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.

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.

Rumor Mill–Tyrann Mathieu to Bethune-Cookman???

What if Bethune-Cookman landed the biggest HBCU/FCS recruit since Steve “Air” McNair walked off of the campus of Alcorn State?  That would be quite a story and a bit surreal wouldn’t you agree?

Now before you close your web browsers and dismiss this as just more internet hype (and it could very well be just that), consider that at least two Louisiana Television outlets believe that Bethune-Cookman could be the landing spot for 2011 Heisman Finalist and National Defensive Player of the Year, Tyrann Mathieu, affectionately known as ‘The Honey Badger’.  Mathieu was dismissed from the LSU football team earlier this week by Coach Les Miles for violating team policies.

Television affiliates WLOX and WAFB (both of Louisiana) are reporting that Mathieu is likely to transfer to an FCS school so he can play this season.  Among the schools listed as likely landing spots is Bethune-Cookman where former LSU assistant coaches Earl Lane and DJ McCarthy are currently on staff.

In addition to the natural connections with Lane and McCarthy, BCU also offers Mathieu an opportunity to play for an FCS school with a recent history of producing Pro Bowl caliber defensive backs (i.e. Nick Collins formerly of the Green Bay Packers and Rashen Mathis of the Jacksonville Jaguars). 

McNeese State, Nicholls State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Grambling State have also been mentioned as potential landing spots for the junior defensive back.

I am not certain if The Honey Badger himself knows for sure where he’ll be playing football this season at this moment, but I do know that Wildcat fans will be glued to this story until he makes his intentions known.

Stay tuned!!!

Ryan Davis passed up on NFL Draft weekend

Every young man who has ever put on a pair of shoulder pads and buckled up a chin strap has dreamed of having his name called on NFL Draft weekend. Unfortunately for Ryan Davis, that did not happen.

The 2011 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year was looking to become the first Wildcat player drafted since the Green Bay Packers selected Nick Collins in the second round in 2005. Davis recorded 65 tackles, 12 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, and 8 forced fumbles last season.  Davis has the size (6’3”, 260 pounds), speed (4.79 40-yard dash), and fluidity to play either defensive end or linebacker in the NFL.  His versatility and production at the collegiate level will surely make him a sought after undrafted free agent.

Recent NFL undrafted free agents include players such as Arian Foster, Tony Romo, and Victor Cruz.  Anthony Bass, Eric Weems, and Damien Cook are three of the more recent undrafted football players from BCU to make NFL rosters.

South Carolina State’s Christian Thompson was the only MEAC player taken in this year’s draft.  Thompson was selected in the 4th round (pick number 130) by the Baltimore Ravens.

Packers release former BCU Great Nick Collins

Nick Collins

Former BCU Standout, Nick Collins, was released from his NFL contract yesterday afternoon.

The Green Bay Packers released the three time Pro Bowl safety citing doubts about whether Collins should continue to play .

“From the beginning of this process, we have taken our time and sought numerous medical opinions while maintaining consistent dialogue with Nick,” Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said in a statement released by the team. “In the end, we were not comfortable clearing him to play again.  As with all of our players, Nick is a member of our family and we thought of him that way as we came to this conclusion.  Nick is a part of our core, and this is a very difficult day for all Packers. Making this kind of decision is never easy, especially when it involves someone like Nick Collins.  He has meant so much to the community, his teammates and the organization.  He is a good man and will always be part of the Packers family.”

Collins hurt his neck Sept.18 in a game against the Carolina Panthers; he underwent cervical fusion surgery and has not decided whether to try to play for another team, according to his agent. 

Nick was an All-Time BCU Great and a second-round draft pick in 2005.   He will forever live in BCU Football and Super Bowl lore after returning an interception for a touchdown in the Packers’ 2011 Super Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Defensive backs and linebackers preview

The strength of this year’s Wildcat squad is the defensive “back seven”.  The Cats return 4 linebackers and 3 defensive backs who started at least 2 games last season.  The top 6 tacklers are all back, 5 of whom are either defensive backs or linebackers.  

Secondary

Terry Williams, who was a great Wildcat DB in his playing days (2ndround draft pick of the NY Jets 1988), has built quite a resume for himself as BCU’s defensive backs coach.  During his tenure at Bethune, Williams has coached Buchanan Award winner and NFL Pro Bowler Rashean Mathis, All-Pro Safety Nick Collins, AP first team All-American and Buchanan Award finalist Bobby Williams, and All-MEAC first team performer Travis Roland.   Thankfully for the Cats the accolades for the secondary extend beyond individual awards.  The Wildcat secondary has held opponents to an under 50% completion rate in 5 of the past 7 seasons and they produce their fair share of turnovers year in and year out.  Last year, ball hawks Arkee Smith and Michael Williams recorded 11 interceptions from the safety position alone.  Smith

BCU's Michael Williams intercepts a pass

has since graduated but the Cats will look to M. Williams for leadership and production in the defensive backfield.   Although he did not start a single game in 2010, M. Williams finished the year with 6 INTs, was fourth on the team in total tackles, and was voted as a first team All-HBCU performer by BoxToRow/BASN. 

Returning starters Aaron Bagsby (FS) and Daniel Rhodes (CB) join M. Williams in the defensive backfield.  Bagsby and Rhodes ended 2010 5th and 6th respectively in total tackles.  DJ Howard started two games in 2010 before suffering a season ending injury.  Howard is a versatile athlete who can play both safety and corner.  3 Star recruit Dion Hanks participated in eight contests as a true freshman and will likely see increased playing time this year.  Jean Fanor, Cincinnati transfer Quincy Quetant, North Carolina Prep signee Marquis Drayton, and incoming true freshman Nick Addison are all likely contributors in this year’s secondary.

The one area of criticism for this group last year is that they did not make enough plays near the line of scrimmage.  The secondary and particularly the safeties will need to do a better job of recognizing and providing support against the outside zone and zone read plays that plagued the Wildcat defense a season ago.     Grade- B

Linebackers

Ryan Lewis (81 tackles, 4 ints, and 5 sacks) and Reggie Sandilands (81 tackles, 1 int, and 3.5 sacks) team up to lead what is arguably the best linebacking corp in all of HBCU football.  Lewis has been named as the preseason MEAC Defensive Player of the Year and a 2nd team All-American by the Sports Network.  Sandilands has received his share of preseason recognition as well being named on the first team All-MEAC defensive squad as well as on several watch list.  Lewis and Sandilands share a rather symbiotic relationship.  Both players are entering their third year as starters for the Wildcats and their height (6-1), weight (220), and playing styles are nearly identical.  Both players even have flowing dreadlocks hanging from their helmets as they chase down opposing running backs.  The superlative duo will be joined by returning starter Rock Angrand and capable backup Jarkevis Fields.  The linebackers possess great closing speed, they do a very nice job of shedding blockers, and they’re very instinctive.  Rutgers transfer Al-Ghaffar Lane will add more speed, athleticism, and depth to this already talented bunch.  There really are no glaring weaknesses amongst this group.   Our grade- A.