Howard University is pushing all its chips to the center of the table and rolling the dice that a former Division I-AA national champion and Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year can change the fortunes of its football program. Mike London, who won the 2008 title while at the University of Richmond, assumed the reigns of the Bison program in February and will lead the Bison into their season opener at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas on Sept. 2.
Starting quarterback Caylin Newton, brother of Cam, will be under extra scrutiny because his brother plays the same position for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL. (Courtesy photo)
Howard begins the season, which coincides with the University’s 150th anniversary celebration, in a city that made a name for itself as the gambling capital of the world. With the hiring of London and a significant investment into the program the Bison are pushing all their chips to the center of the table betting that he will roll the lucky numbers which lead them back to the national prominence of being one of the signature programs in Black College Football.
London’s brand will play as big a role as anything in leading the Howard’s football program to the stature where it was nearly 30 years ago. The Bison were Black College national champions in 1993 and 1996 led by current Prince George’s County delegate to the Maryland General Assembly Jay Walker and University of Michigan offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Under former coach Steve Wilson Howard developed an NFL pipeline that includes Super Bowl champion and current Arizona Cardinals safety Antoine Bethea.
However, this is no longer a program that strikes fear in the heart of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference . Despite several outstanding players the Bison have underachieved after the departure of their legendary coach Steve Wilson. Since Wilson’s last year in 2001 Howard’s overall record is 59-126. Their MEAC mark is even worse at 36-82 which has prompted a change in culture. The Bison are picked by the other coaches and sports information directors to finish ninth in the conference after a 2-9 record last season.
London brings a change in culture and a different level of focus and accountability to the program. The former police officer is regimented in his approach and a strict disciplinarian who ruffled a few feathers with statements regarding how players would be expected to dress by placing demands on hair styles and ways of addressing females.
“It’s a new day and a new era in terms of the mindset we will take and approach as a team,” London told the AFRO following his introduction as head coach in February.
London is inheriting a team that despite its recent history isn’t devoid of talent. Howard will start three players who are entering the season on preseason all-MEAC and national all-American watch lists.
Senior running back Anthony Philyaw is a talent that hasn’t been fully appreciated because of the team’s lack of success. Philyaw was named preseason MEAC Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,230 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016 despite defensive game plans that were designed to stop him. He rushed for 281 yards and two scores versus Delaware State and is also on this year’s preseason watch list for the Deacon Jones Trophy which is given by the Black College Football Hall of Fame to the top player in America.
Caylin Newton appears to be Howard’s starting quarterback to open the season. Newton, whose brother Cam plays the same position for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, can’t fly under the radar because of his famous sibling. However, he doesn’t have to carry them because of Philyaw and receiver Kyle Anthony who have already have established themselves as playmakers to open the London era.