|Rams looking to continue dominance|
|Published Wednesday, August 20, 2014|
Winston-Salem State is seeking its third CIAA championship in four years and a fourth NCAA playoff appearance. With a new name at the helm, does the rest of the league have a chance?
The Rams don’t expect to miss a beat after the departure of former head coach Connell Maynor. Defensive coordinator Kienus Boulware has been a coach-in-the-waiting for several years and was the catalyst behind championships at Livingstone, Shaw and WSSU.
The Rams have a loaded team with 18 starters, including a veteran offensive unit. Senior quarterback Rudy Johnson led the CIAA with 218 passing yards per game and 25 total touchdowns. He also was second on the team in rushing with 487 yards and another six TDs.
Joining him in the backfield is senior running back Maurice Lewis (902 yards, 11 TDs). And when Lewis can’t make the plays, Johnson can always throw to sophomore wide receiver Chase Powell, last season’s rookie of the year. Powell caught 64 passes for 770 yards and seven TDs.
But defense was WSSU’s staple. The Rams led the NCAA Division II in defense, allowing just 233.6 total yards per game.
The unit takes a hit with the departures of two-time CIAA Defensive Player of the Year Carlos Fields and all-CIAA Donnie Owens, but have veterans Michael Bloomfield, Danny Bunn, Casey Davenport, Duvontae Covington and Larry Hearne ready to step in.
The Rams have advanced to the second round of the NCAA playoffs for three straight seasons, including 2011’s runner-up finish. They are not looking to reverse course.
“It’s getting harder and harder to win each year,” Lewis said. “The bar has been set.”
WSSU opens its season at UNC Pembroke Sept. 6 at 6 p.m.
• Fayetteville State. Like his CIAA North counterpart, Virginia State, Broncos coach Lawrence Kershaw won’t be sneaking up on teams in his second year. Kershaw turned a 2-8 season before his arrival to 6-4 and one win from the title game.
“We had a decent first year, but we’re disappointed because we fell short of our goal to win a championship,” he said.
FSU returns 64 players that played some role in last season’s success. Leading the pack as always is the man under center. Junior QB Derek Bryant came off the sidelines to lead the Broncos to five wins, while throwing for 1,670 yards and 13 TDs.
Bryant will have his choice of receivers with eight returnees, including senior Kasunn Williams (17-502-5). FSU’s explosive offense led the league in total passing yards (2,855) and per game average (285.5).
The defense was no slouch either. The Broncos were second behind the Rams in total yards allowed. Senior safety Michael Johnson was a one-man terror with 65 tackles, five interceptions and 13 pass deflections.
FSU opens the season at Chowan.
• Shaw. Two words send coach Robert Massey into shivers: Darnell Evans. It’s not the threat of facing Evans, but his loss to the team. Evans was a nightmare in the secondary, leading DII in interceptions (11) and interception return yards (213).
But the show must go on. Offensively, the Bears return starting RB Marquise Grizzle and QB Trevius Folston. Grizzle is a bruising back who punishes linemen for that extra yard. He led the conference in rushing yards per game (127.6) and was fourth in TDs (12). Folston replaces Quinshon Odum who threw for 1,605 yards and 14 TDs. He’s going to need some quick feet as well as a strong arm since the entire starting offensive line is gone.
“When you have a running back like Grizzle, an average offensive line can look like a world beater,” Massey said.
Massey isn’t calling his defensive line “average,” however. With all four starters returning, he believes he has “the best defensive line in the county.”
The unit will get several early tests with its first three games at Miles, at West Alabama and then home versus UNC Pembroke.
• Johnson C. Smith. The Golden Bulls return all their skill position players, with senior quarterback Keahn Wallace (171-of-276, 1,950 yards, 15 TDs) leading the pack. He has the receiving tandem of Chris Patterson and Fred Scott available to wreak havoc after landing in the CIAA’s top 10 for receptions and yards.
The offensive line must replace three starters, though, which may require some time to gel.
Defensively, JCSU needs to improve on 2013’s 26.4 points allowed per game. Defensive end Jovontay Williams is coming off an all-America campaign in which he tallied 12.5 sacks. If the Golden Bulls can find a way to slow opponents, they could move closer to the top than their preseason ranking suggest. JCSU opens at Division I Charlotte Sept. 6.
• St. Augustine’s. The Falcons pride themselves on their defense, and this season will be missing four gigantic shoes. Gone are defensive tackle Shonquez Nelson, the DII sacks champion, and CIAA co-Defensive Player of the Year Chaz Robinson. Senior linebacker Carlton Butts will lead the unit that was third in total defense.
Redshirt sophomore QB A.J. Gilford got plenty of experience as a freshman starter last season, throwing for 1,319 yards and nine TDs. But he also gave up 12 interceptions. Joining him in the backfield is junior tailback Roderick Davenport.
Predicted to finish next to last in the division, the Falcons have just four home games. They open the season at Indiana (Pa.) Sept. 6.
• Livingstone. It’s been 16 years since the Blue Bears finished the season with a winning record (6-4). Despite the drought, Livingstone has had several outstanding players over the years. Junior QB Drew Powell is one of them. Powell threw for 2,127 yards and 16 TDs last season. He should be fun to watch.
The Blue Bears open their season Sept. 4 at Millersville.
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