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B-CC, FAMU, Jacksonville all contenders for their conference crowns
If Bethune-Cookman College seniors Natiel Curry and Ryan Lewis are looking forward to the Wildcats’ showdown with the University of Miami, they’re doing everything they can to hide their excitement.
Curry, a Miami Norland High graduate, and Lewis, a Blanche Ely High alum, grew up watching the Hurricanes, but they gave the same response when asked about whether they circled Oct. 1 on their calendar.
“The only date I circled on my calendar is tomorrow,” they said.
A cliché, sure, but Curry and Lewis said Bethune-Cookman took a day-by-day approach to fall training camp.
The Wildcats don’t face Miami until the fourth game of the season.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Lewis said. “But we’re going to take it like any other game. It’s no different.”
Except for maybe playing in front of 30,000 more fans, in an NFL stadium, against one of college football’s perennial powers.
But it’s a wise approach for the team to take, especially after racing out to a 10-0 start to 2010 before falling the final two weeks of the season. Both seniors want every practice, every day to count so they don’t get ahead of themselves.
Curry, a center, and Lewis, a linebacker, were both named Football Championship Subdivision preseason All-Americans. Lewis posted 81 tackles (14 for loss) while registering five sacks, four picks and two defensive touchdowns last year, and Curry anchored an offensive line that helped the unit score 38 points per game, good for second best in the FCS.
“This defense is going to be great,” Lewis said. “And the offense is no pushover.”
Bethune-Cookman returns 14 starters and would be the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference favorite if it didn’t have to replace Matt Johnson, the conference’s offensive Player of the Year in 2010.
Still, their focus is singular.
“We’re trying to win a championship. Point. Blank. Period,” Curry said. “We’re doing whatever it takes to win a championship. We’re going to fight.”
Florida A&M went from finishing 3-8 the year before legendary coach Joe Taylor took over the program to 25-9 in the three seasons since. Coming off a three-way tie for the MEAC title with Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State, the Rattlers are ready to take another step forward in 2011: take sole possession of the MEAC title.
Taylor, second among active head coaches at historically black colleges in victories, has quickly turned around Florida A&M, and it all starts on defense.
The Rattlers return eight starters to a unit that allowed only 18.4 points a game in 2010.
Offensively, Florida A&M will rely on quarterback Austin Trainor, who started the final three games last season and went undefeated, which included a 19-of-38, 261-yard outing against rival Bethune-Cookman.
Four years after Josh McGregor nearly quit football, the star quarterback has Jacksonville on the verge of making its first FCS playoffs appearance.
A first-team All-State performer at Glades Day High, McGregor didn’t get many Football Bowl Subdivision looks and opted to attend Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, hoping he could transfer after a year. McGregor got homesick and wasn’t enjoying himself. He called home and told his parents he was quitting.
But McGregor had a connection to Jacksonville coach Kerwin Bell, who offered him a chance to walk on and be his fifth-string quarterback, and McGregor obliged, knowing he would be within driving distance of home.
Midway through his first game with the Dolphins, McGregor found his way onto the field, and the rest is history. He has broken and set the school record — and his own record — for passing yards and touchdowns in a single season every year since. The 6-2, 210-pound gunslinger enters the year as the active career leader in passing yards (8,186) and touchdowns (87).
“If you have asked me about my career expectations four years ago, I would have said no way this was possible,” McGregor said. “I was this close to quitting.
“I never thought I would be chasing records, setting records.”
McGregor powered Jacksonville’s attack that led the country in scoring and total offense a year ago, and 14 starters return to a team that went 10-1 and 8-0 in the Pioneer League.
The Dolphins are ranked No. 25 in Athlon’s Preseason Top 25, and with all of McGregor’s top weapons intact, Jacksonville should compete for an at-large spot in the FCS playoffs, which they were left out of last year.
“That’s our big motivation, making the playoffs,” said senior safety Darren Johnson, a Coral Gables High grad. “Being a small school, you kind of feel looked down on.
“We really want to get there this year.”
By Matt Forman, Miami Herald