On Thursday night August 16th, the Union Bears will travel to Bristol to take on the Virginia High Bearcats for 2018’s benefit game. This will be the second consecutive year that these two teams have locked horns in the final tune-up before the start of the regular season.
Last year’s contest was closer than expected. It also served as a pretty accurate forecast of things to come. Union not only proved that they had one of the top high school football players in the state, they also proved they had a nearly impenetrable defense. All of this and more helped lead the Bears to a state semifinal appearance. The Bearcats were able to prove that they had enough athletes to actually hang tough with the big boys.
This year’s contest should replicate last year’s. Hopefully in being able to answer questions that many people around the region have.
Does Union stay on the mountaintop after graduating 23 seniors?
Do the Bears have the players to replace standouts like James Mitchell, Dakota Owens, Braxton Zirkle, Tanner Kennedy and Jeb Stidham?
Is Union quarterback Bailey Turner completely healthy after suffering a season ending knee injury in 2017?
Was last year’s seven-win Bearcat team a fluke?
With the Bearcats having so many returning players from last year’s team, can they take the next step to becoming a possible district and region champion?
With little importance being placed on the benefit game by most fans, we should be able to get glimpses of answers to these questions and more.
Nonetheless, Virginia High head coach Michael Crist is excited to get his team back on the field.
“I look forward to the benefit game with Union because it’s a chance to get better in preparation for the season with a great football program,” Crist said. “Travis (Turner) and I see eye to eye on it’s purpose.”
Crist was pretty clear in what he wants his team to get out of the matchup with the Bears.
“It’s to gain some experience in game routine, give some inexperienced players a chance to experience a real game and evaluate some significant back-ups all while trying to get out of there health,” said Crist. “We don’t prep for the opponent as much as prepare for what a game week is like and try to develop some routine.”
When looking ahead to the beginning of the 2018 season, Crist really likes what he sees in his team.
“I love this senior group.They have invested so much in our program and totally buy in to meeting our standards,” the head Bearcat said. “They have had a tremendous off-season in our strength and conditioning program. Anymore that just gives you a chance to compete, because I can guarantee you everyone we play is working hard.”
The cupboard is far from dry for Crist. There will be many familiar options from an impressive 2017 campaign to help make a run in 2018.
“We return (a number of) starters on each side of the ball but up to ten have some game experience on Friday nights,” said Crist. “The key to our success this season will be to develop some much needed depth and as always stay healthy. The first groups have a lot of game experience. We just have to develop some more guys so they can get off the field at times.”
Expectations are high in Bristol this year. Typically, Virginia High has not had a consistently strong football program, with an all-time record at .500 since 1916. Coach Crist and his staff have done a phenomenal job of changing the football landscape in Bristol.
On Thursday night, we will find out if the Bearcats are ready to run with the big dogs or if they will fall back into the land of mediocrity.
Don’t forget, Bearcat fans, if you can’t make it to the field on game days, tune in to Bearcat Radio for the broadcast of every game this season at;
My name is Doug Rose, and I’ve been a lifelong sports enthusiast. I’m 39 years old and I have 2 kids. My daughter is headed to Alice Lloyd College in Kentucky, to throw shot put and discus. My son is a senior at Virginia High School, and has been a starter in 2 sports since his Freshman year. They are the two reasons I am proud to be a Bearcat Dad.
I’ve been married for 20 years to the love of my life, LeAnn, who will be responsible for many of the pictures I post. LeAnn and I are 1997 graduates of VHS, where I played both baseball and football. I was fortunate enough to have the baseball team win a State Championship, while I was in school in 1996.