LEXINGTON, Va. – A week into spring football practice, the VMI football team is showing a drive and purpose fueled by a young, yet experienced roster that is hungry to take the next step.
“The first practice last Tuesday was the best first practice that I’ve had in 30 years in coaching and four years as a player,” said head coach Scott Wachenheim. “We played with great tempo and flew around out there and we had few missed assignments and executed on offense and defense very well and in the kicking game. We had beautiful weather all week and we’re excited to get going.”
A year ago at this time in spring practice, VMI was installing its new "air raid" offense and trying to solidify a quarterback to run it. The Keydets were also rebuilding a defense that had been depleted by graduation. This spring, it's a different story.
Reece Udinski filled the quarterback role with an outstanding sophomore campaign that rewrote the VMI season passing record book by throwing for 3,082 yards and becoming the first VMI QB in school history to surpass the 3,000 yard threshold. Udinski also set season marks for completions (302) attempts (523), total plays (570) and tied the season mark for most TD passes in a season (20).
The Keydets also return all of its all-SoCon performers from last season. Selected to the All-Southern Conference second team as selected by the media were sophomore wide receiver Kris Thornton (Manassas, Va.) and defensive back AJ Smith (Virginia Beach, Va.). Junior return specialist Rohan Martin (Stafford, Va.) was named second team All-Conference by the coaches.
Thornton set a new VMI single season record with 87 catches and was second in the league with 7.9 catches per game and third in receiving yards with 90.7 per game. Smith co-led the team in tackles with linebacker Elliott Brewster with 90 total tackles and also led in solo hits with 55. Martin averaged 15.9 yards per punt return in 2018.
VMI also had the most representatives of any SoCon school on the all-freshman squads from last season and all are back working to build on solid debuts last fall. Returning are OL Marshall Gill, WR Jakob Herres, LB, Brett Howell, DB Ethan Casselberry, and DB Colin Loftis.
“This is the most experienced team that I’ve had to honor to coach here since I’ve been at VMI,” said Wachenheim. “We have nine returning starters on offensive and nine on defense as well as a returning punter and a kicker who has kicked in multiple games and two long snappers. Having a quarterback returning running the same offense has allowed us to get off to a great start in spring practice. You could see that when he (Udinski) was taking the check downs on some deep throws which is the sign of quarterback maturity. We also have returning experience on special teams. Last year in the opener, we only had two returning starters on the punt team. This year, it’s nine. “
Wachenheim also noted that because of the returning experience, there’s not a need to shuffle personnel around to fill depth at positions.
“This is the first year where we haven’t had to move anybody. We did take Ryan Clark from defensive end to tight end last year because of injury, but he’s a 100 percent healed so we moved him back to defensive end. That’s the only major position switch that we’ve had.”
VMI will hold two practices in week two of spring ball before breaking for Spring FTX. Practice resumes on Thursday April 11 and the first scrimmage will be held Saturday, April 13 at 9:30 am.