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Bruney Not Allowing Pandemic to Slow WU Program Building

WHEELING — The Wheeling University football team went through growing pains last fall. Not surprising for a program in its first year of real competition.

Zac Bruney’s Cardinals played an eight-game exhibition card in their initial season of existence (2018). Wheeling faced a complete Mountain East Conference schedule in 2019.

The Cardinals battled to a 1-10 finish. There were, however, flashes of promise, including a 27-20 road win against Concord in the season finale. Along the way, there were also several competitive contests.

With that being the case, the last thing a fledgling D-II program needs is a global pandemic which halts all sports activity and totally train wrecks the way of life.

Consequently, Wheeling University, like all other college football teams, is not permitted to conduct spring drills. While such a scenario is painful to all grid programs, it can be a more painful blow to a program still wet behind the ears.

Bruney is obviously disappointed by the handcuffs placed on his program by the pandemic. But he is also both realistic and optimistic.

And most importantly, Bruney has an impressive track record of gridiron success, both as a player and a coach. With that as a foundation, he is making the most of a tough situation.

“Communication is going well with the staff and players, both incoming and current roster. We are able to conduct virtual meetings as a staff and position groups via Google Hangout, since everyone’s school email is tied to a Google account,” Bruney said. “We are meeting right now two times a week as a staff. Summer/fall practice planning, game planning based on what we think could or would happen with the Covid-19 situation, talking about our current men finishing up the right way this semester academically, and of course starting to work on the 2021 class in recruiting.

“We are doing the same with the players. Position coaches and coordinators are meeting with their players one-two times a week to check in on academic progress, health and wellness, get updates on how they’re doing with their weekly workouts, and even have the capability to screen share and watch film with them. Watching install film from what we were going to be working on this spring from a practice standpoint on offense, defense and special teams,” he continued. “Also, future opponent film, mainly looking at our opponents for weeks one through three. I’ll pop into a position meeting with those guys for 5-10 minutes just to see how they are doing, and if they have any questions about our current situation from an MEC or NCAA standpoint, as well as holding the weekly position meetings with the QBs and WRs.”

While many coaches may look at the pandemic-induced shutdown as a major obstacle to their respective programs, Bruney, however, is tackling the situation head-on, with full confidence in tow.

“We are not going to look at it as a setback, just a circumstance and situation that we have to deal with and react the right way accordingly. We can’t control it, so we can’t worry about it. Let’s work on and concern ourselves with the things we can,” Bruney noted. “Everyone in the country, as a program, is dealing with this right now, so what we can do is be positive. We control our attitude, our effort, and our actions and reactions daily to the circumstances and events we are dealing with.

“Use it as an advantage, not a disadvantage and be accountable to ourselves and each other to just do the work,” he continued. “We all must take care of ourselves and our families, follow the protocols set by the NCAA and state governments right now, do the work academically, work hard in a five-day per week workout plan that they’re given weekly online (one if they have access to weights, one without access to weights), and continue to be locked in and focused in the time they are meeting with their coaches, and also watching film on their own. Basically, let’s work to be the most invested, quarantined or isolated, team in the country right now… at any level.”

Should the pandemic crisis come under control allowing for a normal college football season, does Bruney see any lingering effects from no spring drills?

“We don’t really know that answer, no one does. So the teams that are the most accountable to each other from afar right now will see the most positive results when we eventually get a chance to be together again as a team. If you do the work… academically, working out consistently, and studying the film.. we will know it… If you don’t, we will know it,” Bruney said. “And the guys that may not will put themselves at a disadvantage to not perform a higher level than they could or should. ‘What you do in the dark… will show out when the lights are the brightest.’ You got to be trustworthy, you got to be accountable, and that’s what will separate you and us. So, that’s our mentality right now… Work like crazy, when no one is watching us… no teammates, no coaches, no teachers, etc.

“Along with that, the NCAA (D1/D2 Governing Council) is working on certain plans or protocols that could be put into effect if clearance is given to return to team related activities in June, July, August, etc. For teams that missed spring practice days, there could be some OTAs allowed with coaches and players being allowed to work together essentially in “unpadded practice” situations… before training camp would begin in August,” he added. “Also, there could be a week or 10 days given to report for training camp earlier – so you can gain more practice, training, conditioning time on the front end. Of course, this will all be dictated by the states, and national government and what they allow universities and colleges to do from a total student body standpoint as well. In the grand scheme of things, we are just a small piece. We have to continue to do our part to ensure the health and safety of the people that could be the most vulnerable to this.”

While the 2019 campaign produced just a single win, it also yielded needed growth, invaluable experience and a solid foundation for the future.

“The positives we took away, as you slow down some, and this time has allowed it, and it has allowed myself and our coaches to really re-evaluate film, our roster, etc. is to see we played very hard for the most part. We got better as the season went on. We gained valuable game experience that is so necessary at this level. We went toe-to-toe with some really good teams (7 opponents were .500 or better). What we lacked was the depth necessary to play at a higher level longer and deeper into the season,” Bruney noted. “We practiced hard, and even when we struggled from a win-loss standpoint, I saw no fall off in the way we practiced. We practiced and played better towards the end of the year. The buy-in factor never left. No one was shying away from the work necessary to continue to get better. That was encouraging. I saw our leadership grow, and the best teams/programs will always have the players leading from the front and the coaches there to drive the culture, guide the ship, but the best teams are player led. We are getting there, slowly but surely.

“We were having a really, really good off-season. Academics, weight room, conditioning, mat drills, team competitions, recruiting…all of it was really positive. I was really excited about our chance to come back together and start practicing again,” he added. “We just didn’t get that opportunity… so in the long run, I am hoping this situation and circumstance we are dealing with will just make us more hungry for our chances to compete, and also more grateful for the chances we get to be together as a team and program. I think it will.”

Making the Wheeling University football future event brighter is a recruiting class Bruney is high on.

“We really like our 2020 class, as a whole. I won’t talk specifics on individuals, but overall we feel like we added some really good pieces to compete at a high level in the MEC, regionally and hopefully nationally,” he stated. “We added necessary depth at positions we needed to, and we feel like there are quite a few of these young guys that if they train the right way physically and mentally, and embrace our culture as a program quickly, will have a chance to help us. Some right away and hopefully all of them at some point in the very near future.”

Bruney came to Wheeling University following a four-year stint as an assistant coach at Ohio Dominican from 2013-16, including two seasons as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. The Panthers amassed a 36-10 record during his time in Columbus, captured the 2013 GLIAC Championship, won the 2014 GLIAC South Championship and were an NCAA Division II regional finalist.

LOIS STOBBS MEMORIAL

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed another Ohio Valley victim.

The popular Lois Stobbs Memorial Veterans Day 10K has been postponed for this year. It was scheduled for Nov. 7. It would have been the 11th edition of the event which has generated some $90,000 to assist paralyzed American veterans.

Race Director Hugh Stobbs says the event will definitely return in 2021. Stobbs is assisted by Lance Tarr, Wayne Barte, Steve Habursky, Mary Jo Conaway and an army of volunteers in making the 10K a major success story.

Speaking of Stobbs, the veteran running enthusiast recently suffered a heart attack. I talked to him this past week via phone and he is recovering nicely at home.

BUBBA’S BITS

∫ We have been receiving solid input from our readers in compiling the list of the Ohio Valley’s all-time best prep baseball players and best teams. Please email your nominees with supporting information to me at BKOVAC21@aol.com. Deadline is May 1.

∫ The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into the 2020 Wheeling Park football schedule. The Patriots of Chris Daugherty were originally set to open against Kamehameha Kapalama from Honolulu, Hawaii. It has since been cancelled, leaving Park looking for an opening game.

∫ I keep on hearing the question: Will sports ever return to normal? Yes they will.

∫ Josh Lowery has yielded the Cambridge High post after leading the Bobcats for two seasons.

∫ Andrew Chilcutt has been named the recipient of the WPIAL Courage Award and subsequently tabbed a member of the WPIAL Hall of Fame. Chilcutt is a three-sport star at Bethel Park (Pa.) High. He beat cancer last spring and will be playing D-I football at Robert Morris next fall. He was an all-state QB. Andrew is the son of Kelly Stoffer, a Barton native and 1980 St. John Central grad where she excelled in volleyball and hoops.

∫ Fred Owens of Wheeling recorded a hole-in-one on April 19 at Fairway River Links. He aced the 125-yard No. 5 Hole. He used a 9-iron on the par 3. It was his second career ace.

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