WISE, Va. (WJHL) – College football is kicking into high gear as the calendar hits the first weekend in August. Division II UVA Wise got its unofficial start to the fall on Saturday with media day from Carl Smith Stadium.

“It’s like Christmas Eve,” eighth-year head coach Dane Damron explained. “We get to start tomorrow. Had the opportunity to go over a few things with them today about what we expect.”

“It’s always exciting getting back with the whole team,” senior wide receiver Dorrien Goddard said. “Seeing new faces, seeing old faces.”

The Highland Cavs are looking to banish a haunting 2022 season in which the squad finished 2-9 on the campaign. The group won just a single South Athletic Conference game (28-13 at Erskine), while losing two more league games by less than a touchdown.

“Last year we fell off, we just weren’t good,” Damron said. “There’s reasons for that, but nobody cares about those reasons – the fact of the matter is we were 2-9. I own that, I wear that.”

Damron went on to say that he and his staff did some serious evaluating in the offseason to try and tweak some things. However, senior running back Jaevon Gillespie knows improvement needs to come from self-discipline, as well.

“We just have to come ready to work every day,” Gillespie said. “No messing around at practice, be locked in at meetings. Making sure everybody knows what to do so we can execute.”

Coaches and players seem to think the team, as a whole, has been putting in the required work in the offseason to give them a boost to start the fall.

“You’ve got to hope that when they go home, they do what we ask them to do,” Damron said. “And they did. You know, our kids came back looking better and more ready to try to do what we ask them to do. You know, so I think that’s a huge step.”

Gillespie played just seven games last season due to a lingering shoulder injury. But, after months of recovery he feels he and the rest of the squad are ready to change the narrative in 2023.

“I’ve been looking forward to camp all season and trying to rehab all summer to stay healthy,” he said. “And it looks like everybody else made sure they stayed in the gym and kept in shape. So, I’m excited.”

“I think it’s definitely the simple fact of just ‘want to’,” Goddard said. “I think a lot of people here are tired of the way things have been going and they want change and they know you got to be the change if you want change.”

UVA Wise will conduct its first fall camp practice on Sunday, as the team prepares for the season opener against Union College (Ky.) on Saturday, September 2.