NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Since 2000, the champions of the SIAC have maintained the “gold” standard of Black College football. The Albany State Golden Rams and the Tuskegee Golden Tigers have been the cream of the crop in SIAC football during that span.
While both teams have seen major changes on and off the field during this off season, it should be no surprise that the road to the 2006 SIAC football crown will run a path from Tuskegee, Alabama to Albany, Georgia.
Tuskegee (11-1, 8-1 SIAC last year), who won three straight SIAC crowns from 2000-02, will be without their longtime head coach Rick Comegys this season. The former Central State head coach left TU to take over at Jackson State.
However, new Golden Tiger head coach Willie Slater inherits a TU squad that has 13 returnees including last year’s SIAC Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Kevin Huff.
Huff, BASN’s preseason choice for HBCU Offensive Player of the Year, completed 197-of-342 passes for 2,797 yards and 15 touchdowns for TU last year. He also rushed for 774 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
After suffering its lone defeat to Albany State last October, the Golden Tigers ended the season with a seven-game winning streak. It was capped off with a 28-26 victory over Bowie State in the Pioneer Bowl.
As for the Golden Rams, the three-time defending champs are attempting to become the first school to win four straight SIAC crowns since Hampton Smith led ASU to four straight titles from 1994-97.
Mike White’s squad has 14 players returning from last season’s 8-2 (8-1 SIAC) squad, however the team is still trying to recover from the death of standout running back Antonio Atkins.
In April, Atkins was shot and killed when he and two former teammates allegedly broke into a home in Albany. Atkins, who ran for 1,138 yards and 14 touchdowns as a walk-on freshman in 2003, rushed for 747 yards and six touchdowns last season.
He also caught 25 passes for 360 yards and four TDs. The Rams also must replace the loss of another top running back, all-SIAC pick Antwan Andrews, along with quarterback Hosea Harris and offensive lineman Ronald Simmons.
Despite that, SIAC coaches have tabbed ASU to repeat as champs, followed by Tuskegee, Fort Valley State University, Kentucky State University, and Miles College.
OTHER TEAM CAPSULES
Fort Valley State University (Last Season: 7-3, 7-2 SIAC)
After going 22-10 (including a CIAA championship) over the last three years at Shaw University, new head coach Deondri Clark now finds himself trying to resurrect the fortunes of Fort Valley State. He’ll inherit a team whose only league losses last year came to top guns Albany State and Tuskegee. The pieces already are in place with 21 returning seniors, including the entire defense. Defensive back Junior Taliauli was an all-SIAC pick and lineman Jeff Nweke was a second team choice. Offensively, Zedrick West, who played in seven games last year, will likely be the starter at quarterback. Running back Brian Knighton, who missed three games with an injury, led the team with 618 rushing yards. The Wildcats will also have experienced wide receivers Marcus Bentley and Nathaniel Randall in the fold.
Kentucky State University (Last Season: 6-5, 5-4) With 18 returning starters (9 on offense and defense), there are many that think the Thoroughbreds can make a challenge in the SIAC. Fred Farrior’s bunch will have a potent offense with weapons such as running back Anthony Robinson (502 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and wide receivers Brandon Adams, Juwan Jones, and Jerome Bryant. If KSU is to contend, they’ll have to revamp a pass defense that ranked next to last in the conference. Defense lineman Abraham Jackson and linebacker Darren Sims leads the Thoroughbred defensive charge. Last year, Sims was second on the team with tackles (60) along with a sack and five hurries. A preseason All-SIAC selection, Jackson finished 2005 with 43 tackles (including nine for losses) and two sacks.
Miles College (Last Season: 4-7, 3-6) After a surprising 3-2 start in 2005, Wade Streeter’s Golden Bears would only win one of their remaining six games. However, they did play tough and gave a good scare against league powers Albany State, Kentucky State, and Fort Valley State before losing all three games by only three points. With eight returning starters on each side of the ball, the Golden Bears could prove to be a spoiler in this year’s conference race. Offensively, sophomore Ellis George inherits the quarterbacking duties. He’ll play behind an offensive line that returns four of last year’s five starters including All-SIAC preseason selection Kareem Gulley. Senior linebacker Jasman Necense is the leader on defense. He led the team with 80 tackles, seven tackles-for-losses, three sacks, one interception and forced a fumble.
Benedict College (Last Season: 6-5, 4-5) John Kendrick’s Tigers improved greatly from 2004′s 3-8 campaign and they look to keep up the momentum in 2006. Another strong season from All-SIAC running back Jeffery Nobles (741 rushing yards, 8 TDs) will help bolster the Benedict offense. Sophomore quarterback Kevin White will likely take over under center behind an offensive line led by senior lineman Larry Heyward, another All-SIAC selection. On the defense, the Tigers finished 2005 with the conference’s fourth-ranked unit. Senior linebacker Titus Curry (a team-leading 84 tackles) and junior defensive back Carl Spellman (56 tackles, 3 sacks) will help anchor a solid squad. Both were also All-SIAC preseason selections.
Stillman College (Last Season: 6-4, 5-4)
The Tigers finished fourth in their first full season in the SIAC last year, now new head coach Greg Thompson looks to add that. He hired offensive line coach Mike Wallace from Clark Atlanta to help beef up Stillman’s struggling running game. The Tigers ranked 117th out of 145 Division II schools in rushing offense last season. Derrick Rogers, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards as a freshman two seasons ago, gained only 139 yards last season but had a strong showing in spring practice. Defensively, Stillman returns eight starters from a unit that ranked 17th nationally in Division II last season. Standout defensive back Denatay Heard is coming off a season that saw him ranked 13th in the nation in passes defended and 62nd in interceptions. He finished the season with 41 tackles, four INT (1 returned for TD), 11 pass breakups, one forced fumble, and 498 kick return yards (1 TD).
Clark Atlanta University (Last Season: 3-8, 3-6)
The Panthers have only three returning starters from Ted Bahher’s CAU team. Last year, the first-year head coach felt that the team would win seven games. Despite the losing record, the Panthers weren’t pushovers. Three of their eight losses were by one or two points and also dropped another game by seven. Offensively, CAU will look to improve on a passing game that averaged only 90.5 yards a game, near the bottom of the league. Conversely, CAU was third in the SIAC in rushing led by all-conference running back Terrin Usher, who had 690 yards. On defense, Michael Porter helped the Panthers lead the conference in defending the run. Porter, who works at linebacker and defensive end, had 99 tackles and seven sacks.
Morehouse College (Last Season: 3-7, 2-7)
Looking to be a little more hands on this season, head coach Terry Beauford is clearly placing his stamp on this year’s Maroon Tiger squad. The second year skipper shuffled his defensive staff, bringing in three new coaches after Morehouse ranked last in the SIAC in yards allowed (381.3 per game) and next-to-last in points allowed (30.4). Strong safety Robert Harris and all-SIAC corner back Johnny Eubanks are the top returnees. Offensively, the ‘House must replace John David Washington, who rushed for 1,198 yards and nine touchdowns, and Raymond Johnson, the top receiver with 55 catches for 1,002 yards and 12 TDs. Quarterbacks Carlos King and Ruben Dupree will likely share duties under center.
Lane College (Last Season: 0-10, 0-9)
The major rebuilding of the Dragons’ football program continues under head coach Johnnie Cole. While last season’s win less record was a setback, it also gave Cole a chance to see what he has. Offensively, the Dragons boast a potent receiver corps of wide outs Ed Williams (15.0 ypc), Virgil Union (17.1), and Jacoby Jones (11.7). The trio, who combined for 28 catches and 13 TDs, were all preseason All-SIAC selections along with senior tight end Marcus Moore (9 catches, 3 TDs). Defensively, Cole is looking to improve on a squad that allowed an average of nearly 400 yards of offense last season. Clearly, the Dragons are still a major work in progress.
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