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Alabama State trying for strong follow-up
The Alabama State Hornets gained a transfer quarterback and lost some key players to off-the-field issues.
Troy transfer Greg Jenkins appears set to win the starting job from incumbent quarterback Devin Dominguez. But the defending SWAC East Division champions had some key players gone for off the field issues. Leading rusher Andrew Pitts and top tackler Brandon Roberts are academically ineligible.
Defensive lineman Derrick Billups and linebacker Jimmy Daniels were dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons after leading Alabama State with 19 tackles for loss.
That means the Hornets went from 17 returning starters to having some significant holes to fill before the season.
Picked to finish behind Jackson State - which is ineligible for the SWAC championship game - and Alcorn State in the East, coach Reggie Barlow and the Hornets want to prove that 2010 was a breakthrough year not a one-season deal.
“It has taken some time and having that experience last year and getting there was huge for us,” said Barlow, who is entering his fifth season. “Our guys have gotten a taste of that success, and they want more of it.
“That was big for our program.”
The Hornets lost to Texas Southern 11-6 in the title game. They also ended a five-year losing streak to rival Alabama A&M in the Magic City Classic.
Wide receiver Nick Andrews said Alabama State draws motivation from the middle-of-the-pack forecast by league coaches.
“That’s just the coaches and the poll,” Andrews said. “Last year we were picked at the bottom of the barrel, basically, and we came out the way we did. We’re just going to take that as more motivation, more fuel to the fire.”
The defense was only set to lose two starters before the attrition from a group that ranked fourth in the Football Championship Subdivision in takeaways, fifth in pass defense efficiency and 12th in scoring defense. Free safety Kejuan Riley and defensive end Kynjee Cotton lead the way.
Riley ranked tied for second nationally with seven interceptions, while Cotton had 11 tackles for loss and five sacks.
An offense that was eighth in the SWAC in scoring and ninth in total yards has a new coordinator - and a new quarterback.
Former Hampton offensive coordinator Fred Kaiss replaces Melvin Spears, who left for the head coaching job at Alcorn State.
Dominguez got a late start with the new offense since he is a pitcher on the baseball team and didn’t participate in spring practice. Jenkins transferred from Troy after starting the past two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and enrolled in January.
Barlow said that extra practice time gave Jenkins the edge going into fall camp. And he threw a 64-yard touchdown pass in the first scrimmage.
“He can throw it, he has a strong arm, and he can run,” the coach said. “He’s an athletic guy. He’s going to run really well. And of course he understands football. He fits the pyramid of a good quarterback.”
Dominguez was tied for third in the SWAC with 19 touchdown passes last season, but was also intercepted 15 times and completed just 49.4 percent of his passes.
“Either one of them can go in any time and win,” Andrews said.
Whoever wins the job will have second-team All-SWAC receivers Andrews and T.C. McWilliams, who combined for 88 catches, 1,206 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Quenda McKibbon is the heir apparent to Pitts but averaged just 2.8 yards a carry last season. Barlow also signed two freshman tailbacks.
Defensively, linebacker Demarque Taylor (54 tackles) is back, while Donovan Masline and Jacquez Richardson return with Riley in the secondary.
By JOHN ZENOR, Sarasota Herald Tribune