Spring ball brings new beginnings to VSU football


Virginia State University President Makola M. Abdullah, Ph.D. stands next to Head Football Coach Henry Frazier at the Spring Game 2023. Photo by Statesman staff.

Lyric Nason, Contributing Writer

Discipline, professionalism plus focus equals winning combination

PETERSBURG, Va. — In the past, Virginia State University football has had issues with reaching its full potential–from talent with no discipline, leadership complications and other factors. However, the current coaching staff has a new game plan.

“More disciplined, more professional, turning this team into a championship team, making sure the team is performing on and off the field,” Ariella Ellis, the previous head manager and newly appointed director of football operations.

VSU is a member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, (CIAA), and a Division Two school within the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) system. VSU has always had great players like Trenton Canon who was drafted to the New York Jets in 2018 from Virginia State University. VSU is on the brink of greatness, and this coaching staff is looking to finally push it over.

VSU “has always been an athletic program of the ‘haves’ in the CIAA Conference,” said John Pearce, VSU defensive lineman coach. VSU “has above-average facilities, budgets, a great campus, and provides a great education compared to some of the programs and universities within the CIAA Conference.”

However, what VSU football has been missing was something money can’t buy: a team and staff that completely exuded commitment, discipline, heart and a lot of good old-fashioned character. In the past, the team has struggled with its coaching staff not performing well; however, new Head Coach Henry Frazier and his staff seek to be different.

Spring changes brings new beginnings to VSU football

Since the 2021 fall season, VSU football has made a plethora of changes since its three and six record under Reggie Barlow, the team’s previous head coach. This past fall, Henry Frazier brought in fresh coaches whom he had previously coached with at other colleges including John Pearce, Lamar Manigo, Coleman Blackson and Lawrence Kershaw. He also brought in new
coaches like Brandon Dow, with one remaining coach from Barlow’s staff Carlton Harris.

Although the changes seemed cemented for VSU, this spring brought about more adjustments. Harris now coaches for the Xtreme Football League, which is a semi-pro league. Dow and Kershaw left VSU due to personal and professional challenges. So, Henry Frazier brought in Bryce Bradley and Kevin Cox as replacements as defensive specialist coaches during spring football.

Henry Frazier and his staff push to take VSU from being a Division Two school to being a Division One school, which most HBCU’s don’t get to be in. Henry Frazier has encouraged players and staff to begin adjusting to act as a Division One program.

In collegiate sports there are Division One, Division Two, Division Three and Junior Colleges. These divisions are measurements of the size of the student body and athletic performance level at the school. Division One programs are the top-notch schools with big budgets, outstanding facilities and resources, while junior colleges make do with a lot less funding and players who perform at a less impressive level than the other divisions.

“We are not allocated the full number of full-time coaches,” Pearce explained. “The scholarship budget is not the full max that is required by NCAA Division One football program,” which is why VSU football is not yet a Division One athletic school. “Some of the facilities are outdated and not up to par to run as a top-tier program in the country.”

Pearce oversees a lot of the paperwork and ordering of equipment for the team. Because of his administrative responsibilities, he said he knows firsthand the financial hardships of the program. Even with these financial and accessibility issues, Pearce believes strongly in the mission of making the team great.

The support staff is vital to teams, so that teams can operate smoothly without affecting players. VSU football is looking to go to the next level by recruiting proven athletes and expanding its support staff. The expansion of the team brings a bigger program body, resources and an attractive level of organization. Ellis was implemented as the director of football operations in which she manages game day and travel operations and monitors the overall program operations. The team also added a media team specifically focused on filming practices and games.

“Every program with change has its moments,” Ellis explained. “Having the ability to learn more from different lenses is always great. Personally, I feel like the team is headed in the right direction with this stuff.”

Not only a team but also a family

The newer coaching staff has already begun enforcing their new policies.

Jamar Frazier, a sophomore defensive lineman, stated that “one noticeable difference this year is the focus the new coaching staff has on discipline.”

Discipline is very important to this coaching staff. They value punctuality and enforce punishment on unexcused players who are late or absent to practices. The coaching staff believes that achieving championship status takes respect and focus—the team and staff have to be on the same page.

The current coaching staff seeks relationships with their players by keeping offices open to players all of the time, being available to players via phones and learning individual players’ skill sets—from the starters to the bench warmers.

The new coaching staff’s focus is on how to make their athletes perform off the field with good character. The coaches want to mentor their athletes further than play-by-play on game day.

“Accountability needs to be addressed,” Pearce said. “Following COVID, people have developed an attitude towards being accountable, dedicated and responsible for their actions. Student-athletes need to take ownership on and off the field.”

Jamar Frazier applauds their efforts. “The new coaches are more player engaged and take the time to build bonds individually.”

Henry Frazier has exercised ways on how to mold well-rounded young men on his team. He holds seminars on campus teaching young men how to properly approach women in misleading situations, offers team meetings for mental health and uses his end-of-practice team huddles for encouragement. Henry Frazier aims to push the program to Division One.

With all the changes from the new staff, Pearce believes that VSU holds a lot of potential to form one of the strongest teams in the CIAA for the 2024 fall season, starting with their trial 2023 season.

“Skies are the limits here at VSU,” Pearce said. “Once we get the quality student-athletes committed on and off the playing field, it will be a great experience for the students, the campus community, and the local community; however, we need everyone around the program rowing in the same direction.”