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Sports

Bouncing back from 'rock bottom'
JCSU rallies to close season with flourish
 
Published Tuesday, November 6, 2012 1:45 pm
by Herbert L. White

A month ago Johnson C. Smith football was in disarray.

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PHOTO/CURTIS WILSON
Johnson C. Smith football coach Steve Aycock (left) credits his players' loyalty with producing a four-game win streak to close the regular season.


Four games later, the Golden Bulls are one of the CIAA’s hottest teams.


JCSU was 2-4 after a 63-7 mauling by Winston-Salem State on Oct. 6. The defense was in shambles, the offense mistake-prone. But the Golden Bulls rallied to finish the regular season with a four-game win streak for the first time since 1996.


“We started bad when we went 0-2, then we went through a slump when we lost to Lincoln, then Winston-Salem,” senior running back Dedrick Anderson said.  “That was rock bottom, but it’s amazing how we bounced back from that with the four wins in a row. It felt great. It was a lot of adversity, but I’m proud of my team for overcoming it.”


Said head coach Steve Aycock: “This is an opportunity these kids made happen for us. They stayed loyal to me, they stayed loyal to the program, they stayed loyal to the coaches and they did what we asked. …These kids have a bright future.”


They also produced a bit of history with back-to-back winning campaigns for the first time since 1973. While getting to that point looked unlikely after six games, no one panicked.


“I knew we could finish strong after leaving Winston,” he said. “I’m excited and proud for all my guys and especially the university having two consecutive winning seasons.”


JCSU had another motivation. The Golden Bulls were picked to finish fifth in the South division by league coaches, despite finishing 6-5 in 2011 with a Pioneer Bowl win. The players took it as a slight.


“I hope they give us more respect next year to move us up in the rankings,” sophomore quarterback Keahn Wallace said. “I want to be ranked in the top two because we work hard enough, so we should be ranked that high. To work hard and still be ranked low, it’s like a slap in the face. I just hope they rank us 1 or 2 – it doesn’t matter.”


 “When they picked us to finish eighth (overall) at the roundup, it was very disappointing to the kids and they had something to prove to themselves,” Aycock said. “We don’t worry about naysayers and people outside our circle because that can be a distraction for these guys. They hung in there and stayed committed to what we wanted to do and let our work speak for itself.”


The Golden Bulls spoke loud and clear down the stretch. The defense, which was pounded for 55 points by Lincoln (Pa.) the week before the WSSU debacle, didn’t allow more than 21 points over the final four games. The offense took better care of the ball over and produced a record-setting season for Wallace and 1,000-yard rusher in Anderson, the first Golden Bull to break that barrier since Tyrone Corlew in 1991.


“We broke so many records this year, it just felt great as a team,” said Anderson, a senior. “We have a powerful offense, and it showed.”
The Golden Bulls are holding out hope for another chance to show their capabilities. If North Division champion Elizabeth City State makes the NCAA Division II playoffs along with No. 2-ranked WSSU, the Golden Bulls and Chowan would be considered for the Pioneer Bowl. If not, their focus has already shifted to 2013.


“We’ve got to stay focused on what we have in here,” Aycock said. “We’re getting back on recruiting hard. It looks good on a board, but we’ve got to coach these guys up and get them ready for winter workouts.”


Said Wallace, who finished with a school-record 2,280 yards passing: “I hope we get in” the Pioneer Bowl, “but if not I hope we get the respect we earned because in the beginning of the season they predicted us to finish eighth but now we’ve proved them wrong two years in a row.”

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