Author: Anthony Gagliano
Publication Date: 2004-12-13



By Anthony Gagliano

anthony.gagliano@gaflnews.com


VALDOSTA –– Vincent Brown knew the exact moment when the Valdosta State Blazers morphed from title contenders to champions.

“We were down 24 points to Albany State and at halftime we went into the locker room and the seniors talked,” the junior running back said. “And then, we came out to play. That was the turning point. That’s when we all came together.”

VSU returned home Sunday afternoon for the first time as the Division II national champion a day after subduing Pittsburg State 36-31.

Brown may have been anxious to be a champion, but he was caught off guard by the hundreds of fans waiting for the team when the buses returned to campus.

“I didn’t know it would be this big,” Brown said.

Players signed autographs and posed for pictures, while taking in plenty of congratulations. The jovial atmosphere reflected a group that prided itself all year on having fun and creating a family-like unity.

“It’s such a great group of guys off field, and of course, you know what they can do on the football field,” Hatcher said. “It’s a very close group that had a lot of fun. They were a great team to coach just because of their enthusiasm.”

The victory culminated a four-year pursuit for 19 seniors, but Hatcher has been trying to bring a title to Valdosta for much longer than that.

In his previous nine seasons at VSU, including four as a player and one as an assistant, Hatcher had won 81 games, but never the last game of the season.

“It still really hasn’t sunk in yet that the season’s over with,” Hatcher said.

But, it’s never really finished. Hatcher will start watching recruiting tapes today as he tries to replace a starting quarterback and tailback, plus three linemen on each side of the ball.

Half of next year’s secondary will be new starters and both kickers will have to be replaced.

Yet, Hatcher couldn’t help but relish the thought of a repeat.

“It was tough to get this far, but I want to shoot for it again,” he said. “We’re going to have the same goals.”

On Sunday, next year could wait. For the players who completed their VSU careers on the field in Florence, Ala., on Saturday, it was the perfect ending.

“Somebody told me early in the game, they said, ‘Could you imagine what it would be like if your last play of football was victory?’” senior center Leighton Cooley said. “To know you’ve won the national championship.”