WSSU Football Opens Season With Virginia Union On Saturday
Aug. 24, 2010
The Rams open the season on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2010 as they travel to High Point, N.C. and neutral site A.J. Simeon Stadium to face the Panthers of Virginia Union University in the inaugural Furniture City Gridiron Classic in WSSU’s first game of the 2010 season. The Rams closed the 2009 season by losing four straight games but have a new head coach in Connell Maynor, a completely revamped offense and a newfound winning attitude. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
The contest is the first game of the season for both teams. The Rams will waste no time as they return to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association by taking on long-time rival Virginia Union University, a team which they have faced 39 times in history.
Saturday’s game will mark the inaugural Furniture City Gridiron Classic from A.J. Simeon Stadium in High Point, N.C. The contest will mark the first time a college football game has taken place at A.J. Simeon Stadium in 64 years.
A Quick Look
The Rams sport an entirely new look. Under the leadership of first-year head coach Connell Maynor the Rams look nothing like the 2009 team that posted a disappointing 1-10 record. The Rams welcome the services of 14 first-class freshman recruits and an entirely new coaching staff with the exception of defensive line coach Mike Ketchum who is the only holdover from last season’s staff.
With a stable of four quarterbacks, none of which have thrown a college pass, the starting job is likely that of junior UMass transfer Octavius Hawkins’ to lose. Hawkins, a big, strong pocket passer can make all the throws and will look to spread the ball around to a bevy of talented wideouts led by junior Dominique Fitzgerald.
There is no local, regional, or national television coverage for the Rams’ contest versus the Panthers. Highlights of the game will be made available to the local media immediately following the game. To obtain footage and highlights, contact the WSSU Office of Athletic Media Relations.
The Rams On TV
Over the past seven seasons the WSSU football team has appeared on television 11 times and the Rams have posted a 6-5 mark while doing so. The Rams’ were featured on television twice last season as WSSU dropped a 19-10 decision to North Carolina A&T on Sept. 5 in a contest shown on Time Warner Cable and WSSU dropped a 34-10 decision to Florida A&M on Sept. 10 on ESPNU.
There is no WSSU radio for the contest between the Rams and the Panthers.
Virginia Union Radio
There is no VUU radio for the contest between the Rams and the Panthers.
The contest between the Rams and Panthers will be carried live on the Heritage Sports Radio Network (HSRN) on XM/Sirius Satellite Radio. The broadcast, available to over 20 million satellite radio subscribers will feature Lamont Germany calling play-by-play, Mike Walker providing color analysis and LeCounte Conaway serving as the sideline analyst. The broadcast is also available online at XMRadio.com.
Live Statistical Broadcast
A live statistical broadcast of the game, utilizing CBS College Sport’s Gametracker statistical software will be available on the Official Website of WSSU Athletics at WSSURams.com. Fans may access the live stats by visiting the WSSU football schedule page and clicking on the Gametracker link.
Saturday’s contest is slated to be played in near perfect weather as the forecast calls for high temperatures of 82° with a low of 62° with no chance of precipitation under clear skies. Humidity is slated to be 66 percent with winds out of the Northeast at six miles per hour with a UV index of nine (very high). Sunrise will take place at 6:49 a.m. ET and will set at 7:53 p.m. ET.
Saturday’s contest will be the 40th meeting between the two programs all-time in a series that the Panthers lead 20-18-1.
WSSU has won the last two meetings between the two teams (in 2004 and 2005) as the Rams have not lost a game to the Panthers since a 29-17 loss in Richmond, Va. in 2003.
The largest WSSU win over VUU was by 43 points in a 43-0 victory that came in 1995. The largest VUU victory in the series was by a 33-point margin in a 40-7 victory that came in the 1983 season.
WSSU’s longest win streak was a 10-game span that came from 1990-2000. VUU has the distinction of owning a six-game win streak over the Rams twice, most recently from 1981-86.
The Rams have won 15 of the last 20 meetings between the two teams as WSSU has shown their dominance in the series over the span of the last two decades.
The Last Meeting
The Rams’ last meeting with the Panthers came on Sept. 24, 2005 in Richmond, Va. The Rams earned an easy 31-0 road victory at Hovey Field.
The Rams are coached by first-year man Connell Maynor, a veteran of more than 20 years of football experience both as a player and coach - and most recently as the offensive architect of the 2009 CIAA Champion Fayetteville State University Broncos offense, serving as both Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach - who was named the eighth head football coach at Winston-Salem State University on Dec. 15, 2009. Maynor has yet to coach a college game as a head coach.
The Panthers are coached by Michael Bailey who is in his second year as Virginia Union’s head football coach. Bailey has posted a career coaching mark of 6-4 overall and has never faced WSSU head coach Connell Maynor.
The Rams and Panthers are not ranked in either of the major, national polls.
The 2009 season was the 68th in Winston-Salem State University history. Through 68 years of play, WSSU owns a 354-286-25 (.531) record.
Players who are listed as OUT for Saturday’s game are: #30 Rodney Taylor (DB/Sophomore) with a hip flexor injury.
Players who are listed as QUESTIONABLE for Saturday’s game are #99 Akeem Ward (DL/Junior) with a shoulder injury.
There are no players listed as PROBABLE for Saturday’s game.
There are no players listed as DOUBTFUL for Saturday’s game.
Understanding The Injury Chart
The Rams use the National Football League’s injury chart model which separates injuries into four categories: (1) “Out” which indicates that a player will not play in the upcoming game and will not be dressed for the contest. (2) “Doutbful” which indicates that a player will have only a 25 percent chance of playing. (3) “Questionable” which indicates that a player will have a 50 percent chance of playing, and (4) “Probable” which indicates that a player has a 75 percent chance of playing.
Winston-Salem State University’s Department of Athletics abides by HIPAA, a federal privacy act with regard to the release of injury information. WSSU athletes are required to sign a waiver before injury information is released to the media. If the athlete chooses to withhold that information, WSSU officials will be restricted to informing media members of their playing status (playing, probable, doubtful or out).
The 2009 football season was one full of trials and tribulations for the Rams of Winston-Salem State University. Despite posting a 1-10 overall record, the Rams were successful both on the field and off as WSSU completed the 68th season of football at the history-laden HBCU. The Rams posted successes on the field, as a youthful and talent-laden roster gained another year of invaluable college football experience, and off as those same Rams gave back over 300 total hours of community service back to the Piedmont Triad region as the football program continues to embody the University’s “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve” mantra.
The 2009 football season saw the Rams post a 1-10 overall record and saw WSSU post a 1-8 mark versus Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponents. WSSU’s lone win came on October 24, 2009 as they defeated the Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman 16-10 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Despite the 1-10 record, the Rams dropped seven games by 10 points or less and WSSU lost five games by a touchdown or less. In five home contests, the Rams’ faithful came out to support their team as WSSU averaged 11,727 fans per game as the Rams boasted a total attendance of 58,636 over the span of the 2009 season (five home games).
The 2009 season was the 68th season in Winston-Salem State University football history. Through 68 years of play, WSSU owns a 354-286-25 (.532) record.
A Quick Look At The Rams
• The Rams posted a 1-10 overall record, an 0-5 mark at home, a 1-4 record on the road and an 0-1 record at neutral sites.
• Winston-Salem State closes the season riding a three-game losing streak after having snapped an eight-game losing streak dating back to 2008 as the Rams earned a 16-10 victory over Bethune-Cookman on Oct. 24 in Daytona Beach, Fla. for WSSU’s only win of the 2009 season.
• The Rams close the 2009 season riding a seven-game losing streak at home as WSSU has not won at Bowman Gray Stadium since a 34-10 victory over Howard that came on Oct. 4 of 2008.
• The Rams, owners of one of the most esteemed rushing offenses in the nation, failed to have a 100-yard rusher in 2009. WSSU has not had a 100-yard rusher since Nic Cooper posted 111 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown on Nov. 22, 2008 vs. Norfolk State.
• In 2009 the Rams favored the run in 62.5 percent of their plays. The Rams ran the ball 405 times and passed only 243 times in 2009. Despite this propensity for the ground attack, the Rams averaged marks of 4.4 yards per pass and 3.1 yard per rush.
• The Rams defense was, by far, the more effective unit in 2009 as WSSU allowed just 21.2 ppg, 134.5 rushing ypg, 165.9 passing ypg and 300.4 ypg overall.
• If officially ranked among FCS teams, the Rams would be 50th against the rush and 23rd in overall total defense. Their scoring defense (51st) and passing defense (54th) would also rank among the top half of teams in Division I FCS.
• The Rams ranked in the top-25 in the nation in four statistical categories. WSSU was 19th in the country in pass efficiency defense (120.00); 23rd in the nation in total defense (300.4 ypg); 19th in the nation in net punting (31.1 ypp) and 14th in the nation in punt returns (12.7 ypr).
• The Rams ranked second in the MEAC in both net punting (31.1 yards per punt) and in punt returns (12.7 yards per return).
• There are 118 Division I-FCS teams in the nation. The 2009 Rams were in the top half of the nation’s 118 football teams in eight statistical categories. WSSU was 19th in the country in pass efficiency defense (120.00); 23rd in the nation in total defense (300.4 ypg); 19th in the nation in net punting (31.1 ypp); 14th in the nation in punt returns (12.7 ypr); 50th in the nation in rushing defense (134.5 ypg); 51st in the nation in scoring defense (22.2 ppg); 54th in the nation in passing defense (165.9 ypg) and 56th in the nation in tackles for loss (6.1 TFL per game).
• The Rams recorded only two 100-yard passing games in 2009. Jarrett Dunston’s 152 yards passing versus UC Davis marked WSSU’s first 100-yard passing game of the season and Dunston’s third career 100-yard passing game at WSSU. Dunston followed that performance up with his fourth career 100-yard passing game as he recorded 190 yards on 12 of 16 passing versus Hampton on Oct. 31.
The Rams On TV
Over the past seven seasons (including 2009), the WSSU football team has appeared on television 11 times and the Rams have posted a 6-5 mark while doing so. The Rams’ were featured on television twice in 2009 as WSSU dropped a 19-10 decision to North Carolina A&T on Sept. 5 in a contest shown on Time Warner Cable and WSSU dropped a 34-10 decision to Florida A&M on Sept. 10 on ESPNU.
Giving Up The Big One
The 2009 Rams gave up 50 plays of 20 yards or longer. Conversely the Rams recorded only 43 plays of 20 yards or more. In comparison WSSU gave up only 29 long plays (20 yards or more) in 2008. In 2009 the Rams gave up an average of 4.55 plays of 20 yards or more per contest while WSSU averaged only 3.82 plays of 20 yards or more per game.
In 2009 the young Rams’ offensive front gave up 32 sacks. Despite the youth of the offensive line, the Rams improved over the 2008 season when they yielded 36 sacks.
The Rams had no problems at kicker during the 2009 season. Freshman kicker Landen Thayer, a graduate of West Forsyth High School, handled both the placekicking and punting duties for the Rams in 2009. The 5-10, 185-pound Thayer was extremely impressive in 2009 as he made nine of his 16 field goal attempts (56.2 percent) and successfully converted 15 of his 16 point after touchdown attempts (93.8 percent). He led WSSU in scoring with 42 points.
Career Best Kick
Landed Thayer’s 46-yard field goal in overtime versus Hampton on Oct. 31, 2009 marked the freshman kicker’s longest career field goal as a Ram. It also marked WSSU’s longest successful field goal since Chad Oakley’s 48-yarder in a 38-6 victory over Savannah State on Oct. 21, 2006 in a game played in Savannah, Ga.
The Rams’ 7-3 loss to Howard on Oct. 3, 2009 marks the lowest scoring game for WSSU since a 23-0 shutout loss to Florida A&M on Oct. 9, 2008 in a game held in Tallahassee, Fla.
The 2009 Rams were not afraid to go deep into their depth chart of personnel. 44 different players saw playing time in the Rams’ loss to North Carolina A&T; 48 different players saw playing time in the loss to Florida A&M; 44 players saw the field in WSSU’s loss to Morgan State; WSSU saw 45 players take the field versus #14 South Carolina State; 38 players played in WSSU’s loss to Howard; a season-high 52 players saw time at UC Davis; 41 players took to the field at Bethune-Cookman; 48 players stepped onto the field versus Hampton; 49 players saw playing time against Delaware State; 50 players took to the field versus North Carolina Central and 41 players stepped on the field for at least one play at Norfolk State.
Former Ram Playing Well In NFL
Former WSSU defensive end William Hayes (no relation to current WSSU Director of Athletics, William “Bill” Hayes) recently completed his second season in the NFL. Hayes, a standout defensive end for the Rams that appeared in 29 games for WSSU, was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the 103rd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Hayes finished his rookie campaign in 2008 with 21 tackles, a sack, two quarterback pressures, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass defended. Hayes capped his second season in the NFL in 2009 by appearing in all 16 games with 11 starts en route to 51 total tackles (31 solo) and four sacks.
The 2009 Rams scored only 138 points for an average of 12.5 points per game. The Rams scored over 10 points in only five games in 2009. The Rams’ 12.5 points per game marks the lowest scoring output for WSSU since the 1975 season when the Rams scored only 6.6 points per game. WSSU was shut out five times during the 1975 season. The Rams 2009 scoring output of 12.5 ppg marks the fourth lowest points per game average in the history of the program. The three worst scoring averages came in 1975 (6.6 ppg); 1940 (3.3 ppg) and 1945 (3.1 ppg).
Stepping Up When It Counts
WSSU junior redshirt wide receiver Omar Kizzie had a breakout year in 2009. Kizzie led the Rams in receiving with 28 catches for 298 yards and three touchdowns. Kizzie averaged 10.6 yards per catch and 27.1 yards receiving per game. As well he scored four of the Rams’ final five offensive touchdowns of the 2009 season including WSSU’s final three offensive TD’s of the season.
Longest Scoring Play
The Rams’ longest scoring play of the season came courtesy of the defense as sophomore defensive end Joshua Newkirk’s 61-yard interception return for a touchdown marked the Rams’ longest scoring play of 2009. The play also marked WSSU’s only defensive score of the season.
Offensive TD Analysis
The Rams scored 15 offensive touchdowns in 2009, for an average of 1.36 offensive touchdowns per game. The Rams’ average touchdown drive took 2:36.01 to complete in 2009. The Rams’ shortest touchdown drive of the season was a one-play, six-second drive at UC Davis on Oct. 17 and the longest offensive scoring drive of the year for the Rams was an 11-play, 46-yard drive that took 5:11 versus Delaware State on Nov. 7.
The Rams blocked three kicks in 2009 as redshirt freshman defensive back Cameron Demps blocked a pair of kicks and senior defensive back Alex Chandler blocked on kick. The three blocked kicks pale in comparison to the 1986 WSSU team that still owns the NCAA Division II record for blocked kicks in a season with 27. The 1986 Rams blocked 16 punts, seven field goals and four PAT’s.
Beaten All But Two
During the Rams’ five-year transition to the NCAA Division I level, WSSU beat every team in the MEAC at least once, except for two. The Rams have never beaten the Spartans of Norfolk State or the Bulldogs of South Carolina State since the start of the transition in 2004. During the transition the Rams have posted an 11-22 (.333 winning percentage) record versus MEAC opponents.
Division I Transition Decision
Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) announced on Sept. 11 that it would inform the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference (MEAC) that the university intends to remain a Division II institution for intercollegiate athletics. The process to remain in Division II will begin immediately, but the school will continue to compete in the MEAC at the Division I level through the 2009-2010 season.
At a special called meeting, the university’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to support the recommendation of Chancellor Donald J. Reaves to bring to a close the reclassification to Division I process that was begun in 2004. Reaves praised the vision of former WSSU chancellors who had supported the move to Division I, but stated that “in the final analysis the resources to complete the reclassification simply were not available, currently nor prospectively, in sufficient amounts”.
“This decision is probably the hardest one I have ever had to make because I believe that WSSU belongs in Division I,” said Chancellor Reaves. “If there were any reasonable way to complete this transition without diverting resources from competing academic priorities, I would have recommended that we stay the course.
“Over the past two years, we have continued to be concerned that budgetary constraints would not allow us to successfully complete the transition,” Reaves added. “As the athletics deficits continued to mount, there appeared to be no rational way we could continue the process. I believe that this is the right decision for WSSU at this point in time given our resources.
“Our goal now is to complete the move to NCAA Division II and find a conference home for our athletic program before the 2010-2011 season begins. We have been reviewing all of the options in our region and our preference would be to return to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). We will, however, have to complete the reclassification process with the NCAA and file a letter of interest with Commissioner Leon Kerry at the CIAA.”
The spending side of the budget for the WSSU athletics program has grown during the three-year period of 2005-2006 through 2008-2009 from approximately $2.88 million to $5.58 million while total revenue grew from $2.07 million to $3.77 million. Just for the fiscal year that ended June 30, the athletic program generated a deficit of approximately $1.8 million. The increase in expenses was directly connected to the transition to Division I which requires that an institution field a minimum of 14 teams and add substantially more resources such as scholarships, coaches and facilities.
“While our expenses have increased as one would reasonably expect, the budget problem that we have encountered is a revenue-side problem” Reaves added. “Currently, nearly 80% of total revenue comes from a single source, student fees. While the university has the second highest athletic fee in the UNC system, our fee is among the lowest in the MEAC where we are competing. With the size of our student body, it became evident that we were always going to be at a financial disadvantage.”
UNC President Erskine Bowles also expressed support for Chancellor Reaves’ recommendation. “I know that Chancellor Reaves explored every viable option before reaching this difficult decision, but in the end WSSU - like every other UNC campus - must operate its athletic department on a fiscally responsible basis. And it cannot put the burden of doing so all on the backs of its students. Particularly in light of current economic conditions, Chancellor Reaves made the hard - but right - choice to put academic priorities ahead of athletic aspirations.”
“Even though the decision has been made to remain at Division II, we will continue to develop options for increasing revenue for our athletic program,” said Reaves. “We have increased our marketing efforts for the 2009 football season and we hope that will support our efforts to increase ticket sales, sponsorships and other fund-raising activities.”
The process of reclassifying the WSSU athletic program to Division II will begin with a letter of intent to the NCAA Division II Membership Services Sub-Committee. The university will also have to reduce the size of its athletic program from the Division I to the Division II level, which includes reducing the number of athletic scholarships. There also may need to be reductions in the size of the athletic staff in order to generate the savings needed to run the program within the parameters of the resources that are available.
“With regard to our students-athletes, some of whom will be affected by this decision, we will be working with each affected-student to ensure that to the extent possible they are held harmless. Those who may be affected by this move, either through loss of scholarship or the move from Division I athletics, will be given as much guidance and assistance as possible,” Reaves explained. “While our athletic program is very important to the university, our number one short-term priority is the well-being of our student-athletes.”
2010 WSSU Football Season Preview
With a rich tradition of success and a storied history in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), the Winston-Salem State Rams will make a return to the conference this fall. The Rams will have an almost entirely new look when the team makes its return to the CIAA with a new head coach, a revamped coaching staff and a host of newcomers, the 2010 Rams will look to make their return to the scene of former glory a triumphant one.
For the first time in over 17 years, the Rams will open the season under the guidance of a new head football coach as Connell Maynor steps in to lead the team in 2010. Maynor succeeds Kermit Blount, the winningest head coach in WSSU football history who concluded a 17-year head coaching career by becoming the Special Assistant to WSSU Director of Athletics, William “Bill” Hayes.
Maynor, a veteran of more than 20 years of football experience both as a player and coach - and most recently as the offensive architect of the 2009 CIAA Champion Fayetteville State University Broncos offense, serving as both Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach - was named the eighth head football coach at Winston-Salem State University on Dec. 15, 2009.
Maynor brings more than two decades of football experience both as a coach and as a player in the intercollegiate and professional ranks and is the proud owner of 10 championships, six as a player and four as a coach.
Maynor comes to WSSU by way of Fayetteville State University where he spent the last 10 seasons as a member of the Broncos’ award-winning football staff, most recently serving as both the Quarterbacks Coach and Offensive Coordinator where he helped to lead FSU to four CIAA title game appearances and three CIAA Championships (2002, 2003 and 2009).
Maynor’s offensive unit produced two All-CIAA quarterback selections (2002 and 2003) and ranked first in the CIAA in rushing offense, total offense and scoring in 2008 en route to a 13th-place national ranking in scoring offense and a 39th-place national ranking in total offense in Division II in 2008. He and his coaching staff will look to immediately make an impact at WSSU as he attempts to guide the Rams to their ninth conference championship.
There will be little time for offensive growth as the 2010 Rams offense will return just six offensive starters from last season’s team. The team will expect production from their newcomers almost immediately as questions will need to be answered in both the passing attack and along the offensive line. Connell Maynor and the Rams will rely heavily upon a talented crop of newcomers, nine of which will join the WSSU offense.
The quarterback position will be a key piece of the Rams’ puzzle in 2010. However, with the departure of last season’s leading top two passers, the Rams will need some immediate help at quarterback this fall. The Rams will be without the services of former Ram quarterback Jarrett Dunston. For the past two seasons, Dunston has been the team’s top signal caller and leading passer. During that time, Dunston amassed 1,597 passing yards and 10 touchdowns.
This season, the Rams will look to a cast of newcomers at the quarterback position. Redshirt-sophomore Kameron Smith had an impressive spring and is the likely candidate to earn starting duties this fall. He was especially impressive at the Rams Spring Game where he completed four-of-eight passes for 35 yards and led the Red Team with 49 rushing yards on six carries.
Redshirt-junior Jean Julmiste will return as the leading passer from last season after the redshirt-junior connected on nine-of-23 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Last season, the Rams struggled in the passing game, totaling only 1,061 passing yards in 2009. As a team the WSSU receivers averaged 10.9 yards per catch and the team managed just 11 passing touchdowns for the season. The tables are likely to turn this season with a talented and experienced group of receivers returning in the fall. The Rams will return with a solid wide receiving corps as three starters return from last season. The trio of senior Omar Kizzie, junior Dominique Fitzgerald, and redshirt-senior Johnathan Kinzer will return to lead the Rams receiving efforts this season.
Fitzgerald will join Kinzer as a key performer for the Rams this season as Fitzgerald led the team in touchdowns last season with four. At 6’0”, 180 pounds and with solid speed, Fitzgerald will look to stretch the field for the Rams and give the team a scoring threat on every play.
The Rams will also break in a trio of tight ends with freshman Jamal Haizlip, junior Stephen McMillan, and redshirt-sophomore Lamarcius Jenkins combining to shore up the WSSU receiving efforts. None of the three players have ever caught a pass for the Rams, but will look to make an immediate impact this season.
A powerful rushing attack has always been a trademark of Rams football. The tradition is likely to continue this season when the Rams welcome back the tandem of redshirt-senior Cedric Hickman and red-shirt junior Nicholas Cooper.
As a team, the Rams totaled 1,274 rushing yards with four touchdowns in 2009. Leading the way for the Rams this season will be Hickman a physical, bruising running back who was a key performer for the Rams. Last season, Hickman led the Rams with 263 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning TD at Bethune-Cookman.
Cooper sat out the 2009 season to focus on academics after a great redshirt-freshman campaign. However, he is poised to return to the Rams this season after an impressive 2008 that he finished with 488 yards and four touchdowns on 92 carries. He looks to be no worse off following his year away from the game as he had a breakout effort in the Rams’ spring game where he finished with 13 carries for 37 yards and three touchdowns.
The Rams will also look for a contribution from WSSU newcomer Daryl Thomas, Jr. from Safford, Arizona. After a solid career at Safford High School, Thomas had a strong spring game effort with five carries for 35 yards.
In order for the Rams to succeed in the passing game or in the running game, the team will need a solid effort out of its offensive line. The unit is likely to be a strong one, but will have some holes to fill with only two returnees from last season’s squad.
Redshirt-sophomore Travis Taylor and sophomore John Crawley will look to lead the way on a WSSU offensive line that will need three players to step and contribute for the Rams right away. Maynor has bolstered the offensive front a pair of high school standouts as both Kaleb Carter (6-4, 280) and Thomas Warren (6-2, 280) join the Rams’ roster in 2010 after stellar senior seasons.
The Rams will have their work cut out for them on the defensive side of the football with only three starters returning. Last season, the Rams allowed 3,304 yards of total offense and 31 touchdowns to opponents. However, the team will look to bounce back under the guidance of Coach Maynor and defensive coordinator Kienus Boulware.
There will be an entirely new look on the Rams’ defensive line as the team will need to replace the entire front line. Though the defensive line will be short on experience, there is no shortage of talent along the WSSU defensive front line as a talented group of newcomers will look to step in and contribute for the Rams.
The tandem of redshirt-junior Corei Plummer and redshirt-sophomore David Harris will look to lead the way for the Rams on the defensive front. Plummer played in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, but sat out the 2009 season. In his career, Plummer has totaled four total tackles, including three solo tackles. He had a solid performance at the 2010 WSSU Spring Game with three total tackles (two solo).
Harris has also played a pair of seasons for the Rams with three total tackles, all during the 2008 season when he recorded a solo tackle and a pair of tackle assists. He also recovered a fumble last season.
The duo will need to provide some quality leadership on the Rams’ defensive line as Maynor and the Rams welcome four defensive lineman and a linebacker as part of WSSU’s 14-player high school recruiting class.
The Rams’ linebacking corps will feature a number of young, talented players, but will also benefit from some strong leadership as senior linebacker Juan Corders will look to lead a young linebacking unit for the Rams in 2010.
Corders has been a staple for the Rams over the last four seasons. However, he will be recovering from a season-ending injury suffered at South Carolina State last fall. The redshirt-senior has totaled 146 career tackles for the Rams with a pair of forced fumbles. He has also added 6.5 total sacks for his career. The senior will line-up with three newcomers in the starting lineup at the linebacker position this season.
In three seasons of play, Bohannon and Sessoms have been quality players and solid contributors to the Rams’ squad. Between the two of them they have totaled 57 total appearances in uniform for WSSU. Bohannon has been one of the top defensive backs on the Rams’ squad, playing in 32 games with a pair of interceptions and 90 total tackles. He has also added three forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries. Sessoms has also been strong, playing in 25 games during his career and totaling 33 tackles with a fumble recovery.
With the two players returning, the Rams’ secondary is likely to be a strong point for the team this fall as they return to the CIAA, a conference that is not short on accurate quarterbacks and speedy wideouts.
The Rams will return with a solid kicking game when sophomore Landen Thayer returns to handle kicking duties for the team this season. He contributed greatly in 2010 and gave the team an immediate quality scoring option as well as some quality field position in the kicking game. Last season, he was 9-of-16 on field goals and missed just one PAT kick. He also averaged 40.5 yards per punt. This season, the Rams will count on Thayer to provide a quality performance and shore up the team’s kicking efforts.
The Rams will also benefit from returning a pair of experienced return specialists as punt returners Dominique Fitzgerald and Alton Keaton will return to the team this fall. Fitzgerald led the team in punt returns, averaging 13.4 yard per return with a long return of 46-yards. Keaton returned a pair of punts for 22 total yards and an 11.0 yard-per-return average. Keaton returns as the team’s top kick returner with 214 yards in returns. He averaged 21.4 yards per return with his longest effort being a 35-yard return against the Delaware State Hornets last season.
With the talented and experienced trio returning, the Rams’ special teams unit will have a chance to be one of the best in recent history.
For the fifth straight season the Rams will take on the rival North Carolina A&T Aggies and the North Carolina Central Eagles, this time with both games on the road. WSSU will boast a quintet of home games with three of those contests coming in three consecutive weeks in the month of October. The Rams will open the season at A.J. Simeon Stadium in High Point, N.C. in the first-ever Furniture City Classic as WSSU plays host to the Panthers of Virginia Union University.
Though the Rams will have a number of questions, there will be no doubt that the team will play hard and compete, making their return to the CIAA a successful and triumphant one. Under the guidance of new head coach Connell Maynor and a revamped coaching staff, a quality cast of returnees and talented cast of newcomers the Rams look to be geared up and ready for a return to glory this fall.