Transfer quarterback Staley could be 'difference-maker' for retooled Morgan State football program

The tattoo on his left arm — the one that can throw a football 75 yards in the air — reads:

Pain is temporary


Success is forever

That's the mantra Elijah Staley, Morgan State's new quarterback, brings to the Bears. It's one coaches hope rubs off.

Morgan State went 3-8 last year and Staley (6 feet 7, 245 pounds) is seen as the catalyst for change. A redshirt junior, he comes from Mississippi State via Tyler Junior College in Texas. Big and boisterous, Staley is the stepbrother of Patrick Ewing Jr., former NBA player whose father, Patrick Ewing Sr., is a Basketball Hall of Famer.

At Mississippi State, Staley played in just two games, completing three of five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. Denied a starting job, he left.

"I went through a stage where I didn't know what to do next," he said. "But my momma said, 'Keep fightin',' and God answered my prayers."

Despite his turbulent past, Staley said he has settled in at Morgan State, which opens at Towson on Saturday at 6 p.m.

"I walked in here as a leader and the team accepted me as a leader," he said. "I'm here to add my talents; I want to win games. Nobody wants to go 3-8 again."

Certainly not Bears coach Fred Farrier, who welcomed Staley aboard last winter.

"He's a really smart player who understands our concepts and has been super-coachable," Farrier said. "We think he can be a huge difference-maker."

It's Farrier's first year as full-time coach, having shed the interim tag he wore in 2016. His first task was to replace more than half his staff (five of nine assistants) and shift two more to other posts. Those changes — plus graduation losses — weeded out many who questioned his philosophy, the coach said.

"Our mindset is 100 percent better than last year," Farrier said. "Sometimes, you get better by subtraction. It's good to have some contract stability, as well as kids who know now that we'll be here, and who'll buy into what we're doing. It made for a really smooth preseason camp."

Jai Franklin, a junior defensive tackle, is buoyed by the changes he has seen.

"A lot of 'stuff' went on last year. There were fights and not a lot of cohesion," said Franklin, a 280-pound pillar from Clinton in Prince George's County. "We just couldn't get on the same page, and we made dumb mistakes. Coach gave us graphics that showed we were one of the most-penalized teams in the [Football Championship Subdivision]."

Those were the worst of times, the coach agreed. All year, Morgan State floundered after halftime. In 11 games, the Bears mustered only 17 total points in the third quarter and 31 in the fourth.


"We'd come in at halftime and try to make adjustments, but the kids involved would point fingers and say, 'It's your fault' or 'You guys need to score.' It was childish," Farrier said. "Guys were so conflicted and worked up about what all was said in the locker room that, when they came out, they couldn't focus on the task at hand.

"Now. a lot of that dysfunction is no longer on the team, and others have matured and bought into our mindset."

Moreover, Morgan State has established a "buddy system," under which every freshman is assigned an upperclassman at his position as a sounding board.

"Any questions [the freshmen] have, we're there for them," Franklin said. "We can talk to each other much easier now."

Another new twist: To stave off academic woes that have hindered the Bears in the past, most freshmen (between 13 and 15) attended two classes in summer school. Their cumulative GPA for that semester, the coach said, was 3.5.

Morgan State returns five starters on offense, including Herb Walker Jr., a mercurial running back sidelined by grades in 2015 and by a fractured foot much of last year. A redshirt senior, Walker hopes to return to his 2014 form, when he rushed for 1,408 yards, a school record.

Defensively, the Bears bring back 10 players who started at times, including safeties Carl Garnes and Darius Johnson (St. Paul's), whom Farrier calls "as good a combination as there is in the [Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference]."

But it's Staley who'll be in the spotlight Saturday at Towson — and that's fine with the good-natured passer from Marietta, Ga., who has been bonding with teammates ever since his arrival.

"When I got here, the team wasn't that close, which was something I wanted to change," he said. "I'm a clown, I like to make people smile, and I don't like altercations. I'll invite players to my apartment or take them to Red Robin, eat burgers, watch TV there and chill. At the end of the day, if you have the trust of the team, it's hard to be beat."

The Bears have embraced Staley.

"Eli is a cool guy," Franklin said. "He hangs out with us, plays video games and goes to parties. He shares his experiences, yes, but he's not egotistical — and he runs the offense like a pro quarterback."

At Mississippi State, Staley played behind Dak Prescott who, as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys, made the Pro Bowl. At MSU, Staley also played basketball, having been offered scholarships in both sports.

"That's my first love," he said. "If I see basketball players in the [Morgan] gym fooling around, I'll go in and shoot a 3, real quick."

Not that Staley, an All-Georgia first-team basketball player in high school, would switch sports.

"I'm in a good place here," he said. "I'm happy I came. It is kind of surreal seeing myself on [publicity] posters on campus, but even that's pretty cool."

Morgan State at a glance

Coach: Fred Farrier (second season, 3-8 at Morgan)

2016 record: 3-8; seventh in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Expected finish: picked eighth of 11 teams in MEAC preseason poll


Saturday, at Towson, 6 p.m.

Sept. 9, Albany, 1 p.m.

Sept. 16, at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m.

Sept. 23, North Carolina A&T, 7 p.m.

Oct. 6, at South Carolina State, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 14, Savannah State, 1 p.m.

Oct. 21, at Howard, 1 p.m.

Oct. 28, Florida A&M, 1 p.m.

Nov. 4, at Bethune-Cookman, 4 p.m.

Nov. 11, at Delaware State, 2 p.m.

Nov. 18, Norfolk State, 1 p.m.