Tuskegee football coach Willie Slater has been asked plenty of questions, but ran into one he had seemingly never been asked on Wednesday.
When asked what it was like to live up to his record, the coach stared off into the distance and pondered for a moment as though the question was new to him.
“There’s no pressure at all,” Slater, who is 36-4 at Tuskegee, said. “There’s not pressure on me; there’s not pressure on the team. We set our own expectations; nobody else does that for us.”
The rest of the college football world has put plenty of its own expectations on the Golden Tigers, and with some good reason.
Tuskegee’s string of 26 consecutive victories was the longest in the nation until Alabama State knocked off the Golden Tigers in early November. And former quarterback Jacary Atkinson set passing records as he led the team to its third consecutive SIAC championship in 2008.
But the thought that someone else might hold Slater up to his recent record had barely cross the coach’s mind, he said. Even as the team a major part of its offense this season.
The Tigers entered the summer with four quarterbacks lined up to replace Atkinson. And even in the selection process, Slater seemed unconcerned with convention. Instead of going with Joshua Harris, who played backup last year, or sophomore receiver-turned-quarterback Wayne Williams, but instead have started redshirt freshman Jeremy Williams.
“There’s just not as much passing now,” Slater said of his offense. “We used to pass a lot and really put pressure on defenses. But we have some players who can run the ball, and we can be successful without it.”
Whatever Slater’s expectations are, he hasn’t been let down yet. The Golden Tigers sit at 4-1 overall and in SIAC play. They are currently second behind Albany State (4-0, 4-0) and on track to content for a fourth straight conference title, Slater said.
“This is a younger team, but it’s getting better every week,” Slater said. “We had some questions this year at O-line and at quarterback, but those are getting better every week.”
Much of the defense is back, including three all-conference players in linebacker Jonathan Hall, cornerback Justin Hannah and defensive lineman Danny Anderson. They are just three of 12 returners who started at least one game on defense last year.