Morgan State's Nathan Ayers was supposed to go outside to have his picture taken. Then the monsoon struck yesterday afternoon. Ayers and the rest of the Golden Bears couldn't go outside to play.
It seems as if it's always raining on the Morgan State football program.
And Ayers knows how it feels to get caught in a downpour, even if he escaped the one yesterday. In his first two seasons, he was the Golden Bears' most consistent running back. His 1989 campaign was cut short by injuries, and when preparation for this year began, Ayers' name popped up on the defensive side of the depth chart, at linebacker.
Morgan State coach Ed Wyche said, "I'd prefer Ayers answer that," and the player's explanation probably didn't please all of his teammates.
"After the injuries I had last year," Ayers said, "I didn't want to rely on the offensive line keeping me from getting hurt. That's basically why I wanted to move to defense."
Ayers, a 5-foot-11, 210-pounder, will be running the ball again tomorrow (2 p.m.), when Morgan State plays its homecoming game at Hughes Stadium against Delaware State (4-2). How far he will run is the question.
Of the 193 teams that play Division I-A and I-AA football, only Murray State (24) and Austin Peay (40), have scored fewer than Morgan State's 44 points. No team has yielded as many points as the Bears' total of 304. Those numbers have added up to an 0-7 record and are why Morgan State is listed last among the 193 teams in the computer rankings that run each week in USA Today.
After compiling a 4-6-1 record last year, the Golden Bears have reverted to the form they showed in 1984-87, when they went 2-36.
Silver linings? Try Ayers' return to offense.
Morgan State lost to Virginia Union 48-15 last week, but it was its best offensive game of the season. Ayers played tailback for the second straight game and his 68 yards rushing on 24 carries were seasonal highs for a beleaguered offense that has struggled to establish any consistency.
Ayers also had a 58-yard touchdown run wiped out by a penalty, and gave his teammates a visible lift. The Golden Bears, who have an entirely rebuilt offensive line and an assortment of freshmen quarterbacks, are averaging fewer than 99 yards a game in total offense, but they gained 187 against Virginia Union.
"He [Ayers] is an entirely different football player now," Wyche said. "He's a fine running back, but we had holes at linebacker this season and he wanted to play defense. Sometimes you have to let things happen on their own."
Ayers had experience on both sides of the ball at Dunbar High, where he was a two-time All-Metro linebacker. He was strictly an offensive player for Morgan State, however. He led the Golden Bears in rushing as a freshman, and was second on the team in rushing and receptions as a sophomore.
He was adding to the career numbers before sustaining a season-ending knee injury against North Carolina A&T in the fourth game of the 1989 season. The Golden Bears were 3-0-1 at that point. Coincidence or not, with Ayers on the sideline, they went into a six-game losing streak. Those ways spilled into this year; the Golden Bears have won just one of their last 14 games.
Morgan State officials said that Ayers received a medical redshirt for the 1989 season, and that he's a junior in terms of eligibility.
With an extra year to play with, Ayers spent spring practice at outside linebacker and got his first start Sept. 22 at old nemesis North Carolina A&T. That 49-0 A&T rout was the first of three straight shutouts suffered by the Golden Bears' offense. The following week Ayers volunteered to go back to offense.
"Defense wasn't the team's problem," Ayers said. "After the Morehead State game [three weeks ago], I saw we were running the ball more, and I thought I'd be better off trying to help the offense. I could've made a difference earlier if we were running the ball, but we started off the season with a passing offense.
"My first couple of years, I was a running back, but I spent most of my time running pass patterns. Now, we're running the ball more. I like that."