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Changes to Coastal Carolina staff pay off in long run
CONWAY – It was a number of years ago when Coastal Carolina football coach David Bennett first heard the name Maurice Drayton. He was hearing it a lot, for that matter.
In talking with his staff about various recruits over the years, he’d often learn that so and so was taking a visit to another school, and Bennett would ask which coach was recruiting him.
“You’d here the [name] ‘Maurice Drayton. Maurice Drayton. Maurice Drayton,’ ” Bennett said. “So I said, ‘Good gosh, that guy can recruit.’”
So when Bennett made the tough decision after last season to replace three of his assistant coaches - the first major staff changes in his tenure at CCU - well, he decided it was time to recruit Drayton.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t know how good an on-field coach he was. I just had a hunch because I saw how good a recruiter he was,” Bennett said. “He was a relentless recruiter that recruited really good players to The Citadel and really good players to South Carolina State. He just seemed to have a passion for the game and a passion for special teams.”
After getting permission from South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough, Bennett interviewed Drayton and hired him as assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach.
Meanwhile, Bennett brought Patrick Covington back to coach the Chanticleers’ offensive line. Covington had worked with the team in 2006 after finishing his playing career at Furman before taking a full-time assistant coaching position at the Air Force Academy. Bennett hired Kevin Mapp from Hofstra to coach the defensive line, and when Mapp left after six months to take a job out of football, Bennett brought in former Virginia Tech standout Jamel Smith (with a recommendation from Hokies coach Frank Beamer) to round out those staff changes.
After three straight non-winning seasons - the first in program history - Bennett was hoping some fresh faces and fresh ideas would help the program get back on track.
“You look at the guys that were with us and helped start this program from scratch - coach [Antoine] Rivens, coach [Jamie] Snider and coach [Hunter] Spivey - they did some great things here helping out,” Bennett said. “They were part of three conference championships, going to the postseason. We appreciate everything they did.
“They did some great things, but sometimes there comes a time when you’ve got to make a change or two. I knew I was going to make one or two, I didn’t know we were going to make three. When we came out of meetings, we made three changes.”
And as the Chants now prepare for the second FCS playoff game in program history - Saturday at home against No. 21 Western Illinois - the impact of those new assistant coaches has started to pay dividends.
In CCU’s 70-3 win over Charleston Southern on Saturday, Drayton’s special teams unit netted 159 punt return yards - including a Big South-record-long 91-yard touchdown return by freshman Niccolo Mastromatteo. The Chants also got a 78-yard kickoff return - the third-longest in program history - from sophomore Jeremy Height in that win.
“I don’t want to get into a lot of stats, but at one time we were, I think, 118 out of 118 [nationally in return yardage],” Drayton said. “And I think we’re now somewhere in between 50-60 in the country in the unit.”
Covington’s offensive line - a group that ranked near the bottom of the Big South last year with 22 sacks allowed - now ranks tied for fourth nationally among FCS teams with seven sacks allowed in 11 games.
“We’ve challenged them day in and day out - and they’ve had to listen to me holler at them - and they’ve responded,” Covington said. “They’ve responded well.”
And the Chants’ defensive front - aided by Smith’s interior linemen - ranks 14th nationally in tackles for loss.
“I think our defensive line is really gelling right now and fitting into our gaps,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to be a blue collar-type unit for our defense.”
When Bennett was named the Big South coach of the year on Tuesday, he quickly deferred credit for that honor to his coaching staff.
A group that has spent much of the season trying to incorporate new ideas in an effort to get the program back to the position it finds itself in this week, preparing for the second playoff game in program history.
“I’ve always been a I-AA guy,” Covington said of leaving Air Force to return to CCU. “I love Division I and all that, bowl games are great. But I played I-AA, and this week right here is the best part about it. Because it doesn’t matter what you did to get here, you’re here now and you can do whatever you want.”
By Ryan Young, The Sun News