5 Questions from Fall Camp

IMG_9324The Bethune-Cookman football program has spent most of the last five seasons nationally ranked and atop the MEAC standings. In that same timeframe, the Wildcats have posted more victories than any other conference school and advanced to the postseason on four occasions. Yet despite its recent run of success, the buzz surrounding the program has been relatively quiet heading into the 2015 campaign. Questions abound as to rather BCU’s window of success is closing or if the Cats are poised to continue their reign as one of the premier programs in the HBCU and FCS ranks.

Here are 5 mysteries that must be solved if Bethune-Cookman is to remain consistent in its winning ways.

The Man following the Man

TSims

1st year head coach Terry Sims

First year head coach Terry Sims inherits a roster full on talent but lacking in experience. Sims won’t be afforded a honeymoon period to acquaint himself or his young squad to the high expectations in Daytona Beach. Wildcat fans fully expect Sims to continue and build upon the success of former head coach Brian Jenkins.

Sims is well respected within the BCU athletic department. He is ultracompetitive, detailed-oriented, and perhaps better credentialed than was Jenkins when he first took over the reins in 2010. But there are some aspects of the head coaching position for which only the crucible of experience can prepare you. The manner in which Sims responds to tense, split-second and sometimes unpredictable moments on and off the field will go a long way in determining the success of this year’s squad.

Fantastic Four or Fantastic No-more???

Yogi Jones is arguably the best defensive coordinator in the MEAC. He will need to rely on all of his experience and know-how to ready a defense that features nine new starters including an all new front four.

Donald Smith #16

Donald Smith #16

Not only will the defensive line feature four new starters but the four new starters were not even enrolled at Bethune-Cookman this time last year. Thankfully, they all have some post-high school playing experience under their belts and they all possess great athleticism and potential. Getting this group of new faces to actualize their talents and replace the production void left by the likes of Erik Williams, LeBrandon Richardson and Rony Barrow will be quite a task even for Yogi Jones.

Inexperience at Linebacker

Donald Smith returns as the lone starter at linebacker. We expect Robert Way, our preseason pick for breakout player of the year, and Deland high school product Trenton Bridges to join Smith as the starting linebackers. All three guys will lay a good thump on you. We just want them to get in the habit of getting ball carriers on the ground and racking up tackles. We’ll worry about highlight reel hits down the road.

OC or Oh-No?

While Yogi Jones has proven his mettle as a great defensive coordinator, the jury is still out on 4th year offensive coordinator Jim Pry. BCU has never averaged more than 30 points per game or more than 400 yards of total offense under Pry’s guidance. In fact, Pry’s units rarely racked up huge numbers in his previously stints as offensive coordinator at Dartmouth, Akron and Duke. Granted, you can’t measure success by statistics alone and the offensive talent he had at his disposal while serving as OC at the aforementioned schools generally were not as good as the competition he faced. But coaching is a bottom line business. Pry will need to have the BCU offense prepared to carry more of the weight this season to give the new faces on defense time to jell and gain experience.

Step it up QB

????????In 2010, BCU entered Fall Camp unsure who would emerge as the primary signal caller. Senior Matt Johnson stepped up, made the job his own, and proceeded to have one of the best seasons any Wildcat quarterback has ever experienced. We’re hoping redshirt senior Quentin Williams can find some of that same magic in his final year.

Williams has not been bad as a starter but he has struggled with consistency at times. Q needs to step up his production this season. Whether he does or doesn’t isn’t an issue of talent but one of confidence.

Larry Brihm will challenge Williams for snaps all season and the thought of both quarterbacks taking meaningful snaps is not out of the question.

The Terry Sims era of Bethune-Cookman football begins on Saturday, September 5th when the Wildcats travel to South Florida to take on FBS powerhouse University of Miami. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 pm. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN3.

Memorable Florida Classic Moments

KJ Stroud ClassicThe 34th installment of the Florida Blue Florida Classic between in-state rivals Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M is upon us. The contest has grown into one of the premier HBCU showcases attracting over one and half million fans since its inception in 1978. The two teams have combined for twelve (12) conference titles during that same timeframe and have created many memorable moments in this annual showdown.

Players and coaches from both teams will look to create their own signature Florida Classic moment when the two teams square off Saturday at 2:00 p.m. in the Citrus Bowl.

Here is a look back at some of the more memorable games played in Florida Classic history.

Memorable Florida Classic Moments

1978 – Florida A&M trailed BCU 17-0 at halftime in the first ever Florida Classic played in Tampa Stadium. The Rattlers scored 27 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 27-17 victory. Rudy Hubbard’s squad went on to win the first 1-AA (now FCS) National Championship later that season. A year later (1979) BCU won their first Florida Classic 25-20.

1994 – BCU QB Tony Kerrin connected with Morris Nobles on a 2 yard TD reception in the corner of the endzone to give the Wildcats a 27-24 lead with :47 remaining in the contest. BCU went on to win by the same margin and Coach Cy McClairen earned his first victory over the Rattlers as a head coach.

2003 – Daytona Beach native and current Chicago Bear, Eric Weems, scored 3 touchdowns and helped the Wildcats rally from a 28-10 halftime deficit. The final touchdown was set up by a fake punt attempt on 4th and 17 with less than 2:00 remaining in the contest. A FAMU player was flagged for pass interference on the fake punt and BCU was awarded an automatic first down.

Later in the drive quarterback Allen Suber avoided a sack, rolled to his right, and hit Weems who beat triple coverage just beyond the pylon with 9 seconds remaining in the game. BCU prevailed 39-35 in front of the largest crowd (73,358) in Florida Classic history.

2004 – Florida Classic fans were treated to the first overtime in the history of the series. The Wildcats eventually prevailed 58-52.

FAMU’s Ben Dougherty (QB) and Roosevelt Kiser (WR) had career days in that contest. Midway through the third quarter, Dougherty connected with Kiser on a 66 yard TD reception and extended FAMU’s lead to 45-24.

Head coach Alvin Wyatt then made the decision to move eventual three-time All-Pro defensive back Nick Collins from safety to cornerback with the assignment of blanketing Kiser. The move proved to be very effective for the maroon and gold. The FAMU passing game was severely limited as a result of the coaching decision and the Wildcats outscored FAMU 34-7 from that point forward. Rodney Johnson’s 15 yard touchdown run in overtime sealed the victory for BCU.

Coach Wyatt, who was overcome with emotion after the win, fainted and had to be carted off the field by medical personnel. Wyatt was eventually treated for dehydration but was no worse for the wear.

Not only was the 2004 victory the first overtime fame in Florida Classic history, it was also the first time that BCU won three consecutive victories over the FAMU.

2005 – Like the year prior, this game was also decided in overtime; only this time FAMU would emerge as the victor. The Rattlers entered the contest as underdogs and quickly fell behind to the Wildcats 17-0. But A&M slowly climbed back into the contest and forced the game into overtime on the strength of a Wesley Taylor 43-yard field goal with less than 3 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. Taylor’s 26-yarder in overtime vaulted the Rattlers to a 26-23 win.

2010 – BCU entered the 2010 FC (Brian Jenkins’ first year) with an unblemished 10-0 record. However, a 3rd quarter injury to eventual MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Matt Johnson, derailed BCU’s high-octane “Speedway Offense.” FAMU capitalized on the opportunity and secured a 38-27 win in one of the biggest upsets in FC history. Phillip Sylvester scored 3 times for the Rattlers and rushed for 146 yards on 26 carries in the process.

Alvin Wyatt takes over as interim head football coach of 0-7 Edward Waters

alvin%20wyattEdward Waters football coach Brad Bernard was abruptly fired on Tuesday and  replaced on an interim basis by veteran college coach and former boss Alvin  Wyatt, who had been the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.

EWC is 0-7 following a 49-9 loss to Webber on Oct. 12. The Tigers were off  last week and have four games remaining on the schedule, three of them on the  road. EWC plays at Newport News (Va.) Apprentice School on Saturday.

Bernard, a Parker graduate who also coached at Sandalwood, Mandarin and  Raines following his college playing career at Georgia Southern, was the  offensive coordinator at Bethune-Cookman under Wyatt for 11 years. EWC had .500  records in each of Bernard’s two seasons, going 6-6 in 2011 and 5-5 in 2012.

The Tigers’ 2011 season was their first .500 record since 2004. Bernard’s  total record as the Tigers’ coach is 11-18.

“We believed it was time for a change … we didn’t see the improvement as we  expected,” said Edward Waters athletic director Johnny Rembert. “This makes a  statement that we are serious about our program. We don’t want to be a  doormat.”

Rembert said Bernard’s dismissal was mostly about the Tigers’ performance on  the field and praised Bernard for his work of the last three years.

“He had the best interests of the players at heart, I do believe that,”  Rembert said. “There was a difference in philosophy.”

Wyatt, who was brought to Edward Waters in 2012 by Bernard, is the all-time  leader in coaching victories at Bethune-Cookman with a 90-54 record from  1997-2009. A Jacksonville native like Bernard, Wyatt, 65, led his alma mater to  their first two NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths in 2002  and 2003, and their first MEAC titles in the same years.

Edward Waters coordinator of public relations Dee Registre said Wyatt was  unavailable for comment. Bernard did not return a phone message and an e-mailed  request for comment.

Read more at Jacksonville.com:  http://jacksonville.com/sports/college/2013-10-22/story/brad-bernard-fired-edward-waters-replaced-former-boss-alvin-wyatt#ixzz2iV9eOO8O

Who Will Ascend (week two) vs. Virginia Union

Dion Hanks

Dion Hanks

After a hard fought 12-9 road victory over Tennessee State last Sunday, the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats return to the friendly confines of Municipal Stadium to take on the Virginia Union Panthers in today’s home opener.

Like Tenn State, Virginia Union will field a bevy of Floridians (19 are listed on VUU’s roster including 5 from Sanford Seminole) who would love nothing more than to shock the HBCU sports world by upsetting the top ranked team in black college football.  But unlike TSU, Virginia Union, who competes in Division II, does not stand much of a chance in pulling off the upset against Brian Jenkins’ club.

The Panthers finished 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the CIAA a season ago.  VUU was predicted to finish 8th in their conference heading into this season; they can offer just over half the number of scholarships as BCU (NCAA rules limit full football scholarships to 36 for D2 institutions; as compared to 63 for FCS programs); and today’s game is VUU’s season opener.  All signs suggest this should be a decisive BCU win.  But hey, its football and you still have to line-up and play the game.

In fact, Wildcat fans should well remember the last time a CIAA team visited Daytona Beach (in 2009) the Shaw Bears forced 7 BCU turnovers and may have helped seal the fate of then head coach Alvin Wyatt Sr. as the Bears defeated the Wildcats 20-6.  We expect no such recurrence today.  The Wildcats are simply too big, too strong, too fast and they should have no problems imposing their will on the out-manned Panthers.

Look for the BCU running game, led by senior Isidore Jackson, to have a huge day.  Jackson is now less than 400 yards away from becoming Bethune-Cookman’s all-time leading rusher.  Senior wide out Eddie Poole will look to continue his consecutive game pass-catching streak.  No word yet on who will start under center for BCU but expect to see multiple signal callers during the course of today’s action.

Defensively, linebacker Jarkevis Fields and defensive end LeBrandon Richardson paced the Cats with 10 tackles apiece last week.  Defensive tackle Tevin Toney proved to be a disruptive force in the interior adding 7 tackles of his own including 2 tackles-for-loss.  The Wildcat defense should have little trouble in establishing a new line of scrimmage and pressuring the VUU attack.

Hidden Yards Kudos

Perhaps an “under the radar” bright spot from last week’s contest were the BCU return units.  Freshman kick returner Darian Baker averaged 35.5 yards per kick return (long of 41) and Preston Cleckley averaged over 20 yards per punt return (long of 34) in last week’s matchup.  It was a small sampling but so far, so good in the all-important “hidden yards” department.  Another “hidden yards” category in which BCU thrived in week one was the penalty department.  The Wildcats limited themselves to just 5 penalties for 35 yards.  Let’s hope BCU continue to show improvement in these “hidden yards” categories in this game and throughout the course of the season.

DSC_0365Excited to see…..

We have been hearing great things about BCU’s new and improved cheerleading squad.   The cheer squad is now under the direction of Becky and John Woodson and will consist of 30 members and 4 alternates.  The Wildcat cheer squad recently collected a second place finish in ‘fight song cheer’, fourth place finish in ‘sideline cheer’, and were 4th overall in the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) camp in Philadelphia.  We are looking forward to seeing the results of the hard work and dedication of the revamped cheer squad.

We are also excited to see the new, more energized and better organized student-led cheer section known as the “Wildcat Crazies”.  Face-paint, body suits, and organized pandemonium, let’s see what you Crazy-Cats have in store for us this season.

Alvin “Shine” Wyatt awarded $771,000, lose age discrimination suit

alvin%20wyattOn Wednesday afternoon, Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge Terence Perkins ordered that Bethune-Cookman pay former head coach Alvin “Shine” Wyatt nearly $771,000 in restitution stemming from a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the university in 2010.

Wyatt flamboyantly patrolled the sidelines of Municipal Stadium as Bethune-Cookman’s “head ball coach” from 1997-2009.  Wyatt accumulated a 90-54 record during his 13 year tenure and surpassed the legendary Rudolph “Bunky” Matthews as BCU’s all-time winningest coach.

Wyatt’s teams finished at 5-6 in three of his final four seasons and suffered drubbings (58-35 in 2008 and 42-6 in 2009) at the hands of in-state rival Florida A&M in his final two seasons at the helm.  He was unceremoniously fired by then BCU President Trudie Kibbe Reed at the conclusion of the 2009 season.

The now 65 year old coach sued the university in 2010 claiming breach of contract.  He stated in his suit that he was “wrongfully terminated without cause and without written notice as required in his contract”.  Wyatt also cited age discrimination as motive for his firing and sought $1.2 million in damages.

Judge Terence Perkins ruled that the university had in fact breached Wyatt’s contract and awarded him $771,000 in restitution.  The payment represents four years of salary, other guaranteed income, and retirement match contributions Wyatt’s existing contract would have paid him had he not been wrongfully terminated.

Judge Perkins ruled against Wyatt in his age discrimination claim against the university stating that no evidence of age discrimination was provided.

Wyatt graduated from Bethune-Cookman in 1970 and was drafted by the Oakland Raiders later that same year.  He spent five years in the NFL and World Football League before joining the BCU coaching staff as a defensive backs coach in 1975.  For 31 of the next 34 years, Wyatt held various positions on the BCU football staff including defensive backs coach, linebackers coach, defensive coordinator, assistant head coach, and head coach.

In 1998, Wyatt led BCU to its first winning season since 1985.  He guided the Wildcats to their first ever playoff appearance in 2002 and returned to the NCAA playoffs for a second time a year later.

Wyatt coached a bevy of players who went on to play in the professional ranks among whom include NFL pro-bowlers Nick Collins (Green Bay), Rashean Mathis (Jacksonville), and Eric Weems (Atlanta).  Other professional players coached by Wyatt include Steve Baggs, Damion Cook, Allen Suber, Anthony Bass and others.

Most memorable Florida Classic Moments

In less than 24 hours, the Florida A&M Rattlers and Bethune-Cookman Wildcats will meet in the 33rd Florida Blue Florida Classic.  The contest has grown into one of the premier HBCU showcases attracting over one and half million fans since its inception in 1978.  The two teams have combined for eleven (11) conference titles during that same timeframe and have created many memorable moments in this annual showdown.

Players and coaches from both teams will surely seek to create their own magical Florida Classic moment when the two teams square off Saturday at 2:00 in the Citrus Bowl.  FAMU coach Earl Holmes, who is a former Rattler player, was asked about his favorite Florida Classic moment at today’s Kickoff Luncheon.  Coach Holmes replied “ask me that same question after tomorrow’s game”.  With that in mind, here are some of the most memorable Florida Classic moments.

Memorable Florida Classic Moments

1978 – Florida A&M trailed BCU 17-0 at halftime but rallied to a 27-17 victory.  Rudy Hubbard’s squad went on to win the 1-AA (now FCS) National Championship that season.

1994 – BCU QB Tony Kerrin connected with Morris Nobles on a 2 yard TD reception in the corner of the endzone to give the Wildcats a 27-24 lead with :47remaining in the contest.  BCU went on to win by the same margin and coach Cy McClairen earned his first victory over the Rattlers as a head coach.

2003 – Daytona Beach native and current Chicago Bear, Eric Weems, scored 3 touchdowns and helped the Wildcats rally from a 28-10 halftime deficit. The final touchdown was set up by a fake punt attempt on 4th and 17 with less than 2:00 remaining in the contest.  A FAMU player was flagged for pass interference on the fake punt and BCU was awarded an automatic first down.

Later in the drive quarterback Allen Suber avoided a sack, rolled to his right, and hit Weems who beat triple coverage just beyond the pylon with 9 seconds remaining in the game. BCU prevailed 39-35 in front of the largest crowd (73,358) in Florida Classic history.

2004 – Florida Classic fans were treated to the first overtime in the history of the series;  Wildcats fans were treated with a 58-52 win.

FAMU’s Ben Dougherty (QB) and Roosevelt Kiser (WR) had career days in that contest.  Midway through the third quarter, Dougherty connected with Kiser on a 66 yard TD reception and extended FAMU’s lead to 45-24.

Head coach Alvin Wyatt then made the decision to move former NFL All-Pro defensive back Nick Collins from safety to cornerback with the assignment of blanketing Kiser.  The move proved to be very effective for the maroon and gold.  The FAMU passing game was severely limited as a result of the coaching decision and the Wildcats outscored FAMU 34-7 from that point forward.  Rodney Johnson’s 15 yard touchdown run in overtime sealed the victory for BCU.

Coach Wyatt was so overcome with emotion that he fainted (due to dehydration) and had to be carted off by medical personnel.

Not only was the 2004 victory the first overtime win in Florida Classic history, it was also the first time that BCU secured three consecutive victories over its arch-rival.