Since the Morgan State football team captured a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title in 2014 and earned a berth in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the program has finished no higher than sixth in the league. The school has also limped to sub-.500 overall records in each of the past four years and finished with only one .500 mark in the conference.
That recent spell of mediocrity — not an eighth-place showing in the MEAC’s nine-team preseason poll released Friday — is what drives the Bears heading into the 2019 season.
“The preseason poll is nothing but a prediction,” said senior outside linebacker Ian McBorrough, an Eastern Tech graduate. “The team is already motivated and excited about the season. So we don’t really try to focus on stuff like that. I guess we could use it as extra motivation, but the team doesn’t really need any extra motivation. We’re already motivated enough.”
McBorrough’s sentiment was echoed by coach Tyrone Wheatley.
“At the end of the day, people get a chance to do and see things that I see from a different perspective,” he said. “I mean, it’s just an opinion. So I don’t really think anything about it. Really at the end of the day, it’s not so much a prediction, but about how we finish and what we show them that is really the biggest thing about it.”
Morgan State, which wrapped up last fall with an overall record of 4-7 and a league mark of 3-4, was picked to finish ahead of only Delaware State, which went 3-8 and 2-5, respectively. Both schools trail North Carolina A&T, which was tabbed to claim its third consecutive MEAC crown and its fifth in the past six seasons.
The preseason voting likely took into account the departure of four Bears starters each on offense and defense, including left tackle Joshua Miles, who was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL draft, and middle linebacker Damare’ Whitaker, who led the team in tackles.
Another factor might be the debut of Wheatley, the 47-year-old former NFL running back who starred at Michigan and was picked by the New York Giants in the first round of the 1995 draft.
Wheatley, who played four years for New York and six more for the Oakland Raiders, accepted the notion that voters have no idea how he will fare in his rookie season as coach.
“They don’t know what’s in store,” he said. “We had a great spring football, and the guys are working hard. Once again, it’s all predictions, and it’s up to us to go out there and change them. We’re just continuing to work, and really we don’t put any validation or too much into predictions or what others think.”
The Bears return two players named to the preseason All-MEAC first team. Redshirt senior outside linebacker Rico Kennedy finished last season leading the defense in tackles for loss with 10, tying for second in sacks with 4½ and ranking third in tackles with 61. He should get some help from McBorrough, who led the team in sacks (six) and forced fumbles (two) and ranked second in tackles (79) and fumble recoveries (two).
The other Morgan State player chosen to the all-conference first team was sophomore tight end Xavier Gravette. The Nottingham resident and Calvert Hall graduate paced the offense in touchdown catches with five and ranked third in receiving yards (200) and fourth in receptions (18).
McBorrough is part of a senior group that had its best season in 2018. Breaking through is what drives him and his classmates.
“We just want to win a championship. Simple as that,” he said. “We just want to win a championship. The school deserves it. The community of Baltimore deserves it. That’s why we’re motivated.”
Wheatley said he is fine if the players want to use the preseason voting as inspiration — with one caveat.
“The only thing I am concerned about and I tell them this all the time is, ‘Don’t let it get you up too high and don’t let it get you too low,’ ” he said. “Anybody can say what they want to say, but you know who you are and you know what you are. You know what work you put in. So to let someone say you’re going to finish eighth, if that’s who you think you are, that’s who you’re going to be. But if not, let’s go out there and change it.
"So, no, I don’t think they’ll take much stock in it, and if they want to use it as motivation and put it up in the locker room and make people play with a chip on their shoulders, then so be it.”
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Notes: The Bears were represented on the preseason All-MEAC second team by McBorrough, junior cornerback Donte Small and junior left guard Stefan Touani. Morgan State had five players on the third team in redshirt senior strong safety Dominick Trigg, senior running back Josh Chase, redshirt junior right tackle Bruce Trigg, redshirt sophomore defensive end Devan Hebron, and sophomore kicker Nicholas O’Shea. … Norfolk State senior running back Aaron Savage, a Dunbar graduate, found a spot on the third team. … Howard junior quarterback Caylin Newton, the younger brother of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, was tabbed as the league’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year.