VUU freshman running back Jada Byers gives seniors a day to remember

Fred Jeter | 11/11/2021, 6 p.m.
Wouldn’t you know it. On Senior Day at Virginia Union University, a freshman stole the show.
Virginia Union University wide receiver Charles Hall snags a pass over the arm of Virginia State University’s Vincent Parker at Hovey Stadium last Saturday during the final game of the season for both teams. Photo by Clement Britt

Wouldn’t you know it. On Senior Day at Virginia Union University, a freshman stole the show.

Less than a year removed from St. Joseph High School in New Jersey, Jada Byers, the whirlwind in maroon and steel togs, played his version of “Now you see me, now you don’t,” planting a frown on the faces of the visiting Virginia State University Trojans.

Byers rock ‘n’ rolled for 112 yards rushing, with two touchdowns—including the game-winning touchdown with 30 seconds left—in VUU’s 20-13 victory last Saturday before some 8,000 fans at Hovey Stadium in Richmond.

VUU hasn’t had a memorable season, but it enjoyed a finale to remember, coming from behind (13-5) for victory as the final seconds peeled off the clock.

The Panthers finish the season 6-4 overall and 5-2 in the CIAA, which was good for second place in the CIAA Northern Division behind Bowie State University.

VSU, never gaining full traction from an 0-3 start, closes the book at 3-6 overall, 3-4 in the CIAA.

The 5-foot-7 Byers finished as the CIAA’s third-leading rusher (910 yards; 5.4 yards per carry) and first in touchdowns with 12. He already is being compared to the greatest ball carriers in VUU lore.

Byers came to VUU on the rebound. He first committed to Sacred Heart University in Connecticut before heading south to Richmond.

There were Panthers heroes aplenty on Lombardy Street.

Junior Charles Hall caught seven passes for 96 yards and finished as the CIAA’s leading receiver with nearly 100 yards per game.

And on Senior Day, don’t forget the graduate students, aka “Super Seniors.”

At least 10 Panthers already with sheepskins from 2020 returned to further their education and, oh yes, play another season of football.

“Super Seniors,” including quarterback Khalid Morris, offensive lineman Savion Hopes, running back Rodney McKay, receiver Jaiden Reavis, kicker Jefferson Souza and defensive backs Damontay Rhem and Bryan Epps.

The Rhem-Epps combo produced the single play of the game. VSU had momentum and was driving late in the third period when things went upside down.

VSU quarterback D’Vonte Waller’s quick pass to Roy Jackson looked good for a first down—until the afternoon began to unravel for the visitors.

First the Panthers’ Epps of Highland Springs High School gave VSU’s Jackson a man-sized wallop, dislodging the pigskin. Then it was Rhem’s turn to get everyone excited.

A former running back who transferred to VUU from North Carolina State University, Rhem turned in a football version of a “Rhembrandt” with a 57-yard fumble return to the VSU nine.

Byers reached the end zone a few plays later for the first of his two late six pointers, making it 13-13.

High drama ensued. VSU drove 13 plays to the VUU 19 with 6:29 left when, on fourth down, Trojans kicker Nick Woolfolk was called on for a field goal. The left-legged booter from Richmond’s Thomas Jefferson High School was the No. 1 star two years ago with a game-winning, overtime field goal against VUU.

This time his luck, and that of the Trojans, turned sour as buttermilk. As VSU was lining up for the three-pointer, there was something missing—the holder.

The Trojans had to call time out for the holder to race onto the field and take his position. If that jolted Woolfolk’s rhythm, we’ll never know. But his attempt sailed right, allowing VUU to exhale and take over.

Keeping the leather on the ground, VUU went on a punishing 13-play, 6-minute drive to the 1-yard line.

Hopes, as gifted an offensive lineman as the Panthers have had in recent decades, took full advantage of a VSU defense that was leaking oil. The 6-foot 4, 315-pound transfer from Delaware State University was dominant in clearing pathways for McKay and Byers, over and over, as the chains kept moving, the clock kept ticking and the fans kept nudging closer to the edge of their seats.

In conclusion, it was the freshman, Byers, who provided his older teammates with a “senior moment” to relish for life.