By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
Conference media day is the time when wolf tickets are sold and targets are placed on teams who are on top even when evidence suggests there figures to be a dropoff after transcendent seasons. When the CIAA held its preseason football media kickoff in Roanoke, VA last week, either head coaches and sports information directors showed the reigning conference champions a healthy dose of respect, or placed a firm bullseye on their jersey.
After winning the first conference championship in school history and despite losing a slew of contributors to the greatest era since they started playing football at the Prince George’s County’s HBCU program, Bowie State was again selected to finish on top of the northern division and win the CIAA championship again. It marks the third consecutive year the Bulldogs are the mark everyone has to shoot for, and it remains to be seen if they can live up to the lofty expectations.
“Being preseason pick number one is a testament to what we were able to accomplish last year,” said head coach Damon Wilson. “My players and staff have done a great job on and off the field trying to improve the brand of football we play.”
Wilson is confident in where the program is right now and appears to be embracing the challenge of retooling as his team heads into a significant transition. However, it can’t be underscored enough how the Bulldogs will have to win as a team and play a consistent full 60 minutes since they can no longer rely on an all-time, once in a lifetime player, to rally them in games where they were on the verge of losing for the last two years.
Without the record-setting quarterback Amir Hall, the offense faces an extensive overhaul. Hall was the type of player who could will his team to victory when they faced double digit deficits throughout his career. He had the unique ability that great players have to tap into the will of his teammates and break the will of his opponents.
However, he was not alone. Heading into the 2018 season, five BSU players were on the CIAA’s preseason all conference team. This year there are only three. Both Hall and his primary target Lansana Sesay were both selected to the conference watch list then earned regular season all-CIAA honors After justifying those prognostications neither returns this year. The Bulldogs have only one offensive player – receiver Montez Clay – who is expected to be among the CIAA’s elite once the season ends. Clay was a second-team all-conference player last year and without Sesay and Hall, it will be harder for him to have the same impact as he did in 2018.
Wilson, who is by nature a defensive coach, allowed his offense to be the playing personality of the team for the last two years. However, the defense is what BSU may hang their hat on this season. They will be anchored by a pair of returning first team defensive linemen – Oluwaleke Ajenifuja and Joshua Pryor – who will be counted on to dominate the line of scrimmage.
“Our goal is to finish number one at the end of the season,” said Wilson, who now enters his 11th year. “In order to accomplish that, we must continue to work to improve each day.”