HAMPTON — As Hampton University prepares to “play up” in its opener versus Old Dominion, a dimly lit questioner asked Pirates coach Connell Maynor if the Monarchs’ unfamiliarity with him provided an advantage.
Polite Southern gentleman that he is, Maynor reacted with the kind of bemused smile often seen on teachers when students ask if a test will count toward their final grade.
“Trust me,” Maynor said, “they know what we’re going to do.”
ODU coaches, Maynor is 1,000 percent certain, dissected video of his teams at Winston-Salem State over the past four years. They know what offensive formations he employed and the kinds of plays he ran.
They also studied HU defensive coordinator Kenny Phillips’ teams at Fayetteville State during the past 13 years and likely have a very good idea what to expect at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
“This ain’t their first barbecue,” Maynor said. “They’ve got film. They know what we’re going to do.”
Maynor aims to establish a new era at Hampton, where he replaced Donovan Rose, relieved after five years as head coach and following back-to-back losing seasons.
Maynor and the Pirates have a difficult launch, with ODU in its first year as a Football Bowl Subdivision member, followed by games against two of the better programs in the Colonial Athletic Association — William and Mary and Richmond.
“We’ve just got to execute and they’ve got to execute,” Maynor said. “We know what they’re going to do, they know what we’re going to do. It’s no different than any other ballgame. The coaches know what the other team’s going to do. You’ve got to get your players to execute.”
Execution is paramount, for the Pirates’ defense and their quarterback, whomever that may be.
Hampton’s depth chart lists junior Jaylian “J.J.” Williamson from Chesapeake as the starter, but Maynor said Wednesday at his first weekly gabfest with reporters that he hasn’t decided.
Maynor said he won’t choose between Williamson and sophomore Bryan Bailey until at least after Thursday’s practice and that it may be a game-time call.
“Both guys can run with the ball, both guys can throw the ball,” Maynor said. “It’s going to be a matter of who I think can make the best decisions at quarterback and get us in and out of plays, things of that nature. Right now, it’s still a toss-up.”
Maynor said the Pirates must be productive on offense, if only to limit the touches and opportunities for ODU’s Taylor Heinicke, who he said is one of the best quarterbacks he’s seen.
Whoever is under center, he has options at his disposal. The Pirates return their two leading rushers, Jorrian Washington and Marcus Hampton, and five of their top seven receivers, led by Washington and Twarn Mixson.
“I think we’ve got some guys that can get down the field, stretch the field, guys that can catch the ball,” Maynor said. “I think we’ve got quarterbacks that can get them the ball. But time will tell. We’ve been going against our own guys, so we really don’t know how good they are, how good our DBs are, how good our receivers are, because they’d been going against each other. Saturday’s game will be a good test for us, to see where we are.”
Heinicke and the Monarchs’ offense are likely to provide as stiff a challenge as HU will face. The senior is on pace to become one of the most efficient and productive quarterbacks in Division I history.
“Our big thing with him is to not give up big plays,” Phillips said. “Try to keep everything in front of us and make some open-field tackles.”
Phillips said he’s pleased with how well his group has picked up on his defensive scheme, a base 3-4. He believes that the Pirates have enough depth among the front seven to rotate two players at every position, key against the Monarchs’ up-tempo attack.
“The big thing is that you don’t do too much where the kids on the field are confused and they don’t know what they’re doing,” Phillips said. “That’s where he takes advantage of you, when you make a mistake in the secondary. That’s the thing that we cannot do on Saturday, is make a mistake in the secondary. When we have a coverage called, we’ve got to play that coverage, and if he throws the ball into coverage, then we’ve got to make the tackle. We’ve got to break on the football on Saturday.”
HU’s only significant absence, Maynor said, is linebacker Justin Gilchrist. The one-time ODU commitment has a knee injury that will sideline him for three to four weeks. Other than that, Maynor said that the Pirates came out of preseason camp fairly healthy.
“We’re excited to finally get to game week,” Maynor said. “We’ve got the players in, got the systems in. We’ve had 20-some practices and we’re ready to hit somebody else.”
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.