ROANOKE, VA — Virginia Union University looked like the odds-on favorite to win the CIAA football title after the first eight weeks of last season. It was 8-0, nationally-ranked and needed just one more win to lock up a division crown and a spot in the conference championship game.
But those dreams were shattered on its home turf as Chowan University left Richmond with a 26-21 win and the keys to the driver’s seat of the CIAA North.
“We had it rolling,” VUU head coach Dr. Alvin Parker said at the conference’s preseason media day event. “We had a kind of an off-week, Week Nine, that altered us from a few of the goals we had set from the season. But it was a learning lesson.”
Chowan would go on to play in the CIAA title game while Virginia Union went to the playoffs, where it lost again on its home turf to Wingate University.
“That was a big-time to kind of get on a national stage and to be recognized enough to be to have a home game. That is something has been done as of late in our conference with some of the success that Bowie has had the previous years by having home games and things like that,” Dr. Parker said. “So we were excited about it. And I think, you know, once you get there, you get a taste of it. You want more of it.”
After a 9-2 “learning season” with a home playoff game, VUU is looking to accomplish more in 2023.
Dr. Parker estimates that VUU will bring back around 80 players from last season’s squad, but the key to the engine is Jada Byers. The New Jersey native rushed for a school and conference record 1,920 yards last season as a sophomore — literally running himself into the history books. But Byers says there is plenty of room for improvement; both as an individual as well as the team.
“I feel as though I left almost 700 years out there last year,” Byers said confidently.
That’s a scary thought for opponents.
“He’s a great player. I think in order for us to have the type of success we need to have — it’s going to come through him,” Dr. Parker said. “I tell him all the time, as well as other guys, our good players have to be great. Our great players have to be outstanding. He has to bring it every week. He doesn’t necessarily get a chance to kind of take a week off where he can’t be great.”
And team success certainly matters to Byers.
“We want to be that team that won a (CIAA) championship and won a national championship,” Byers said. “And that’s why I feel as though it would mean, a lot for us to get there.”
Virginia Union University and Byers will kick off the season on a big stage as they take on Morehouse College of the SIAC in the 2022 Black College Football Hall of Fame Game. The game will be played at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in front of a national television audience.
“You get those type of calls when you’re performing at a certain level,” Dr. Parker said of the showcase game. “And those guys perform to give us this opportunity. So we’re looking forward to it. Everybody’s talking about it. I’m glad it’s our first game, so we can get to play on a stage like that.”