He's taking over a football program that hasn't had a winning season in 11 years, but new Morgan State coach Ricky Diggs -- ever the optimist -- looks at the upcoming season without apprehension.
"Any time you take over a program, you like to take one that's down," Diggs said yesterday. "That way, any improvement looks like a whole lot."
It won't take much to improve on Morgan's 1-10 record of last season, but Diggs said his expectations will be beyond two wins for the Bears, who open practice today in preparation for the Aug. 31 opener against North Carolina A&T.
"People around here are excited about the organization, excited about the enthusiasm and excited about what we can possibly achieve here," Diggs said. "But there are some reservations. People want to see if we're for real."
By the end of the next week, preseason camps for all the state college football teams will be under way, but the coach with the biggest challenge may be Diggs. He is trying to rebuild a team whose only win last year came in the season finale, 2-0 over Cheyney State. The Bears averaged 21.9 rushing yards (opponents averaged 155.9), scored 81 points all season (the high game was 15), were shut out three times and were the victims of 14 blocked punts.
Morgan State administrators are banking on Diggs' winning ways rubbing off on the team. Before arriving at Morgan, Diggs was the wide receivers coach at Air Force for one season, and spent six years at South Carolina, where he coached running backs and wide receivers.
Improvements are already evident at Morgan's Northeast Baltimore campus. When Diggs arrived in the spring, kickers had to go to the main stadium to practice field goals because there were no goal posts on the practice field. Goal posts since have been installed on the practice field, and seven-man sleds and chutes have been added.
"We have what we need in order to make a good start, and the university is committed to us," Diggs said. "We have the essentials, and things are moving on."
Now, Diggs has to put together a team of capable players. All 11 offensive starters return, but that unit is coming off a season in which it gained 942 yards rushing -- and lost 701.
At spring practice, Diggs said he was disappointed in the shape of some of his larger players, and is hoping those problems are corrected when the squad takes the field today.
"After spring practice, they took heed when they learned that being overweight was not an advantage," Diggs said. "I think they realize coming back here that way would not be in their best interests."
Not having been in contact with the athletes over the summer -- with the exception of those who remained in the area -- Diggs said he doesn't quite know what to expect.
"It's way too early," Diggs said. "The players are now just getting accustomed to us and what we expect of them.
"But I am encouraged with the change of some of their work habits and the time they put into preseason preparation. I'm very optimistic, and I can't wait to get started. It's going to be an interesting season."