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Donal Ware

Top 5 HBCU football teams

Posted September 2, 2010

Top 5 HBCU football teams

5. Tuskegee

The Golden Tigers are stalking their fifth consecutive SIAC title with 15 starters returning. They also expect to have back WR Jonathan Lessa and All-American C Michael Stevens, a pair of former starters who missed 2009 with injuries. The Golden Tigers’ offense, not as productive last season as in previous years, should be improved with QB Josh Harris (882 yards passing, 8 TDs) as the full-time starter. Harris became the No. 1 signal caller when Jeremy Williams was injured against Albany State last year. Harris rallied the Golden Tigers to victory against Albany State and was 4-0 as the starter. All-conference and Boxtorow.com/BASN preseason All-American performer Antoine Mitchell (47 catches, 800 yards, 7 TDs), D’Mario Franklin and Lessa provide Harris a deep and talented corps of wide receivers. FBs John Pascley (415 yards rushing, 10 TDs) and Nykeem Barton (308 yards, 6 TDs) lead a running game that could use an infusion of speed. DT Danny Anderson (37 tackles, 9 sacks) and DE Darian Barnes (37 tackles, 12 sacks) anchor a strong defensive line. The secondary will miss All-American Justin Hannah but should still be formidable with the addition of Dontrell Miller, an All-America transfer from Tennessee-Martin. The Tigers open the season Saturday hosting Benedict.

4. Texas Southern

With Grambling losing Christian Anthony for the season with an apparent heart attack a few weeks back and quarterback Greg Dillion being denied a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, an extremely talented Texas Southern makes the top five. The Tigers were the surprise in the conference in 2009, Johnnie Cole’s second season at the helm. They had their first winning record in a decade and their highest finish in the conference since 1998 after being winless in 11 games the year before Cole took over. Defense was the Tigers’ calling card in 2009 as they led SWAC and were 21st in the FCS. They will again be strong defensively. In addition to LB Dejuan Fulghum (88 tackles, 8 sacks) the entire secondary returns. The Tigers should be more potent on offense with QB Arvell Nelson (2,392 yards passing, 12 TDs), who transferred in from Iowa last season, having a full grasp of the system. Nelson has a solid offensive line protecting him, led by All-SWAC performer Charles Smith who has started the last two seasons and played every position without missing a snap. They will also get a boost with the return of WR/KR William Osborne, who sat out last season with an injury following an All-American season in 2008. There opening game against Prairie View A&M in the annual Labor Day Classic in Houston could set the tone not only for the SWAC but have early implications on the Black college national championship.

3. Florida A&M
The Rattlers’ hopes of overtaking South Carolina State and staying ahead of the rest of the MEAC revolve around their quarterback situation. They no longer have Curtis Pulley, who not only was their top passer but was also their leading rusher. Martin Ukpai is the leading candidate to replace Pulley. Ukpai, in his first collegiate start, amassed 284 yards of total offense and led the Rattlers to a victory against arch-rival Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic. He has to show that he can produce those numbers over an entire season. WR Isaac West (36 catches, 641 yards) will be a top target for Ukpai. RB Philip Sylvester’s (455 yards rushing, 7 TDs) workload in the running game will likely increase to make up for the yards Pulley accounted for on the ground. Defensively the Rattlers are looking to improve from their middle of the pack status of a year ago. MLB Alvis Graham (66 tackles, six sacks), S Greg Harvey and DE Marquiste Ramos are counted on to step up their play and give the Rattlers a championship caliber defense. PK Trevor Scott gives the Rattlers an additional offensive weapon. He has made 92 of 94 PATs in two seasons and 24 of 42 field goal attempts. Scott made a career-best 52-yard field against Howard last season. FAMU opens the season Thursday night against No. 13 Miami.

2. Prairie View A&M
The Panthers are hunted, no longer the hunters after winning their first SWAC championship in 35 years, and they look to have enough to stay in front of the field. The Panthers will be potent on offense against this season with All-world QB K.J. Black (70 percent completion, 2,033 yards passing, 22 TDS, 4 INTs) and All-SWAC RB Donald Babers (919 yards rushing, 9 TDs) returning. They will operate behind a line that has four starters returning, including All-SWAC performers in G James Dekle and T Tim Husey, and allowed just 19 sacks in 2009. The Panthers’ only question on offense is who will emerge as their go-to receivers after losing a pair of four-year starters. Shaun Stephens (36 catches, 404 yards) appears ready to step up. Brandon Bell and Michael Benson showed promise last year. The Panthers expect to be rock solid on defense again. DEs Marco Spears and Jamail Lavan, who missed most of 2009 with injuries, are at the heart of what should be a formidable front four. Sophomore Elton Holmes takes over at middle linebacker. He will be surrounded by returning starters Chris Ford and Max Sencherey. Boxtorow.com/BASN Preseason All-American Chris Adingupu will be the leader in the secondary. Coach Henry Frazier III’s concern on defense is replacing All-SWAC FS Anthony Beck. The Panthers will be tested right out of the gate in their opener against Texas Southern on September 5.

1. South Carolina State

The Bulldogs, the two-time defending MEAC champions, are primed to three-peat. QB Malcolm Long, who completed 64 percent of his passes for2,502 yards and 20 TDs, had a breakout junior season and should be even better this time around despite losing his top three receivers and RB Will Ford, the MEAC’s career rushing leader. Long will operate behind a seasoned line, which returns four starters, including Boxtorow.com/BASN All-American Johnny Culbreath who was the 2009 MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year. The Bulldogs have a bevy of talented but unproven running backs vying to replace Ford with Chris Massey, Chris Merrill and Rock King and highly regarded freshman Charles Brown topping the list. The linebacking corps will set the tone on defense. Marshall McFadden returns after missing the 2009 season with an injury to a team with David Erby, Donovan Richard and Julius Wilkerson. Bulldog coaches consider Wilkerson the most talented of the quartet. The Bulldogs open the season on Saturday at No. 16 Georgia Tech.

Locally

Fayetteville State
The strength for the defensive CIAA Champion Broncos will be in the trenches as Dillon Kestner and Larry McDonald were named preseason All-CIAA. RB Richard Medlin 667 yards 10 TDs will look to have a breakout season. Wyoming transfer QB Robert Benjamin has come in and commanded a leadership role. Coach Kenny Phillips is excited about what Benjamin brings to the table from a mental and physical standpoint. While offensive coordinator Connell Maynor has moved on to become head coach at Winston-Salem State, 45-year football coaching veteran Dick Portee, who had a couple of stints as an assistant with NC State, will take over as offensive coordinator. The Broncos defense lost a lot from last year and is really young, which is of concern to Phillips. The Broncos open the season in the Two Rivers Classic on Saturday at UNC-Pembroke.

North Carolina Central
The Eagles are in their fourth season playing at the Division I level after competing in Division II as a member of CIAA. They don’t play a full conference schedule this year and aren’t eligible for the title until next season. With 61 lettermen and 17 starters returning, Coach Mose Rison is building a solid foundation. QB Michael Johnson (1,931 yards passing, 18TDs 10 INTs) was impressive last year in his first season with the Eagles and Rison will look for more from him. Geovonie Irvine (38-582-3) will be his primary target RB Tim Shankle (180-739-8) should receive the bulk of the carriers and Tony McCord (77-359-1) provides a nice change of pace. An experienced offensive line that includes four returning starters should produce time for Johnson to throw and holes for the backs. The Eagles return eight starters on defense and look to build on a strong finish on that side of the ball. LBs Donald Laster and Calvin Hillie will be the key leaders. Senior DT Teryl White anchors the line that has three starters from a year ago. DT Shane Moore, a transfer from Marshall, is expected to be a major contributor. DB Rashad Fox anchors the secondary. The Eagles have seven home games beginning Thursday evening against Johnson C. Smith.

Saint Augustine’s
Perennially the Falcons defense has always been stout but 2009 was an exception. Saint Aug's gave up almost 300 yards of total offense per game. Conversely, the offense hadn't shown much sign of life, but last year averaged over 200 yards of total offense per game. Michael Costa has been head of the program since it reinstated football in 2002 and this year he is looking for a balance and may get it. Offensively, the Falcons may have the best running back tandem in the conference in Walter Sanders and Arnold Mullins (1,016 yards, 8 TDs total). The Falcons also look like they finally have some stability at quarterback as Joaquin Green returns for his sophomore season after being named CIAA Rookie of the Year, completing 48.5 percent of his passes for 1,318 yards with 12 TDs and 10 INTs. Defensively, the Falcons should be better as LBs Steven Stanback (72 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, preseason All-CIAA) and Mark Hall (78 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss) lead the unit. The Falcons open the season on Saturday at Catawba

Shaw
The Bears were points short of going for its third-straight CIAA Championship last year losing 29-28 at Fayetteville State. The Bears will have a strong running game again this year, led by All-CIAA RB Raymond Williams (138-811-12), arguably the best back in the conference. The Bears will have a stable quarterback in former Southern Durham star Kevin Atkins who transfers in from Alabama A&M. The Bears led the conference in scoring averaging 42.1 points per game. The Bears will have a solid defense, led by preseason All-CIAA selections DL Demarcus Roberson and LB Fred Sparkman. Shaw has an opportunity to win the CIAA Championship for the third time in four years and opens the season on Saturday hosting Virginia Union at Southeast Raleigh’s John Baker Stadium.
 

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