Otis Covington has to go back a ways to remember the last time he was a starting quarterback -- clear to junior high school. Since then, his primary task has been catching the football, not throwing it.
He could be catching some heat this fall. Covington, a 6-foot-1 senior from Capitol Heights, will be taking the snaps for Morgan State in Saturday's season opener against Central (Ohio) State. And the stage for his debut is a large one, with the game being played at Ohio State University.
His quarterback resume is much smaller. He attempted one pass as a freshman, and four as a junior.
And yet, Covington remains calm and confident about the new assignment, even though he's being yanked from a position where he made 30 receptions last year for 520 yards and two touchdowns, and tied an NCAA record with a 99-yard reception.
And even though the man he's replacing, Michael Moore, set nine school records.
"I just want to help the team win," Covington said. "Of course, there's a small sense of loss at not being a receiver anymore, but I'll do anything to help improve the team. They felt it was the best thing for the team, so I had no problem with it.
"I can make a lot happen with the ball in my hands. I can be a playmaker."
The switch didn't come as a complete shock to him. Covington, whose backup is sophomore Justin Washington, was told by then-coach Ricky Diggs during winter workouts that a move might be forthcoming. And Stump Mitchell, who was promoted from offensive coordinator in December to replace Diggs, didn't scrap the plan, he embraced it.
"Earlier in spring ball, it wasn't going too well," Mitchell said. "Otis felt he had to be our savior. The reason I wanted to move him to quarterback was, when he was running our scout team, he showed he was a leader. I told Otis what I needed was the Otis who ran the scout team in order for us to be successful. He relaxed, and his last couple of practices and scrimmages he did a tremendous job and gave us a good feeling for what's going to happen this season.
"His arm isn't as strong as we would like, but he hasn't been playing that position. He doesn't have a cannon, but he makes smart decisions, which is the most important thing for us."
Covington's go-to receiver will be 5-10 junior Na'im Greene, who began last season at running back. Also Morgan's top return specialist, Greene had 34 receptions for 338 yards and one touchdown. Two freshmen and a sophomore transfer look promising, but the Bears will miss Elijah Cameron (51 catches, 807 yards, six touchdowns).
There isn't a workhorse-type back for Covington to hand off to, especially since Andre Thomas' eligibility ran out, but Mitchell is hopeful that one will emerge from a group of candidates that includes punishing junior Fred Jenkins, a 6-1, 195-pound transfer from Glendale (Calif.) Junior College. He's being challenged by, among others, seniors Daryl Ray and Wesley Greene and junior Moses Cody, a transfer from Cohoma (Ariz.) Junior College.
They'll be running behind an offensive line with just one returning starter, sophomore left guard Archie Glass. Junior center Kamar Brooks (Woodlawn) provides some experience, and two newcomers should make an immediate impact -- 6-8, 330-pound sophomore left tackle Willie Jones, a transfer from Central Florida who the coaches think has the potential to become an All-American, and 290-pound guard/tackle Steve Pena, a transfer from Central Arizona. Another candidate is freshman Mike Jones (Mervo).
The defense has ranked at the bottom of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the last five years, but Mitchell said that won't continue. Only one starter is gone, and senior linebacker Levi Baucom, the MEAC's second-leading tackler two seasons ago, returns after being red-shirted last fall because of a broken thumb.
The secondary benefits from the addition of 5-11 strong safety Levar Patterson, who transferred from the University of Arizona. The defensive line includes 255-pound Willie Thompson, who was second in tackles despite playing in only eight games.
"We've got more depth and that'll help us stay in games," said linebacker James Hall, the Bears' leading tackler last season with 113. "Before, we'd hold teams off, but it would take a toll. Now, we're stronger, we've got more wind."
"We've brought in some guys who can legitimately compete," said defensive coordinator Melvin Spears. "We think we can get the job done. We've got a number of quality players. We've got guys who can run and we've got big guys who can play up front."
Senior Shane Griffiths again will be the place-kicker, and he also may have to do the punting. Morgan, which has two years left on its probation, has more speed and depth than in recent years. But will that translate into the first winning season since 1979, which would be a drastic improvement over last year's 1-10 record?
"Once the offense gets going," Covington said, "there's no telling what we can do."
Morgan at a glance
Coach: Stump Mitchell (1st season)
Last year: 1-10, 0-6 MEAC
Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Radio: WEAA (88.9 FM)
Stadium: Hughes (10,000)
Top returning players: QB Otis Covington; LB James Hall; LB Levi Baucom; LG Archie Glass; SE Na'im Greene; RB Daryl Ray; PK Shane Griffiths; DE Willie Thompson.
Top newcomers: RB Moses Cody; FB Fred Jenkins; SS Levar Patterson; CB Mike Gardner; LT Willie Jones; WR Ralph Jones; WR Anthony Collins; WR Yoruba Harrison; RG/RT Steve Pena; (( TE/DE Jamie Harness.
Strengths: Experience on defense, where all but one starter return; the linebacking corps, with last year's leading tackler (Hall), and the leading tackler from two seasons ago (Baucom); more speed in the secondary, and more depth overall; a handful of impact transfers; a coaching staff that has gotten the players' attention and respect; the athleticism of Covington.
Weaknesses: Covington's inexperience at QB and the void he leaves at receiver after changing positions; an offensive line with just one starter back; no proven runner; who will do the punting?
Strongest opponent: Liberty is ranked in the Top 10 in Division I-AA polls, but Mitchell says, "they're all tough."
Key game: The first one, against Central (Ohio) State Saturday at Ohio State. Mitchell will find out a lot about his team as it contends with a large crowd and a strong opponent. A good
performance would be a major confidence boost.
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 31 vs. Central St.-x 2
Sep. 14 B.-Cookman 1: 30
Sep. 21 Liberty 1: 30
Sep. 28 at Cheyney 1
Oct. 5 at S. Caro. St. 1: 30
Oct. 19 at N.C. A&T; 1: 30
Oct. 26 Delaware St.-y 2
Nov. 2 Fla. A&M; 3
xTC Nov. 9 at Texas So. 8
Nov. 16 at Howard 1
Nov. 23 Hampton 1
xat Ohio State; yhomecoming
Pub Date: 8/28/96