Coach David Dean believes Valdosta State’s defense is stout enough to help the Blazers meet high expectations of winning in TitleTown USA.
Ask Dean about his team’s offense, however, and the third-year coach isn’t so sure.
Russ Callaway, the leading candidate to start at quarterback and pair with standout receiver Cedric Jones, tore a knee ligament in spring practice. Valdosta State also must replace four starters on the offensive line for the second straight year.
While Callaway continues his rehab and participating lightly in summer drills, the Blazers will have Jimmy Coy, a junior transfer from El Camino (Calif.) College, work with the first-team offense.
Coy passed for 2,755 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions, putting up the kind of numbers that show he could be a better fit than Callaway, who spent his first two years listed third on Valdosta State’s depth chart and has attempted just 12 career passes. El Camino went 10-2 last season to win the Southern California Central Conference title.
Led by the junior tandem of tackle Demario Jones and linebacker Larry Dean (no relation to the head coach), Valdosta State ranked 24th nationally in scoring defense, 31st in total average yards allowed, 31st against the run and 20th in defensive pass efficiency.
Bahhur ready for break-through win
ATLANTA — Ted Bahhur isn’t worried about the talent level at Clark Atlanta. He does wonder if the Panthers are mentally strong enough to produce more victories.
“It’s not going to be the talent part, I guarantee you that,” said Bahhur, who is entering his sixth season. “It’s going to be whether the whole team believes in itself. I think we’ll be OK. Last year was a good indication.”
Clark Atlanta finished third in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a 5-4 record, 6-5 overall. The Panthers showed promise with a 4-1 start, but they lost four of their last six games.
Marcus Winston, who finished with 8.5 sacks last season, leads a defense that was second best in yards allowed and third in scoring defense. Winston, an all-conference defensive lineman, should get help from linebackers Zimier McCloud and Joel Allen.
With solid transfers, including defensive end Derrick Strong and safety Andrew Fuller, Bahhur believes Clark Atlanta can finally get over the hump and beat the top echelon teams in the conference.
Wells pushes team for improvement
Robby Wells remembers facing 93 players in his first team meeting as Savannah State’s new coach and placing his hand above his head.
“I said, ‘There’s your new standard. I’m not going to bend and I’m not going to break,”’ Wells says now.
Then came the real shocker.
“I said, ‘We’re meeting on the night of the national championship, and we’re going to meet on the night of the national championship until we’re playing for a championship,’ ” Wells said.
Play for a championship? Savannah State had won five games in five years before that speech.
Of those who heard Wells’ opening challenge, only 36 made it through the tough season.
The survivors were rewarded with a 5-7 finish, the program’s high mark for wins since a 5-6 record in 1999.
Cooley, Lollis lead Hawks’ hopes
If Shorter College has a chance to advance deep into the NAIA playoffs, the Hawks need seniors A.J. Cooley and Logan Lollis to exceed their performance last year.
It won’t be easy. Cooley is the NAIA’s leading returning rusher, while Lollis is a linebacker equally adept at stopping both the run and pass.
“Any time you’ve got a fullback with 1,500 yards coming back, it’s a great place to start,” coach Phil Jones said. “Both of them had the tools to play (at a higher level), but we’ve been grateful to have them at Shorter.”
Since starting football in 2005, the Hawks have raised their victory total each season from three to six to seven before a 9-3 finish last year that included their first playoff appearance.
For Jones, who has run the program since its beginning, success is fun to measure but harder to maintain. He brushes off suggestions that Shorter is all but guaranteed to return to the postseason, particularly when his staff is working to replace every starter from last year’s offensive and defensive lines.
Dickey sets goal of winning a game
West Georgia coach Daryl Dickey is eager to get that first win.
That would be more than the Wolves produced during an 0-10 season. With a nonproductive running game and a woeful defense from last year, Dickey knows it will be an uphill battle.
“We’re hoping to win a game,” he said. “We have to get one first before anything else happens. Our challenge is immense.”
In the last seven seasons, West Georgia has only one winning record.
But if there’s anyone who knows how to turn a program around, it’s Dickey.
He had a 28-15 record in four years at Presbyterian, which had eight losing seasons in nine years before he came.