|Can changes lift J.C. Smith Golden Bulls to CIAA football relevance?|
|Overhauled coaching staff, roster kick off season|
|Published Wednesday, September 4, 2019 10:53 am|
|PHOTO | CURTIS WILSON|
|Johnson C. Smith quarterback Antonio Wallace, who struggled through a 2-8 season in 2018, needs to step up in performance and leadership along with his Golden Bulls teammates when the 2019 campaign kicks off Thursday against Wingate.|
Change is everywhere for Johnson C. Smith football.
There’s an expanded core of underclassmen that makes up three-quarters of the Golden Bulls roster.
There’s turnover on the coaching staff, with six new assistants whose experience is predominantly on the collegiate level. Head coach Kermit Blount is calling his own plays. The defensive coordinator, Jeep Hunter, is new.
And there’s the attitude, as in there’s no room for half-stepping for a program that hasn’t turned in a winning season since 2011.
“No theme,” Blount said at the start of fall drills. “We just want to get better.”
The Golden Bulls, who open their season Thursday against Wingate, have struggled under coach Kermit Blount, going 11-29 over four seasons. What’s worse is the wins have become increasingly rare: 4-6 in his first campaign, followed by three victories in 2016 and two each in 2017 and 2018.
Turning the program around means taking on an urgent attitude starting with Wingate, which has beaten the Golden Bulls in every season opener since Blount was named coach. The Bulldogs lead the series all-time with six wins in as many games.
Here are five things to look for on Thursday:
• Build some consistency on the offensive line. This front is young, but more experienced after taking its lumps in 2018. Sophomore center Kenstin Oxendine is back to make the calls, while the most important addition is senior left tackle Alvin Brown, who returns after missing last year. Right tackle Raqwon Niles is another key returning lineman.
Blount is staking his season, and job security, on the line creating space for the running game, something the Golden Bulls haven’t been able to accomplish the last four years.
• Coaching changes. Blount’s offseason overhaul of the staff was swift and aggressive. Hunter is the new defensive coordinator; Blount is calling the offensive signals, which confirms his commitment to a run-first attack.
The changes didn’t stop there. There are several new assistant coaches: Bradley Bush-Johnson (offensive line); John Downing (defensive line); Bryce Jones (secondary); Alex Beards (running backs) and Shawn Barrett (receivers/strength and conditioning).
• Emanuel Wilson’s opportunity to make a difference. JCSU’s most important skill position player might be the 5-11, 210-pound redshirt freshman, who impressed in preseason drills.
Teammates and coaches alike have praised the North Mecklenburg High graduate’s work in the spring and summer, and if the offensive line is up to the task, Wilson will get his share of touches to control the pace.
• Build a culture of leadership. The Golden Bulls have 20 juniors and seniors combined on the roster, which means underclassmen will have to grow up fast.
An obvious candidate is quarterback Antonio Wallace, a South Mecklenburg High grad who is eager to turn last year’s rocky experience as a redshirt freshman into an asset.
A more established leader is senior cornerback Jahvez Mitchell, who spearheads an experienced unit left to make plays in the open field way too often last year.
• Generate more defensive push up front. After allowing 36.2 points per game last year, Hunter’s goal is simple: make dramatic improvement at the line of scrimmage.
Complicating matters is defensive end Sa’Von Williams’ decision not to return, which means junior Jabriel Robinson has to step up. Robinson gained 30 points in the offseason to weigh 250 and Hunter’s shift to three- and four-man lines includes standing the ends up.
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|Posted on September 5, 2019|
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