The theme of the 2003 Morgan State football program is "Unfinished Business," a reference to an improvement upon the rejuvenation that took place last season when the team registered its first winning record since 1979.
In pursuit of that goal, the business of replacing record-setting tailback T.J. Stallings will be entrusted to a committee chaired by senior Isaiah Long with junior William DeShazo, freshman transfer Craig Nelson and freshman Sheldon Campbell serving as the members.
"We'll do the same thing there that we do with our quarterbacks [rotate them]," said coach Donald Hill-Eley. "We'll have competition among all four guys, and the best will get the reps. That helps your practice tempo and shows depth. But Isaiah will lead us off."
Hill-Eley faced the identical situation after 2001, when he stepped into the coaching job without All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference runner Ali Culpepper, who gained 2,727 career yards for the Bears. No true tailbacks remained, except the diminutive DeShazo, who had missed the previous season with an injury.
The staff had to depend on all-purpose player Stallings (Randallstown), another small back who proved amazingly durable and effective, gaining 1,169 net rushing yards behind Morgan's giant offensive line. Stallings became a Black College All-American after scoring 23 touchdowns, including five against Howard.
Now, no one will have to carry that much of a load, though Long, who was converted from quarterback in midseason last year, has the inside track to be the feature attraction.
Nicknamed "The Lord's Prayer" because of his faith, Long attended Suitland High in Prince George's County and Division III Waynesburg College before sitting out a year, then walking on to the Morgan program. He had a fling at quarterback last season, throwing one incomplete pass, before spelling Stallings with 36 carries for 236 yards. At 6 feet 1 and 210 pounds, he has the best combination of size and speed among the candidates.
"I expect my role to be a team leader through example," he said. "We have a rotation that works for us, different guys who can do a lot of different things. I think we accomplished a lot in training camp and will jell. The beauty of our team is that everybody is going to get his day."
A quarterback for his entire playing life, Long added that he had to adjust to becoming a runner because "the hits you take are a lot different. At quarterback, you always look to preserve your body; at running back you have to deliver blows as well as take them."
The other veteran, DeShazo, has blinding speed that he used to gain 574 all-purpose yards, primarily as a leading kickoff and punt returner. "We've got a role situation," said the 5-8, 170-pound scatback. "I expect to get pretty decent time."
Nelson left Kent State without playing because he balked at a shift to cornerback. He left Christ the King High in New York with several track records and runs 100 meters in 10.6 seconds and 55 in 6.45. He transferred to Morgan because of the team's resurgence and the location.
"I realize I have a lot of years left, so playing time is not a problem for me," he said. "I came to give this team an extra pickup."
Like Culpepper, Campbell is a bruising 225-pound back who is Forest Park's all-time leading rusher. His junior and senior years, he combined for 3,329 yards and 52 touchdowns. But he struggled with his SAT scores, denying him any chance to play at Division I-A.
"My role now is to give a spark off the bench," he said. "Next year, I'll be looking to be starting and be a feature back. I'm looking to break all of Ali's records."
The variety in this group will give Morgan's opposition plenty to worry about in defensive preparation.
"We've got guys who can run around you or run over you," Hill-Eley said. "Having them all ready will take the pressure off them. This generation has trouble handling the good, then the bad, things that come with being a starter. We're going to alleviate that and make everybody a No. 1."
When:Saturday, 7 p.m.
Radio:WEAA (88.9 FM), WTMD (89.7 FM)
Bears at a glance
Coach: Donald Hill-Eley (second season, 7-5)
Last year: 7-5, 5-3
Conference: Division I-AA Mid-Eastern Athletic
Radio: WEAA (88.9 FM)
Stadium: Hughes (10,000)
Offense: Multiple pro
Top returning players: QB Lejominick Washington, QB Bradshaw Littlejohn, PK-P Jonathan Voroshilin, LB Albert Gamble, G Yannick Boka, DT Jason Whaley, S Thomas Potts, WR Kelvin Dickens
Top newcomers: RB Craig Nelson, LB Sydney Baskins, LB Vincent Brown, G Curtis Bradley, WR Chris Barnes
Strengths: High-level confidence has returned to Morgan after a 6-1 run through the stretch last season. The Bears are big and seasoned with 42 lettermen, including 18 starters, back. Depth is available at nearly every position, thanks to returning players and transfers.
Weaknesses: The Bears had difficulty stopping big plays by the opposition and allowed more than 40 points four times. The schedule is tough from the start with Hampton and Bethune-Cookman, the two teams picked ahead of them in the preseason MEAC poll, away from home.
Strongest opponent: Bethune-Cookman. The Wildcats have QB Allen Suber, the MEAC Player of the Year, back for a defense of the league title. Suber passed and ran for more than 1,000 yards each and has the home-field advantage this time.
Key game: Hampton. This matchup at the Meadowlands precedes the trip to Bethune-Cookman and will begin to define the season. The Pirates will be out to atone for a 52-42 loss in last year's finale that was not as close as the score would indicate.
- Kent Baker
Aug. 30: Towson, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6: at Florida A&M;, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13: South Carolina State, 1 p.m.
Sept. 27: vs. Hampton in East Rutherford, N.J., 2 p.m.
Oct. 4: at Bethune-Cookman, 2 p.m.
Oct. 11: North Carolina A&T;, 1 p.m.
Oct. 18: Howard, 1 p.m.
Oct. 25: at Delaware State, 1 p.m. Nov. 1: at Savannah State, 1 p.m.
Nov. 8: Maine, 1 p.m.
Nov. 22: Norfolk State, 1 p.m.
Aug. 31: at Gardner-Webb, L, 28-24
Sept. 5: at Towson, L, 49-28
Sept. 14: Florida A&M;, L, 34-16, in Cincinnati
Sept. 21: Monmouth, W, 35-20
Oct. 5: Bethune-Cookman, L, 41-27
Oct. 12: at North Carolina A&T;, W, 30-13
Oct. 19: at Howard, W, 38-20
Oct. 26: Delaware State, W, 35-28, OT
Nov. 2: Morris Brown, W, 42-41, OT
Nov. 9: at Norfolk State, L, 17-14
Nov. 16: at South Carolina State, W, 23-12
Nov. 23: at Hampton, W, 52-42