"Players only"

Friday, July 20, 2007

Saturdays in the fall at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium belongs to the South Carolina State football team and its fans.

But, during the summer, the stadium is reserved for "Players Only."

For the past three weeks, the Bulldogs have held informal workouts free from shoulder pads and helmets, the watchful eye of head coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough and his assistants and even an intervening striped-shirt official. With coaches bound by strict NCAA guidelines which keep them at a distance during the summer months prior to training camp, these unsupervised sessions (save for strength and conditioning coach Thomas Stallworth keeping from afar in the bleachers) give the SCSU players a chance to set their own rules while bonding together.

"Without the coaches, with all the stuff going on with kids being nervous, we have a chance to be around each other," BANDIT Marshall McFadden said. "You've got to have faith in each other. So by us practicing together, it gives us a bond. It's not all about practice. It's like a bonding period for us. When we come out, everybody will be together and we'll teach the younger guys. Basically, it's a good thing for us."

During 7-on-7 passing drills, linebacker Tony White could be seen sending in defensive plays from the sidelines. On the other side of the football, starting quarterback Cleveland McCoy and incoming freshmen Dewain Clark and South Carolina's "Mr. Football" Malcolm Long took turns taking snaps with the first and second-teamers.

"It's been a real good experience," Long said. "The boys have been showing me around. It's like a family thing down here at State with football and athletics."

For the senior co-captain McCoy, helping the team gel quickly has him just as excited as the bevy of talented receivers now at his disposal.

"Being up here this summer without the coaches intermingling, you get to come together as a team," he said. "You come together with these young guys and those guys get to know players and that's the main thing. It's about unity, so that's the biggest thing on this team and I think that's what we've got this year."

While the summer workouts provide veterans like McCoy and McFadden a chance to 'get the rust off', it also provides an early learning experience for newcomers like East Carolina transfer defensive lineman Joe Council.

"It helps everybody bond," Council said. "Everybody gets to know each other. I'm new, so I get to know everybody. I get to learn the playbook and stuff like that. So, I get to introduced to everything so that when I go to camp, I've got a feel for everybody and everybody has a feel for me."

Amid the camaraderie exhibited on the field amid the laid-back atmosphere, the Bulldogs remain mindful in their preparation of what's ahead in their first three games against Air Force, Bethune-Cookman and the University of South Carolina.

"This year, we're playing some big schools," McFadden said. "The crowd is going to be wild. It's going to be hard to hear. It's going to be difficult. So therefore, we probably won't be getting calls from coaches. We'll probably have to do by ourselves and what I mean is, calling our own plays, run our own offense. This will give us a better chance to play better against bigger crowds."

"We don't have a warm-up game," McCoy said. "Most schools start with a (Division II, III) team. We don't have that this year. We've got to come out and play."

SCSU will hold one more week of conditioning drills before taking a respite prior to the start of training camp Aug. 5.


Retrieved from The Times and Democrat