After watching the players practice in shirts and shorts, no one was happier to see the Morgan State football team start contact drills than new coach Ricky Diggs.
"We're going to see who the men are right here," said Diggs, who, nearly shouting, displayed a trace of a smile as he addressed the team at the start of fall practice. "If you want to play, you'd better be hungry for it."
Showing an appetite for winning will be one thing for the Bears, but whether they'll be able to satisfy that desire on a football field remains to be seen. For starters, Diggs will have to jump-start a run-and-shoot offense that a year ago spent much of the year repeatedly shooting itself in the foot.
"I didn't pay attention to what happened last year," said Diggs, when asked what he learned from watching tapes of the offense. "It's all about starting over now. We have to forget the past -- it's not going to have anything to do with what we're going to accomplish in the future."
It will be hard to forget the past for Diggs. He wasn't on the Morgan sidelines to witness an offense that averaged just 125 yards per game. But the memories still are in the minds of all 11 returning offensive starters such as senior James Ledbetter, who -- as a lineman -- witnessed first-hand the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's least efficient unit.
"It was a very difficult season," said Ledbetter, 6 feet 5, 260 pounds. "A lot of times the defense played well, and we'd get the ball and go three plays and out. We had a lot of punts blocked and a lot was our fault as a line."
Slot back Glenny Moore, who missed the last nine games of the season after tearing a thigh muscle, said the reason for the 1-10 season was plain and simple.
"Everybody just gave up," said Moore, who has been moved to slot back from wide receiver. "That was the worst season I've ever been involved with. Even though I was sitting, that was the first time I've ever experienced anything like that."
Diggs will have his offense running a multiple pro set, with variations of the run-and-shoot implemented. Sophomore veteran David Partin will be the starting quarterback. "Actually, we have three quarterbacks, and I'd like to use a piece of each," Diggs said. "Right now, though, David Partin has the best understanding of what we are trying to do." Sophomore Orlando Persell and freshman Michael Moore are the backups.
Pointing to his offense, Diggs did not appear too worried about whether the team would be able to execute it.
"It's a matter of them understanding my philosophy and concept of offense," Diggs said. "If they do take care of the little things and do things the way they're coached, they'll find success in the offense. Once I get them to understand, then they will start believing in it. And once they start believing in it, you have half the battle beaten."
Moore is sold on the new offense, which he hopes will help him return to the All-American form he displayed two years ago when he caught 41 passes for 637 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"This offense is explosive," Moore said. "If we execute, we're capable of scoring 30 points a game."
Morgan will get its first test tomorrow against a North Carolina A&T team that blocked four punts and forced six fumbles in a 49-0 win over the Bears in the fourth game of last season. Ledbetter, who looks at that game as the most embarrassing loss, said he and the rest of the offense will be aiming for a bit of redemption.
"We're focusing so much on A&T because if we beat them, it sets the tone for the season," Ledbetter said. "There's a new attitude here. Last year, when you had guys hurt a toe, they'd go into the training room. But we don't have that now. Everybody is ready to play and wants to play."