During the late 1970’s then Houston Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini made a bold declaration after a second straight AFC Championship Game loss to the great Pittsburgh Steelers. “Last year we knocked on the door, this year we banged on it, next year we’re going to kick it in.” The Oilers never went back to that championship game and ultimately became the Tennessee Titans.
Bowie State finds themselves in the same circumstance entering this season. For the last two years they’ve lost to Winston Salem State in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Championship game which drives everyone in the program as they try to find the key to get that last victory and bring a football championship home.
Bowie State head coach Damon Wilson has led the Bulldogs to consecutive CIAA Championship games and hopes to lead them to the title this year. (Courtesy photo)
“Our veteran leaders have had a lot of success and done all we asked of them so I would like to send them out with a championship,” head coach Damon Wilson told the AFRO.
Despite not having as many full scholarships or a complete full time coaching staff, Bowie State has dominated the northern division of the CIAA. The Bulldogs know what it takes to win the division but with Virginia State, Virginia Union and Chowan closing the gap nothing is guaranteed.
NCAA Division II rules state football teams can award a maximum of 53 full scholarships yet Bowie St. can only offer 11. Those same rules also mandate that programs can totally compensate seven full time staff coaching positions yet they can only afford two. The financial disparity that separates them from the other elite programs in the CIAA is not an excuse but a reality that hovers over the program every year.
“We don’t make any excuses they are just circumstances that force us to be creative with how we do things around here,” Wilson said.
To navigate through the quandary of the scholarship dilemma Bowie State relies heavily on redshirting true freshmen athletes. By sitting out for a season before officially playing they grow academically and physically so by the time they are in uniform players understand the culture of the program on the field and off. With their success and improvements to the stadium and weight room the program has become attractive to players from their backyard.
“Recruiting here in is important for us there’s no doubt about that,” said Wilson. “We are the major Division II program in the state of Maryland and about 95 percent of our roster built around from this area. That doesn’t mean we are looking for Division II football players we’re looking for good football players that can help us win.”
Perhaps the most important recruit this year won’t play a single down having already exhausted his eligibility and earned his place in the University’s Hall of Fame. Former championship coach and quarterback Henry Frazier is back on the sidelines as Wilson’s assistant to the head coach.
Being a bridesmaid has fueled an offseason where the program is driven by their recent season ending disappointments. There are 28 returning players and a group of seniors who have been groomed into a system where the Bulldogs no longer rebuild, they retool. The player’s ownership of the team means this year’s preseason camp isn’t teaching, it’s refining their execution.
Five players earned preseason all CIAA conference honors led by quarterback Amir Hall. Hall passed for 3,596 yards and 30 touchdowns last year. Receiver Brandon Britton – who averaged almost 15 yards per catch in 2016 – will play a bigger role as will Kerrick Pollack who returns from a medical redshirt. Versatile running back Robert Chesson who produced 1,417 yards of total offense with eight touchdowns returns as well.