By Tony McClean
Updated: December 1, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Ct.
— If there’s been a major theme for Black College Football in 2006, it’s been the year of the turnaround. Several HBCU schools who had losing records last year have turned in dramatic reversals of fortune this season.
For example: Elizabeth City went from worst (2-8) to first (9-2) in the CIAA’s Eastern Division. Not only did Waverly Tillar and the Vikings gain a berth in the CIAA title game, ECSU also hosted an NCAA playoff game.
After going 9-11 (including a 3-8 mark last season) during his first two seasons at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mo Forte led his Golden Lions to the SWAC’s Western Division crown (8-3) and their first trip to the SWAC Championship Game.
In the SIAC, the Lane Dragons went from 0-10 in 2005 to 8-3 in Johnnie Cole’s second season. The Dragons just missed out of postseason play, however the lack of additional games didn’t diminish LC’s dramatic turnaround this season.
Another HBCU school that experienced a huge turnaround was the Golden Bulls of Johnson C. Smith. For the second time in the last 10 seasons, Daryl McNeill was the architect of a JCSU football renaissance.
During his first stint with the Golden Bulls, he inherited a JCSU squad that was win less (0-10) in 1994. Following a 2-8 mark during his first season in 1995, McNeill led the Golden Bulls to a 7-3 mark and was named Black College Sports Co-Coach of The Year.
After an eight-year hiatus, McNeill was re-hired by JCSU in 2005 and like Yogi Berra said “It was deja vu all over again” for the Golden Bulls. Again, McNeill inherited another win less squad (0-10) and would also go winless (0-10) himself during his first season.
Counting the last four games of the 2003 season, the Golden Bulls lost a Division II record 24 consecutive regular season games heading into the 2006 campaign. The Golden Bulls would finally break the losing string with a season opening 19-14 win against Edward Waters.
JCSU would finish the season at 7-3, their first winning year since 1996. Now JCSU will take that winning mark into Saturday’s Pioneer Bowl battle against Tuskegee at Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. This will be JCSU’s first post-season appearance since participating in the Florida Bowl in 1941.
The Golden Bulls are led on offense by senior wide out Marquis Belton. Belton, who is six yards shy of becoming the all-time leading receiver in JCSU history, had 47 receptions for 797 yards and five touchdowns.
On defense, two-way threat De’Audra Nix is one of JCSU’s standouts. The junior kick returner/defensive back was named first team All-CIAA on both offense and defense. He led the CIAA in kick returns with 17 for 500 yards and three touchdowns, and had 13 deflected passes on the season.
The two-time CIAA Wide Receiver of the Week and Don Hansen Football Gazette National Offensive Player of the Week also led the CIAA in receptions per game and was second in receiving yards per game and punt returns.
The Golden Tigers (7-3) have has participated in the Pioneer Bowl six of the eight years the game has been played including their 28-26 win over Bowie State in last year’s game. TU is led offensively by BASN’s Preseason Offensive Player of The Year, senior quarterback Kevin Huff.
On the season, Huff finished with than 1,700 passing yards and nearly 600 rushing. He was the main spark of a Tuskegee offense that was first in the SIAC with a 27.5 scoring average.
Defensively, the Golden Tigers are holding opponents to under 20 points a game. They’re allowing 142.6 passing yards and 111.0 rushing. Freshman linebacker Jonathan Hall led the team with 71 tackles.
For the first time, the Pioneer Bowl will air on the world wide web at www.pennatlantic.com with coverage beginning at 12 noon with the Battle of the Bands. Charles Ward and Mark Lassiter will provide commentary of the game which will begin at 2 pm.