Trenton Cannon’s 1,214 rushing yards last year set a single-season school record.
But he spent this summer preparing and focusing on rushing for more in 2017.
Cannon and senior linebacker Brandon Lynch, the Trojans’ two preseason all-CIAA selections, lead a Virginia State team that will need newcomers and minor contributors from a year ago to step into roles left void from graduation on both sides of the ball.
“Whenever you lose the amount of seniors we lost, almost 20-some guys, many of them were contributors to the team, now it’s about filling those spots, and it’s not an easy task,” Trojans second-year coach Reggie Barlow said. “The thing that I do like about it is we have young guys that we recruited and that we’re excited about — watching their development.”
The Trojans’ defense lost lineman Bryant Frazier, the 2016 CIAA defensive player of the year and winner of the Touchdown Club of Richmond’s Lanier Award. Linebacker Geo Feggins is gone after leading Virginia State in tackles last year.
But Barlow has Lynch and Malik Sexton returning, two linebackers who should provide leadership to the younger and less experienced players on the unit.
The Trojans will have a new quarterback leading the offense in 2017. Gone is Tarian Ayres, who left behind large shoes to fill after four successful years in Ettrick. He is fifth in program history in career passing yards and third in career completions.
Cordelral Cook, a sophomore transfer from Alabama State (Barlow’s previous head coaching job) appeared in seven games for Virginia State last year. He completed 11 of 18 throws for 132 yards with one interception. He rushed for 86 yards at 4.5 yards per carry.
He’ll be in competition with a player who has already quarterbacked the Trojans to a CIAA championship — Hermitage graduate Niko Johnson.
Johnson led Virginia State to a 21-17 victory over Winston-Salem State in the 2014 CIAA championship game in his first college start. He spent the past two seasons away from the program.
Barlow expects both to contribute, early and often, throughout the season.
Another quarterback, freshman Tevarius Brooks, will serve in a backup role, but Barlow said he has one of the best arms he’s seen on the college level.
Regardless of who is named the starting signal-caller, there’s no doubt who will run the ball.
Cannon was named a BOXTOROW preseason All-American and was named to the Black College Football Hall of Fame player of the year watch list after being an all-CIAA pick last year.
He says he’s added 10 pounds this offseason, the result of focusing on strength and conditioning over the summer. He’s confident in the offense he’ll look to anchor. The Trojans begin the season Sept. 2 against Norfolk State in Norfolk.
That’s where Cannon said all of his focus is.
“I don’t really look into all the awards,” the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Hampton native said. “I just keep on working and looking forward to the season, the first game.”