Old rivals unite – as Spartans

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Ever since the two schools came into inception in the early 1990s, Nansemond River vs. Lakeland high school football games have been some of the most popular events for Suffolkians. No matter how either team was doing at that point in the season, the city and its residents could always be assured that the Warriors and Cavaliers would kick things up a notch to do battle with their cross-town rivals.

For the past four years, Jason Kressen and Dominic Strand strapped on the pads for River. Kressen would be part of the offensive line that would be protecting quarterback strand from players like Lakeland defensive lineman Ernest White, linebacker Ryan Young, and free safety Travis Miller, who tormented the Warrior offense with victories in 2001-2 and 2002-3 before the Warriors came out on top last season.

But come next year, the five players will have to find a way to co-exist. They’ll all be taking the field for Norfolk State University (NSU), which recently gifted them with full scholarships.

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&uot;I’m sure I’ll grow to love them!&uot; Miller said of the Warriors on Wednesday, signing his letter of intent with White. &uot;I’ll just have to play as hard with them as I did against them.&uot;

Over at River, Kressen looked forward to hitting the field with his former enemies. &uot;It’s going to be interesting,&uot; said Kressen, the only member of the 2002-3 team to achieve All-State honors.

&uot;We always wanted to beat in each, so we’ll be carrying in the same direction.&uot;

Suffolk resident Willie Gillus, a former NSU gridiron star himself, was recently hired at the Spartans’ new head coach. That gave White the final incentive to sign with the school.

&uot;He’s very intelligent,&uot; White said of his new coach. &uot;He’s got a really good program.&uot; Last season, Gillus coached Richmond’s Virginia Union, with whom White nearly signed before Gillus moved closer to White’s home.

Closeness was another significant reason for signing with the Spartans, said Miller. &uot;If I feel like I need to talk to someone in Suffolk, I don’t have to make a long-distance call or drive three-hours (from NSU),&uot; he said. &uot;My friends and family can come to see me play.&uot;

Lakeland coach Vincent Pugh intends to see his former charges tear up the NSU field. &uot;I always try to see my former players,&uot; said Pugh, himself an NSU graduate and former teammate of Gillus.

&uot;It used to be that the coaches in this area weren’t happy with NSU’s recruiting efforts in this area,&uot; said Pugh. &uot;They’d rather go to other states to find players. When players came from so far away, they didn’t always stay for all four years. But a lot of coaches in this area knew Coach Gillus, so he got a lot of support from us. This way, they get to play Division I AA ball, and their families can come to see them.&uot;

&uot;I’ve been looking at some of these kids for two years,&uot; said Gillus, who often saw Tidewater as a popular recruiting area during his four years at Union, bringing 10 local players from Tidewater to Union last year alone. &uot;I knew the high school coaches in this area wanted to send their players to NSU, so that was important. We were looking for big kids with lot athletic ability that would have an impact on our team, and we players who fit all those qualities when we came to Suffolk.&uot;

That doesn’t mean that the task is going to be easy; NSU’s team finished last season with a record of 5-6. But Strand and Kressen helped take a Nansemond River team that won three games in two seasons to an 8-2 2002-3, so they’re used to turning things around quickly.

&uot;I’ll be playing slotback at first, but I’m going to be playing quarterback by the middle of the season,&uot; Strand said. &uot;That’s what they expected when they gave me a scholarship.&uot;

Kressen hopes to move quickly as well. &uot;They told me that they have immediate need at nose guard, so I’m going to get in there right away,&uot; he said. &uot;They showed faith in me, and I’m going to come through.&uot;