2015-01-14 / Sports

Home-field advantage

Matoaca star to lead VSU’s resurgent football team
By Jim McConnell

New Virginia State University head football coach Byron Thweatt (right) speaks with one of his players after his introductory press conference last week. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer New Virginia State University head football coach Byron Thweatt (right) speaks with one of his players after his introductory press conference last week. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer Byron Thweatt was ready to become a head football coach two years ago, and he thought he had found the perfect job.

But instead of choosing Thweatt, Virginia State University decided to hire a more proven commodity. Former University of Richmond head coach Latrell Scott got the nod and led the Trojans to a 19-4 record in two seasons.

When Scott left VSU last month to take over at Norfolk State, Thweatt decided to throw his hat into the ring again.

He interviewed with VSU’s coaching search committee last Tuesday. Later that night, VSU athletic director Peggy Davis called to offer him the job. By Thursday morning, Thweatt was standing at a podium in the Ettrick university’s Gateway Dining and Events Hall, addressing the media as the Trojans’ new leader.

For the Matoaca High graduate, having the opportunity to come home and run his own program was well worth the wait.

“This place is near and dear to my heart,” a beaming Thweatt said. “This is my community. I grew up here. I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by again.”

Thweatt, 36, who is married with three young daughters, noted during his introductory press conference that both of his parents are VSU alumni. He recalled getting haircuts at the university barber shop as a young boy.

After starring in the Chesterfield Quarterback League, Thweatt became an all-American linebacker at Matoaca High, where he led the Warriors to the state semifinals as a senior and earned a scholarship to the University of Virginia.

VSU alumnus Vatel Dixon, who coached Thweatt in both track and football in high school, remembered him as “a good kid who always handled himself well.”

“He was one of those guys you knew would be successful in whatever he decided to do,” Dixon said.

Thweatt was a four-year starter for U.Va., earning all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors, and played briefly in the NFL before he decided to pursue coaching as his profession. He spent the past eight years as an assistant coach at the University of Richmond, serving most recently as linebackers coach and director of high school relations.

“Coach Thweatt has done an outstanding job for us over the past eight years,” Richmond head coach Danny Rocco said in a press release published on the university’s athletic website. “He will enjoy a great deal of success at Virginia State and we wish him and his family the very best with this opportunity.”

Asked about the whirlwind process that ended with Thweatt’s hiring, Davis said it was critical for VSU’s football supporters and student-athletes to “have a leader at the helm” as quickly as possible.

Davis also acknowledged that Thweatt’s ties to the university and the community worked in his favor with the committee tasked to find Scott’s successor.

“Coach Thweatt is coming home and he wants to be here,” she added. “The fact that he’s a family man and he’s loyal to his employer was important to us.”

Dixon expressed confidence that Thweatt will bring stability to the Trojans’ football program.

“When I found out he got the job I was happy because now we have somebody homegrown who will stay around for a while,” he said.

VSU gave Scott a chance to resuscitate his career – he resigned as Richmond’s head coach in 2011 after being charged with driving under the influence – but he never concealed his intentions to eventually return to Division I.

Scott enjoyed immediate success with VSU, winning nine games and a CIAA Northern Division title in his first season. The Trojans’ hopes of qualifying for the Division II playoffs were dashed when an altercation at a banquet prior to the CIAA championship game prompted conference officials to cancel the game.

VSU went 10-3 in Scott’s second season, won its first CIAA title since 1996 and secured the university’s first-ever playoff victory.

“Our goal is to compete and win CIAA championships, but that’s not the only goal,” Thweatt said. “My job is to get you guys to the next level, to be a program of national prominence. Virginia State should be on the map. I want people in the community and the state of Virginia to know that we’re here.”

Several VSU football players attended Thweatt’s press conference last week. While they hadn’t had a chance to speak with him at length – Thweatt planned to hold his first team meeting Sunday night – the players generally seemed satisfied with the new coach.

For a number of reasons, Davis believes Thweatt is the right man for the job.

“His character and leadership skills, his recruiting ties within Virginia, his knowledge and teaching ability – that’s why this is a perfect fit,” she said.

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