Morgan State University head football coach Donald Hill-Eley will soon enter his 11th season as the head coach of the Bears’ football team, and with veteran-filled roster, there’s a good chance his 11th year may be the most successful.
According to Morgan State Sports Information Director Leonard Haynes, the Bears’ roster contains 24 seniors, the most since Hill took over as head coach in 2002. And with that kind of experience, Morgan State feels it can compete for a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) title, and even better, a national championship.
Among the seniors are offensive linemen Jerry Evans and Joshua Durden, two 300-pound-plus blockers that will help pave running lanes for Morgan State’s three seniors at the running back position.
Running backs Travis Davidson, Tracy Martin and Brian Mahn, all seniors, will lead the Bears’ rushing attack. Davidson rushed for 732 yards and seven touchdowns last season, while Martin added 317 yards and two touchdowns; Mahn was sidelined with injuries but is ready to contribute how he can.
“We have an experienced group with three seniors,” explained Hill, according to Haynes. “Travis is the guy that can really stretch the field. You can motion him out and do some different things, as well as Brian Mann. So we have a good 1-2 punch with those running backs.”
Morgan State also hopes to have success passing the ball with sophomore quarterback Seth Higgins returning for his second straight season as a starter.
At 6-foot-4-inches, 225 pounds, Higgins started seven games in 2011, completing 97-of-186 passes for 1,116 yards and nine touchdowns. The Edgewood, Md. native had replaced Josh Council, a 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound mobile quarterback, who began the season as the starter.
Hill-Eley said both Higgins and Council could end up contributing this season.
“This is the first time since the 2002 season that we’ve had two quarterbacks that present different problems for the defense,” said Hill-Eley, according to Haynes. “Seth , being a true pro-style pocket passing QB that is mobile. Council is very elusive and can beat you with his feet or his arm. So we have a situation that we haven’t had since Littlejohn and LeJominick .”
Littlejohn and Washington played quarterback for Morgan during Hill-Eley’s first few seasons with the team, back when Morgan State ranked as one of the top offensive units in the MEAC.
But if Morgan’s offense is to be as productive in 2012 as they were in 2004, they’ll need the help from their tight ends and wide receivers corps. The Bears are faced with replacing tight end Lamont Bryant, who was signed by the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League (NFL) this summer. Seniors Jorge Young and Devontae Lindsey will split duties at tight end this season. Young, at 285 pounds, is good at run blocking, while Linsey is lighter, faster and can stretch the field in the passing game.
“Lamont is one of those rare breed tight ends that you get. You don’t really replace those guys. You try to work within the confinements of what those tight ends can do, and right now we don’t have a guy that’s a hybrid like Lamont that you can spread out and do different things with, but we do have guys that do things well.”
SUBHED: Alonzo Lee’s Defense Ready to Attack
In more recent years, it’s been Morgan State’s defensive unit that has stood out the most. They flourished when defensive coordinator Alonzo Lee took over in 2007, ranking as one of the best defensive units in the nation. Lee had left to become head coach of North Carolina A&T in 2009, but after two years he returned back to Morgan to take back control of the defense.
Lee will be forced to replace veterans like defensive linemen Zary Stewart and Justin Young, who led the team in production last season. Fortunately, he can still rely on senior linebacker Allen Stephens, one of the best linebackers in the MEAC.
Stephens, who had 80 tackles last season, joins junior defensive back Kenny Ridley, as two strong candidates that could win MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. Ridley made 42 tackles (23 solo) with a team-high four interceptions and 10 pass deflections in 2011; he will be paired up again with fellow cornerback Joe Rankin, who recorded 24 tackles (20 solo) with three interceptions and nine pass deflections last season. Together, Ridley and Rankin could be the most exciting cornerback duo to watch in all of the MEAC.
The Bears will play their first game of the 2012 season on Sept. 1 against Sacred Heart University at Hughes Stadium in Baltimore, Md.