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Five important positions to keep an eye on as SCSU opens camp
For the 104th time in school history, South Carolina State will begin preparations for another season of football.
Though scorching temperatures have pushed the starting time back for the first three practices from 3:10 p.m. to 6:40 p.m., the focus will remain the same as it has the previous nine years under head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough on conditioning and basic fundamentals.
Graduation and eligibility issues have changed the dynamics on a team which was selected by coaches and sports information directors to win a fourth consecutive Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title. Heading into the preseason, there are five positions which will have the focus of Bulldog fans leading into the Sept. 1 season-opener at Central Michigan.
Malcolm Long left a legacy of eight school records, three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles and three consecutive playoff appearances in three seasons as a starter. The Bulldogs will now turn to three candidates who possess more mobility yet may not possess the deep threat ability of a Long. Left-hander Derrick Wiley has the most playing experience, while younger brother Tedarius appears to be the more classic drop back passer of the two. Redshirt sophomore Richard Cue looks like a combination of both Wileys and could contend for the starting position with more repetitions during team scrimmages.
2. Wide Receivers
A youthful group last season got even younger with the revelation that Lennel Elmore, likely, will be ruled ineligible to play for the 2011 season. The Allendale native was the team’s leading returning receiver (49 catches, 595 yards, 2 TDs last year) and his absence leaves the only experience back in starter sophomore Tyler McDonald, reserves Thomas “Trey” Williams and Caleb Davis and redshirts Dennis Rowe, Marcus Lloyd and Brandon Miller. Also not expected back is Erin Norwood, who spent time last season at wide receiver and running back. In addition, the position is under new leadership with Lee Chambers moving over from tight ends.
3. Offensive Line
With tackle Johnny Culbreath and guard Josh Harrison moving on to the NFL and center Sam Timothy graduating, the Bulldogs lost three starters from a line which spearheaded the second-ranked offense in the MEAC last season. Preseason All-MEAC and Football Championship Subdivision All-American right guard Juavahr Nathan and left guard Jake Johnson are is back and Tristan Bellamy saw significant playing time last season and is seen as a more physical option at center than Timothy was. The key to the group’s success could lie in the incoming freshmen whom Pough said will be expected to contribute early. Shrine Bowl offensive linemen Devin Flowers (6-3, 300) and Jairon “Shaq” Harrison (6-3, 310) and North-South All-Star Avery Grant (6-2, 310) were among the newcomers who arrived early for summer workouts and could contend for playing time.
David Erby, Marshall McFadden and Julius Wilkerson made up the heart of FCS’s second-ranked defense. Their leadership and intensity will be difficult to replace, but returning senior Donovan Richard actually led the team in tackles last season and his preparation has earned praise from new strength and conditioning coach Trumain Carroll. The Bulldogs are also high on Blackville-Hilda graduate Joe Thomas, who was listed as a starter at weakside linebacker despite seeing limited action the previous year, and redshirt freshman Terrell Fitts. With experience on the defensive line and secondary, sustaining production from the linebacking corps will be key for repeating last year’s national ranking.
5. Special teams
Blake Erickson was “Mr. Consistent” last year in setting single-season and career school records for field goals made. As he enters his senior year, S.C. State has already started to groom his possible replacement with three additional placekickers in camp. Nick Belcher was listed as the backup, but it appears University of Arizona transfer Will Roper will be utilized on long field goals and kickoffs. Fans can watch Roper demonstrate his long leg in video clips currently airing at www.thebulldogzone.com.
By THOMAS GRANT JR., The Times and Democrat