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Diggs increases volume of changes at Morgan State


There is a sound accompanying the latest attempt to piece together Morgan State's tattered football name.

The sound is Ricky Diggs' voice.

Going up.

And up.

"I have this way of turning up the volume in my vocal cords," Diggs said the other day in an office at Hill Field House.

He was smiling, like saying you can't believe how loud it gets.

And it does get loud.

Eardrum-vibrating, goal-post-swaying, player-cowering loud.

That is the sound of Morgan State football getting picked up off the floor.

"I start out talking to them in a normal voice," Diggs said, "and then I start getting louder and louder and louder.

"By the end, let me tell you, it can sound pretty doggone harsh."

There are other signs of a program finally trying to do it right. There is a full-sized coaching staff for the first time in years. New blocking sleds and tackling dummies. An academic adviser.

But it all always comes back around to Ricky Diggs' voice.

"The program was starved for discipline when I got here in March," he said. "The first thing I had to do was establish self-respect."

He had heard all the horror stories. Nine coaches in 15 years. A dozen losing seasons in a row. The 32-game losing streak in the mid-'80s.

"I heard about 12 players showing up for practice, that kind of stuff," he said. "Everyone needed to understand those days were over."

At his first player meeting, he stood up and started talking. Take off your hats, you're inside. Look at you, you're fat. Show up on time for the next meeting or you'll run sprints. Listen up. Do what I say. Don't talk back. Go to class. Don't skip study hall.

We're going to do things differently around here, he said.

And, oh yeah, that means we're going to win.

All the time his voice going up and up and up, until the players were staring wide-eyed at this booming apparition.

Maybe they thought he was crazy. This is a team that fumbled 16 times in a game last year. A team so far down it's hard to envision up.

But . . .

"They've been waiting for a savior to come for a long time here," Diggs said, "and I know I'm that savior.

"I'm not a miracle worker, though. It's going to take time."

That's a plain-spoken truth if ever there was one. He has had to go way back with his new team, all the way back to the most fundamental fundamentals.

"I had to teach them how to present themselves properly in the huddle, for instance," he said. "And like, I had fifth-year receivers who didn't know how to read coverages. We're talking about starting from scratch."

Going all the way back. It is the moment Diggs, 37, has been preparing for since he chose coaching as his livelihood after a nifty career as a halfback at Shippensburg. He caught on coaching backs and ends at The Citadel and spent four years there, six at South Carolina and one at Air Force, with a year as a stockbroker thrown in.

He got a master's degree along the way and learned from major-league coaches, Joe Morrison and Fisher DeBerry, about putting together an offense and managing a program. And he learned about discipline. The people at Morgan knew they were getting a coach who would make people sit up and listen.

And then Diggs came in and his voice began getting louder and louder and louder. And practices began getting longer and longer and longer.

"It's the only way I know how to do it," he said. "You come in tough, you can always lighten up. But if you come in easy, no way can you toughen up."

He has suspended players for talking back and made practices exhausting to the point of tears, and maybe there was some grumbling at first, but now it is dawning on people that he is their chance.

That Ricky Diggs is Morgan's first real chance in a long time.

That he just might be a football Fang Mitchell.

The Bears have lost their first four games, but anyone can see they're sharper, more enthusiastic, actually appear to know what they're doing. You start somewhere.

It is what happened when Dale Sprague came to Western Maryland and Dave Dolch came to Bowie: The losing stopped. It takes a coach capable of believing despite the numbers, capable of willing it true, capable of being patient. Very patient.

"I don't like the losing," Diggs said, "but you have to be realistic. We have a long, long way to go. Right now I get excited about the little things. Like scoring three touchdowns in a game. I'm tickled to death by that. Now if we can only keep from getting the extra points blocked."

His job is one that put lines on his predecessor's faces. But Diggs refuses to blame the incomplete facilities or shortage of scholarships or lack of money or, well, any of the traditional excuses at Morgan.

His voice just goes up. And up. And up. The sound of Morgan rising up off the floor.

"It's going to be tough for a while," he said, "but we can win. We've already contacted 500 recruits. We're moving. There's more than enough here for us to have a chance to win. There is. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just wrong."

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