FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – Spring football practice was once the bane of every Fayetteville State University football player’s existence. After what happened with COVID last spring combined with the cancellation of the 2020 CIAA football season, it’s taken on a different feel.

The Fayetteville Bronco’s indoor practices have taken on the type of enthusiasm usually associated with a homecoming game.

“I feel like that year we took off, let everybody know that football can be taken away from you and you can’t take it for granted,” said Fayetteville State defensive lineman Quran Blount. “getting it taken away it doesn’t seem as much as a burden anymore you see it really is a privilege.”

“Every time we get to step on the field it’s just a blessing,” said wide receiver Tyeous Sharpe. “We never knew when we were going to get the opportunity again.”

Like everyone else COVID had the Broncos rolling with one gut punch after another. First, it was 2020 spring camp being canceled. The crew continued to prepare last summer as best they could thinking they would get on the field in the fall. However right before they reported to campus those hopes were dashed when the entire 2020 season was canceled. Working within the rules the staff went about the business of designing and implementing the best training they could to keep players’ minds and bodies on the game of football.

“We were not able to get equipment on,” said coach Hayes. “We were able to get some installs in and run a couple of plays and run around a little bit in the fall, but in the spring we really picked it up.”

Once on the field, the extra work put in was apparent. Once a CIAA also ran the Broncos have been a team to reckon with over the last 3 years. Head coach Richard Hayes Jr. took over 5 years ago, retooled, reinvented and built a squad that went to the conference championship game in each of the last three seasons. Each time they ran into something that stopped them from bringing home the big trophy.

“In 2017 we were just young and inexperienced and we were a little bit before our time. In 2018 we were a little bit older and we thought we had a chance but we ran up against a pretty good undefeated Bowie State team and a pretty good quarterback in Amir Hall. In 2019 we really thought we were going to win it. We had the ball, it was 14 to 7 with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter and then a turnover bug hit us,” said coach Hayes. “So it’s just little things that we’re working on in the spring.”

Every team needs a good field general and a solid leader at quarterback to be the coach on the field. The jury is still out on just who will be the guy under center for Fayetteville State. Some see that as an issue but the coach sees it as more of an opportunity.

“We have a couple of transfer quarterbacks in and we’re bringing in a couple of very good freshman so it’s hard to determine who’s going to be that guy right now,” said coach Hayes. “I can tell you that K’Hari Lane and Avery McCall those guys have transferred in and those guys are competing really hard. We will see and the cream will rise to the top.”

Running backs may graduate from Fayetteville State, but the punishing style of their ground attack never will. This season fans will need to get their popcorn and scorecards ready because once again there are a bunch of guys itching to show and prove what they can do.

“You’re going to be calling Donshell, Darnell, Johnnie, Eli we’re going to use all our backs we’re running back by committee,” said coach Hayes. “Stevie Green is gone but even when he was here we played all of those guys. Any one of those guys can start on any team in our conference but we were fortunate enough to have those guys and we’re going to use every one of them.”

This senior class is the group that started the run championship run. They made it to the first title game in 2017 coming up just short to Virginia State. They would like nothing more than to bring this journey full circle and be the class to break through and bring home the Bronco’s first football championship since 2009.

“This is definitely going to be the year,” said Blount. “We got a veteran group more cohesiveness and we’re coming ready to play.”

“It’s going to be very exciting,” said Sharpe. “I can’t wait to see Luther ‘Nick’ Jeralds Stadium packed out and ready for us to go out and get a win.”

The Broncos’ march to glory begins Sept. 4, when they open their season on the road against Elizabeth City State in the Down East Viking Football Classic.