Friday, July 31, 2009
For the third consecutive year, South Carolina State has been picked to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football title.
In a preseason poll of head football coaches, sports information directors and selected media, the defending champion Bulldogs earned 10 first-place votes and 290 points to edge runner-up Florida A&M as the 2009 choice. The Rattlers received five first-place votes and 273 points and led the preseason All-MEAC team with 11 selections.
Following SC State and the Bulldogs in the poll are Hampton (197 pts.), Bethune-Cookman (185), Norfolk State (163), Morgan State (142), Delaware State (140), North Carolina A&T (48) and Howard (38).
Eight SC State players were named to the preseason team, led by senior running back Will Ford, the 2008 Offensive Player of the Year. The Travelers Rest native was the preseason pick for Offensive Player of the Year for a second consecutive season.
Ford was joined on the preseason first team by junior offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath and three other seniors -- wide receiver Oliver (Tre’) Young, linebacker Marshall McFadden and safety Markee Hamlin.
SC State second-team selections were sophomore offensive lineman Juavahr Nathan, senior defensive lineman Markus James and cornerback Phillip Adams, also a senior.
Bulldog head coach Buddy Pough, whose team was also the preseason pick in 2007 and 2008, said he was happy for the respect the voters showed his team, which captured the 2008 crown; however, he added that his Bulldogs would have to avoid any missteps if they are to repeat.
“I’m always a bit surprised at getting the top nod,” Pough said. “And, this is especially true this year because we have so many good teams. “I appreciate the respect that the league has given our team, but I’m also apprehensive about the task ahead.
“Our team, or whoever wins it, can’t afford any slipups,” he continued. “The fact that Florida A&M placed 11 players on the preseason all-conference team tells you that they have great possibilities. And, you can’t overlook Bethune-Cookman, or Hampton, or Norfolk State. This thing (the MEAC race) can get to be pretty tight.”
The Bulldogs endured some heavy losses from last season’s 10-3 (8-0 MEAC) FCS playoff team. Coach Pough and his staff will be without eighteen (18) seniors, 11 of them starters, however SC State welcomes back 45 lettermen from that outstanding squad.
Among the Bulldog returnees are 13 starters, six on offense, including Ford, who galloped for almost 1,400 yards, and junior quarterback Malcolm Montgomery, who set two school passing records.
“Everybody in our league respects Will Ford and what he does for our team,” said Pough. “He’s about as good a player as we’ve had around here and in the MEAC. He will be the guy for us this season.
“I’m pleased to have him for another year,” he continued. “A player who has achieved as much as he has, may think that he’s somewhat of a prima donna, but Will still works as hard as he did the first day he arrived here and he’s a very nice kid.”
On defense, SC State will look to McFadden and Hamlin, along with James and several other upper classmen in 2009.
“We have a great opportunity to do well, but everything will have to fall into place,” noted Pough. “This league seems to get tougher each year.”
The Bulldogs open the 2009 campaign Sept. 6 against Grambling in the 5th ESPN MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Orlando, FL in a 2 p.m. contest.
SC State opens its home schedule Sept. 26 against Winston-Salem State. Kickoff is 2 p.m.