Virginia Union University‘s football team can’t wait to get back on the field. It’s been nearly two years, and a game in August will revive the players’ spirits. Learn about VUU’s comeback in the Richmond Times-Dispatch article below.

Credit: Virginia Union University

Virginia Union hasn’t played a football game since Nov. 9, 2019, which makes Aug. 5, 2021, a noteworthy date. That’s when the Panthers report to their Lombardy Street campus for preseason camp that will lead into their Sept. 4 opener at Hampton.

Division II VUU was among the numerous college football programs below the FBS level that postponed their 2020 fall seasons because of the pandemic. For the same reason, VUU also did not play spring-semester games, though many Division II and Division III teams, and most FCS teams, did.

The Panthers held 15 spring practices, as the NCAA allowed. The rhythm of those was interrupted by a COVID pause.

Alvin Parker, entering his third season at VUU with a 15-5 record, on Friday expressed optimism about a more typical year of football about to start, though the path to its doorstep was atypical.

“The biggest thing for us has been roster management, so we can keep the team together that we had,” said Parker, whose 2019 Panthers began the season with a win at FCS member Hampton and finished 7-3. “Big-time decisions had to made by kids because we had a lot of guys who chose to come back for fifth years.”

Those determinations by upperclassmen, often reached in response to NCAA legislation that allowed fall-sports athletes in 2020 an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, reduced the size of VUU’s incoming class of recruits. The roster size needed to remain comparable to past years.

A second-wave effect of the pandemic may be seen again in four years, Parker noted, when programs throughout the country have few seniors because this year’s group of freshmen was relatively small.

The partnership between football coaches and financial aid officers is particularly important in Division II. Football works with a limit of 36 scholarships often shared by a large group of players also attending school on other kinds of financial aid. Forming any football roster is the annual equivalent of completing a complicated puzzle. In Division II, it’s a three-dimensional puzzle.

Virginia Union football coach Alvin Parker (Credit: Joe Mahoney/Times-Dispatch)

The layoff has increased the appetite for competition and appreciation of the sport for the Panthers, in Parker’s estimation.

“They’ve seen it can be taken away from them in any second,” he said.

The VUU staff will use the first few days of preseason camp to gauge the strength-and-conditioning level of the players, and then proceed cautiously. Parker said the initial plan is to generally approach preseason practices in a way that’s comparable to past seasons.

That is subject to change, as is everything. The last year taught all football coaches the need to embrace flexibility.

“Like anything else, there will probably be a few bumps in the road, but I think everybody will accept that, knowing that you’ll at least get a chance to play this year,” Parker said.

VUU’s preseason rank in DII is No. 25, according to Lindy’s Sports Magazine. The only other CIAA team appearing in that poll is No. 15 Bowie State.

The Panthers this season will break in Willie Lanier Field at Hovey Stadium, VUU’s rejuvenated football facility. Since the 2019 season, VUU replaced the grass with a $1.2 million FieldTurf surface and named it for Willie Lanier, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who graduated from Maggie Walker High (Class of 1963) and went on to star as a linebacker for Morgan State and the Kansas City Chiefs.