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Bethune-Cookman camp kicks off with a lofty goal
There is one game film that Bethune-Cookman head football coach Brian Jenkins keeps going back to.
The game does not feature the Wildcats and predates his time at B-CU. But Jenkins said he keeps watching South Carolina State’s 37-21 playoff loss to Appalachian State in 2008.
The Bulldogs led that game 14-10, before the Mountaineers pulled away. If they just could have held on, Jenkins reckons, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference may be viewed in a different light as it pertains to the Football Championship Subdivision title picture.
Instead, the league is winless in the playoffs since 1999 – 0-for-14.
“They were right there,” Jenkins said of S.C. State. “If they would’ve done that, we wouldn’t have these conversations about schools in the MEAC and (the FCS title).”
In his first two seasons at B-CU, Jenkins produced a solid 18-5 record. Season 3 under Jenkins is slated to kick off with the start of fall camp around 9 a.m. today at New Smyrna Beach Sports Complex. Bethune-Cookman will spend its first two weeks of practice in New Smyrna Beach while its on-campus practice facilities undergo renovations.
As camp begins, Jenkins said his Wildcats – who open the season Sept. 2 at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando against Alabama State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge – still have much to do before they achieve his vision for the program.
“We are a long ways away,” he said. “You have to realize, the little bit we have done in this short time is nothing to hold our head up above someone else about. We tied for a conference championship, and we finished second. In my eyes, that is mediocre, and I’m not a mediocre guy.”
Jenkins dreams of setting the standard for the MEAC.
“I want to get up there to win the national championship,” he said. “That is my goal. That is what I come to work for every day. I don’t come to work every day to have a good program or be in the running. I want it all. That is the way my coaches feel. That is the way my administration feels.”
To get to that level, however, Jenkins and his team – picked to finish third in the MEAC by the league’s coaches and sports information directors – have to accomplish what no team in the conference has been able in 12 years and what the Wildcats have never done – bring home that elusive FCS playoff win.
Jenkins said there are several keys to reaching that point. He said the Wildcats have to be consistent, build depth and continue putting money into the program.
“When you are consistent, then you have the opportunity to play on that stage more often,” he said.
When it comes to developing the depth to reach the goal, Jenkins said recruiting takes on added importance.
“You have to be much better and more precise in recruiting,” he said. “You can’t take as many chances as some other people may take. You have to be more detailed and define what you are looking for. The talent on your team is a key and important thing in getting this program where it needs to be.”
On the financial end, he said Bethune-Cookman is making strides.
“I think we are steadily on the incline,” he said. “But, we are not where we need to be. Our (athletic director), Lynn Thompson, is steadily working to come up with creative ideas to bring in some funds. (B-CU Interim President Edison Jackson) is on a mission to get this university to the top in every way. Everyone is committed to the necessary things. We are working on getting student enrollment up, and our alumni are buying in. We have been able to do some things thus far, and as long as everyone is buying in we can continue to do that and increase our budget.”
Putting the three aspects together will not just be crucial in the quest for national relevancy. According to Jenkins, it will be critical if the Wildcats simply hope to compete in what he said is an improving MEAC – something that, should it prove true, also bodes well for the conference’s reputation.
Last season, the Wildcats were tripped up by North Carolina A&T – a conference doormat the past several seasons. And teams such as Howard, also on the bottom end of the MEAC, proved to be scrappy with wins over North Carolina A&T, Florida A&M and Hampton.
“You look at those programs, and it is not a surprise they are improving and making jumps,” Jenkins said. “It all boils down to the leadership. It is making our whole league stronger, and in the end it helps.”
Where the Wildcats fit in the conference mix this season and how close they are to taking another step toward Jenkins’ vision will begin to show this week.
“I think we are still questionable as a team,” Jenkins said. “We haven’t played one game yet, so it is hard to say where we are at. Hopefully, we define ourselves as a football team. I’m just looking for everybody to do his part. I’m not looking for this guy to do this or that. … It is going to take a total team effort. To have an opportunity to win a ballgame in this league, if we don’t look at it in this way, approach it in that manner, then we will have a lot of sad faces on the weekends.
“But I’m looking for this team to step up and play at a high level.”
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B-CU forced to start practice in New Smyrna Beach
Bethune-Cookman’s football team will set up temporary camp at the New Smyrna Beach Sports Complex today, school officials said.
Improvements to the Wildcats’ on-campus practice field, including the installation of sod, have been delayed because of the weather, athletic director Lynn Thompson said. A practice track and pits for pole vaulting and jumping for B-CU’s track and field program also are behind schedule because of inclement weather.
“We’ve exercised the option of relocating the first two weeks of practice,” Thompson said. “We’re honored that the city of New Smyrna Beach has welcomed our program and has extended its facilities to us.”
The Wildcats will make the best of a unique situation, traveling some 15 miles by bus from campus to the NSB complex, Thompson said.
“New Smyrna Beach has a first-rate athletic complex with ample green space, shower and locker facilities and a stadium that more than suits our scrimmage needs,” Thompson said. “We’re going to turn this into a retreat-like, NFL training camp experience for our student-athletes.”
B-CU coach Brian Jenkins is expecting few, if any, distractions.
“I’m excited to get back to business,” the third-year head coach said.
The NSB Sports Complex staff has been preparing for the Wildcats’ arrival.
“We’re very excited to have Bethune-Cookman football call our park home for two weeks,” said Matt Musgrove, manager of the sports complex. “This represents a new direction for us in the service that we want to provide, and we intend to give Bethune-Cookman the red-carpet treatment and provide them with a great training camp heading into what promises to be a great season.”
The Wildcats open the season Sept. 2 with the MEAC/SWAC Challenge vs. Alabama State at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Kickoff is set for noon, and the game will be televised by ESPN.
– Sean Kernan
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By Brian Jenkins, The News-Journal