RICHMOND, VA — Fans who filed into Historic Hovey Stadium on Saturday hoping for a heavy dose of Virginia Union University running back Jada Byers were sadly mistaken.
The all-American back who touched the ball 300 times last fall only touched the ball a handful of times during the program’s spring game.
“We get a lot of reps with him during practice. I don’t need to put him in a lot today,” VUU head coach Dr. Alvin Parker said with a smile Saturday. “A guy who leads the nation (in rushing) we don’t need to see anything. He led the nation in all the categories, so we don’t need to see a lot. But you know, he gets a little bored sometimes. So him getting bored, I got to find a way to slide him in.”
As if on cue, Byers began to playfully run in circles around his head coach. That’s something he did plenty of last season, rushing for 1,920 yards — a Virginia Union University and CIAA record — with 19 touchdowns.
“It’s bigger than just me right now. It’s about everybody else around here,” Byers said after the game. “Like my mom always told me, Jada you can’t sit around for too long. You got ADHD. But I tell her, ma, sometimes about getting mental reps. Sometimes mental reps is the same as physical reps. So long as I get my mental reps right and I keep doing what I got to do and watching film — I’ll be great with everything.”
Even without Byers on the field, there was plenty to take in on this warm spring day.
VUU went 9-2 in 2022, inching its way into the top 10 in Division II national polls. Despite that success, there was still a lot left on the table last season.
The team failed to make the CIAA Championship Game thanks to a late-season loss to an inferior Chowan team. It still managed to get a berth in the playoffs. It hosted Wingate University in the first round, but was outclassed in its first home playoff game in over two decades.
That loss has been a motivating factor for Parker’s Panthers.
“I’m just telling guys — you don’t really get a week off. And I think that’s what we preach. The entire 14 days, up until the 15th day — it’s no days off,” Parker said. “You don’t get a chance to have a bad day. And I think one fall day, we had a bad day. So you don’t get a chance to do that. So I think we preached that the entire spring. Those guys saw that and I’ve seen the energy all 14 days that we needed to see. So it just kind of came all together today.”
One of the points of emphasis was the passing game, which produced just three games of 200-plus yards in 2022. Last season’s quarterback Jakhari Grant, has exhausted his eligibility. Returning quarterbacks Christian Reid and RJ Rosales took the majority of the snaps in the first half on Saturday.
“I was excited to see that. But it’s gonna probably be an arms race all the way through camp. That’s been it for the last couple of years, we’ve had a quarterback battle all the way through camp,” Parker said. “It’s like any other position on our team, quarterback is just kind of in the forefront of everything. So those two guys you saw today will probably give the two guys that will be battling pretty hard in the fall.”
Virginia Union University will kick off its 2023 season in Canton, Ohio where it will face Morehouse College in the Black College Football Hall of Fame Game.