.

 

Alumni will reunite at the stadium every fall to catch the new season of Bluefield football. Over time, rivalries will develop as the team plays its regularly scheduled conference foes. Football season will prove to be an exciting event, and it will eventually amass itself into the culture of Bluefield College.

 

Bluefield originally started its football program in the early 1920s, reaching various levels of success in the early years. In 1929, B.E. “Mullie” Lenior was brought in to coach the team. An All-American football player from the University of Alabama, Lenoir led Bluefield to a 79-18-2 record in his 11 years as head coach. 

 

The football program was nearly cut in 1933 due to funding concerns at the college. Community leaders rallied financial support to save the program, and the Bluefield football team recorded its first undefeated season that year. The 9-0 season included a win over now NCAA Division 1-AA powerhouse Appalachian State University.

 

But the 1941 season would be the final season for the football program after the college lost most of its male student-athletes to service in World War II. Seven decades later, Bluefield College is finally fielding another football team.

 

Bluefield College announced the hiring of Mike Gravier as the new head football coach in July. Originally from Michigan, Gravier has 15 years of football coaching experience. For the last nine years, Gravier and his family have been involved in ministry in Florida and West Virginia.

 

Gravier has experience in launching a new football program. He was an assistant coach in an upstart football program at Malone University in 1992. Two years later he became head coach, compiling a 30-12-1 record over a four-year span.

 

Most recently, Gravier was an assistant coach at nearby Concord University in Athens, W. Va. Now Gravier is hard at work building the pieces for the new football program at Bluefield.

 

“I am just excited to be here,” said Gravier. “I am excited to be back in football full-time.”

 

Gravier said he has received a warm welcome from the Bluefield College family

 

“The welcome has been tremendous,” said Gravier. “One of the things I have been doing a lot of is travelling around the state going to alumni events. There are people that are getting on board with Bluefield College financially that haven’t been involved before.”

 

One of the most difficult tasks in forming a new program is finding the players that will be taking the field. Gravier has spent the last few months searching for potential student-athletes.

 

“(Recruiting is) basically all I have been doing,” said Gravier. “I have been to the 757 area. I have been to Richmond. I have been doing some recruiting in Fredericksburg and D.C. I have hit most of the local schools.”

 

Recruiting for a new program is proving to have its advantages.

 

“There is a lot of intrigue by players to be in a start-up program,” said Gravier. “These guys are looking at the fact that they can come on campus and they are going to be competing against guys their own age and competing for a starting spot; as opposed to having to wait for that junior or senior to graduate and being a scout team guy for two or three years. They are coming on campus and competing right away.”

 

The new football team plans to hold practices and training in the football facilities at the former Pocahontas High School location in Pocahontas, Va. Games will be held in Mitchell Stadium in Bluefield, W. Va. The stadium, a short walk off campus on Stadium Drive, seats 10,000 fans and recently had new artificial turf installed.

 

With the two Bluefields, both the Virginia and West Virginia towns, holding reputations as “football towns,” Gravier says the games at Mitchell Stadium will provide an opportunity to draw the college even closer to the local community. 

 

“There is going to be some excitement around the community,” said Gravier. “If nothing else, it’s going to be curiosity to start out with. If we win, then people will stick around.

 

“I think a big part of my job is recruiting enough local players to get the local people interested. If a kid from Bluefield High School or Graham is playing for us, not only are his parents going to come watch him play, but the people that watched him growing up and watched him play in high school. Some of those people are going to show up to watch that guy play and be a part of our fan base.”

 

The plan is to field a club team in 2011. The team will compete against several other colleges in scrimmage games. Gravier said he has spoken with several interested schools, but no games have been officially set yet.

 

Competing only in scrimmage games the first year will allow the team to develop and gain experience while maintaining an additional four years of eligibility for the players.

 

Although these games will not officially count, Gravier wants to make the games seem as real as possible for his players. He has requested game films from the other schools so the players can get used to the process of watching film and studying scouting reports.

 

Following the year as a club team, the program will move to full intercollegiate play in 2012. The plan is to join the NAIA Mid-South Conference as a football-only member.

 

The Mid-South Conference includes Georgetown, Campbellsville, Lindsey Wilson, UVA-Wise, West Virginia Tech, Pikeville, Kentucky Christian, Cumberlands (KY), Cumberland (TN), Union, Bethel, Shorter, Faulkner, and Bellhaven.

 

Gravier said the team will run multiple styles of aggressive no-huddle offense.

 

“We are going to try to play fast,” said Gravier. “I want to line up fast, get the next play in, and get going as fast as we can to make it hard for the defense to prepare and wear them down during the game.

 

“I want to have a system where if they are giving us the running game, we can run the ball. If they are giving us the passing game, we can throw the ball and not have to rely on one or the other. Just take what they give us. By playing fast, that’s what we can do.”

 

Gravier said the team will also be very aggressive on defense

 

“I know what gives me a hard time on offense; that’s the kind of stuff I want us to do on defense,” said Gravier. “I want to do a lot of zone blitzing, a lot of pressure, a lot of different looks, a lot of movement up front, disguising things.”

 

The foundation of the team will continue to fall into place over the next several months, and the anticipation for the 2012 season grows stronger. The countdown to the first kickoff has begun.

 

“I’m really excited,” said Gravier. “I genuinely feel that there is excitement here and people are glad that football is going to be a part of this school. “

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