By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO
The days of disrespect and surprising the rest of the conference are past for Bowie State. What was a basketball school, which played a football season for homecoming as a prelude to tipping off their season in the gym, is now officially gone. The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) knows the Bulldogs are one of the favorites to win the championship and has put a preseason bullseye on them.
With six preseason all-conference players, including the projected player of the year, Bowie State was selected by the football coaches’ association and the conference sports information directors to win the CIAA north division and play for the championship in November. This is healthy praise for a team that plays in the same division as the defending conference champions, the VSU Trojans, who beat them last season on the road to their title.
After two consecutive trips to the CIAA Football Championship Game Bowie State was on the sidelines watching as Virginia State won their division and then beat Fayetteville State to take the trophy back to Petersburg. The Bulldogs finished 2017 9-2 with a 6-1 conference record and their only loss inside the division was to the Trojans. However, they made history by hosting a NCAA Division II national playoff game on campus.
This season, when the CIAA kicks off its four-game national television schedule, Bowie State will be prominently featured. The TV slate opens with the Bulldogs hosting Virginia State on October 13 for their homecoming. One week later they face Virginia Union capping a commonwealth two-step that figures to propel them back to the CIAA championship game or set the grind towards getting back to the postseason tournament.
Bowie State is the marquee attraction to watch during CIAA football this season because arguably the greatest player in school history still has one remaining year of eligibility. Senior quarterback Amir Hall has re-written the Bulldogs record books and looks to build on his award winning junior year where he garnered national attention after a prolific season.
Hall, who won every Black college award named after an HBCU legend in 2017, is expected to continue an iconic career. The understated former Riverdale Baptist quarterback returns after winning the Deacon Jones National HBCU Player of the Year, the Doug Williams National Offensive Player of the Year, the CCA Super Region Offensive Player of the Year and the Washington Legends College Player of the Year.
Last year was a fantasy caliber season for Hall who could’ve easily obliterated the Division II and Bowie State record books had it not been for blowout wins over lower tier opposition where he was pulled from games early. Hall set the single game passing record of 433 yards against St. Augustine’s and tied the school mark for passing touchdowns with five versus Seton Hill. His 450 total yards performance is now the single game black and gold standard while his 41 TD passes is now a single season conference mark. Hall was also named CIAA Quarterback of the Week for each week of the 2017 regular season.
Hall still has a talented stable of weapons at his disposal although most will have to step into bigger roles this year. Senior wide receiver Lansana Sesay was second team all-CIAA in 2017 and should be featured heavily in their passing attack as the first receiving option. Junior place kicker Gene Carson was first team all-CIAA last year after making 12 of 17 field goals attempts and 72 of 77 extra points. Projections for the defensive unit include senior linemen Oluwaleke Ajenifuja and Derrick Tate anticipated as all-conference first team performers along with punt returner William Flowers.