Tigers Optimistic In 2014
Optimism once again fills the air when the subject of Savannah State football pops up. Earnest Wilson III, who is beginning his second year as the Tigers head coach, thinks his team is on the right path to build back some respect for the program. SSU went 1-11 last year and look to post their first winning season since 1998. The Tigers were slated to return eight defensive starters and six offensive starters.
The defense lost three starters but have added a new wrinkle with a 3-4 scheme. David Adebiyi (6- 5, 260) will start on the line along with junior returnees William Broadbent IV and Jovanta Mobley. Marquis Smith (6-3, 235) had 124 tackles last year will anchor the linebackers along with junior Trevion Ashford who had 73 tackles. Junior college transfer Leonardo Myers and freshman Anthony Smith have broken into the starting lineup. Justin Dixon, who had 122 tackles in 2013, was injured in the preseason but will see plenty of action once he is cleared to play. The secondary returns third year starter Wayne Johnson on one corner and senior Brandon Jackson-Bell on the other. Junior Alfred Ansley (74 tackles) will be at the free safety spot while Georgia State transfer Robert Smith will hold down strong safety.
The offense lost their top receiver, passer and rusher but return a good group of players with game experience. Leon Prunty passed for 1,397 yards and 11 touchdowns last year but will miss at least four games because of off the field issues. This has open the door for junior college transfer Ker-Sean Wilson to take over as the starting quarterback. Wilson (6-2, 195) will be backed up by freshman Tino Smith. Alex Simmons and Richard Williams will be expected to carry the ball out of the backfield. The pass happy offense will have Kris Drummond (6-5, 215) as the top target. The preseason All-MEAC performer caught 23 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns last year. Sophomores Jeremiah Harris (6-5, 200) and Arshon Spaulding (5-11, 185) also return. Newcomer Dereon London will also see quality minutes. Sophomores Afolabi Ayangbayi (6-4, 290) and Devin Stainrod (6-1, 290) return as starters on the offensive line. Hampton transfer Vincent Harper (6- 2, 275) along with freshmen Anquavious Fuller (6-2, 290) and Damien Campbell (6-3, 290) make up the remaining starters.
John Barron returns as the placekicker. Barron made 6 of 11 field goal attempts last year with his longest being 40 yards. Jacob Thomas, who redshirted last year, will be the punter. Thomas averaged 37.1 yards per punt in 2012 and had a long of 56 yards. Freshman Dakota Garcia will back up Barron and Thomas. Brandon Jackson-Bell is expected to return kicks and punts. Anthony smith will be the long snapper while Tino Smith will be the holder.
Wilson lost four coaches during the off season but found some quality assistants as their replacements. Michael Villagrana, David Banks and Cordell Taylor all came from Hampton and will serve as wide receiver, quarterback and cornerback coaches respectively. Michael Wallace was promoted to defensive coordinator.
Also helping out with the staff are former Alabama State assistant Tony Pierce (linebackers). Returning staff members include Willard Scissum (offensive line), Jonas Jackson (defensive line) and Mister Askew (running back).
Once again the Tigers have a tough schedule. The season starts with back to back trips to the ‘Boro. SSU travels to Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Middle Tennessee State) on August 30 and to Statesboro, Georgia (Georgia Southern) on September 6 before facing Fort Valley State on Sept. 13 at Wright Stadium in their home opener. The conference schedule starts with a trip to Delaware State (Sept. 27) followed by a early Homecoming with Norfolk State (October 4). Other home games include Bethune-Cookman (Oct. 18), Howard (November 8) and North Carolina A&T (Nov. 15). SSU has MEAC road games at FAMU (Oct. 11), North Carolina Central (Oct. 25) and South Carolina State (Nov. 1). The Tigers close out the season with a Nov. 212 trip to Brigham Young.
Coaches, players and fans are optimistic about the season and can sense hope of some improvements. It helped that alumni and former players purchased weight equipment. That extra effort will pay off in the fourth quarter when other teams are beginning to wear down.
The offense will rely on plenty of newcomers and the offensive line must not surrender the amount of sacks they gave up a year ago. The defense gave up almost 260 rushing yards a game but played well against the pass. This is year two of the Earnest Wilson era. There were obvious signs of improvements with the close losses to Delaware State and Norfolk State. SSU should once again show improvement but if they result in more wins remains to be seen.