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Norfolk State coach's approach will be basic this season
At the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football media day Friday, Norfolk State head football coach Pete Adrian shared his philosophy for helping his team succeed this season.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” he said.
After finishing the 2011 season with a 9-3 record, a MEAC title, and a berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the Spartans struggled last year, finishing 4-7. Adrian said the team looks to rebound this season by getting back to the basics.
“The best part of a new season is that everyone starts with a 0-0 record,” he said. “We aren’t caught up in what happened last year, we are just going to go out and play and take it game by game.”
Adrian attributed his team’s record in the 2012 season to an excess of turnovers (34) and not focusing on the fundamentals. After winning their first two games of the season, the Spartans went on a seven-game losing streak before winning their final two games.
This season, the Spartans will rely heavily on their defense, which returns a number of veterans, led by 2012 first-team All-MEAC linebacker Lynden Trail and standout cornerbacks Marcus Center and Keenan Lambert. Center and Lambert combined for 103 tackles and four interceptions as a part of a defensive backfield that gave up the fewest passing yards in the nation, at 136.5 per game.
Offensively, the Spartans will look to quarterback Nico Flores, running back Brendon Riddick, and two-time All-MEAC tight end Joseph Hawkins to provide most of the production. With three starters on the offensive line returning, the Spartans will have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the conference.
Flores took over the starting quarterback duties for the Spartans midway through the 2012 season — moving over from receiver — but Adrian said that incoming transfers Malik Stokes and Tyler Clark will look to make it three-way competition in training camp to see who will start under center.
“I just try to tell the guys that they don’t have to be the offense, they just have to be able to run the offense,” Adrian said. “Whoever can prove that they can run the offense the best, he will be our starter in the Maine game.”
Norfolk State opens its regular season Aug. 31 at home against the Maine Black Bears, but probably the biggest game of the season will be the following week in Piscataway, N.J., when the Spartans take on Football Bowl Subdivision team Rutgers.
“Right now we are focused on Maine, but when it comes time to play Rutgers, our whole team will be prepared,” Center said. “We aren’t going to come out scared. They put on their pads just like we put on our pads, and if we come out and play our game, I know we can beat them.”
The Spartans have faced an FBS team in each of the past three seasons, so the seniors will be looking to get their first win against an FBS opponent in their fourth attempt.
The team is entering training camp with high expectations, Adrian said. Recollecting the success of the 2011 season, the Spartan seniors are hoping to end their careers with a similar feeling.
“We have some unfinished business to take care of this season,” Hawkins said, while rubbing his 2011 MEAC title ring. “Not only do we think we can win the MEAC again, we are expecting to do some damage in the playoffs, too. The feeling we had when we got these rings was incredible, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that I want that feeling back.”