It has been a haunting refrain for Morgan State's football fortunes in recent years: Another opening, another show, another coach, all aglow; another opening, another show, lots more losses, all in a row.
For a school that has not had much to cheer about since its 1979 NCAA Division II playoff entry, even glimmers of hope are greeted with optimism. And that's what new head coach Ricky Diggs brings to Morgan State football this fall -- a sense of excitement.
The Bears will open their 11-game season today against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rival North Carolina A&T. Game time at Hughes Stadium is 1:30 p.m.
If there is one word that characterizes this team so far it is discipline. The players are responding positively to a strict regimen, something that has not characterized a Morgan team in the past decade. The players also are thrilled that their offensive and defensive schemes are the same in the fall as they were in the spring. For the veterans, this is a new experience.
"This team has already come a long way," Diggs said the other day. "At the end of spring practice, I was not thrilled with anybody. They took the warning and came back in better shape and with better work habits than they had before.
"It's a matter of mental, as well as physical, conditioning, and some of the players who were with us in the spring aren't here anymore. We're going with a run-and-shoot offense and multiple defenses, and we're going to live and die with what we believe."
Sophomore David Partin returns as the starting quarterback because, in Diggs' words, "he has the best understanding what we are trying to do." A year ago, Partin completed 76 passes in 200 attempts for 831 yards and four touchdowns.
Glenny Moore, 6 feet 2, 190 pounds, back for a final year after missing last season because of injury, will draw most of the attention among receivers. Now one of two slotbacks, the two-time All-MEAC selection caught 41 passes for 637 yards and eight touchdowns two years ago. Other starters include wide receivers Walter Bland and Tony James, who combined for 32 receptions last year, and all-purpose runner Sean Nelson, who will start at a second slotback. Senior runner Nathan Ayers returns as a starting back.
The offensive line, headed by fourth-year starter James Ledbetter at tackle, averages 6-2 and 260, with four seniors and a sophomore. The defensive front includes massive sophomore Matthew Steeple (6-3, 275) but is inexperienced. Senior Reno Lucas (80 tackles, two sacks last year) is the key linebacker.
The secondary has two outstanding veterans, senior Robert Johnson and junior Eddie Hill. Johnson, a two-time All-MEAC selection, had 66 tackles and three interceptions a year ago and was complemented by Hill, 47 tackles, five interceptions. The two will be joined by returnees, sophomore Mario Rivers and junior James Pitt.
Michael Andrews returns as the punter/place-kicker. A year ago, behind shaky protection, he had 14 punts blocked, but did have a longest of 54 yards. He was second in scoring with nine points for a team that averaged slightly more than seven.
"On offense, it's going to be a wide-open attack with lots of motion," Diggs said. "We're going to take some chances, but we're going to bring some excitement. Defensively, we're going to play ball on the opponent's side of the line. There'll be a lot of stunting and blitzing, not sitting back and waiting for something to happen."
Morgan State facts and figures
Coach: Ricky Diggs (first year)
Last year's record: 1-10
Key player offense: QB David Partin
Key player defense: LB Reno Lucas
Player to watch: WR Glenny Moore
Toughest game: North Carolina A&T (today)
Easiest game: Bethune-Cookman (Sept. 14)
Pivotal game: Norfolk State (Sept. 7)
Today -- North Carolina A&T, 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 -- at Norfolk State, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 -- at Bethune-Cookman, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 -- at Youngstown State, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 -- at Northern Iowa, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 -- South Carolina State, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 -- Virginia Union, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 -- at Delaware State, 1 p.m.
Nov. 2 -- at Florida A&M, 2 p.m.
Nov. 9 -- Western Illinois, 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 16 -- Howard, 1 p.m.
North Carolina A&T at Morgan State Site: Hughes Stadium, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: WEAA (88.9 FM)
Series record: Morgan State leads, 30-23-1
Outlook: North Carolina A&T, a preseason MEAC favorite, returns 19 of 22 starters from a team that had a school-record log of 9-2 and finished No. 20 in the final national Division I-AA poll. Senior QB Connell Maynor, last year's MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, returns as the national leader in passing efficiency. The defensive line is huge, with Reggie White (6-4, 275 pounds), Knox Thompson (6-4, 300) and Mike Gilchrist (6-4, 300). Morgan State, a 49-0 loser to the Aggies during a 1-10 1990 campaign, is looking for a fresh start with new coach Ricky Diggs, who is indoctrinating a veteran team with new offensive and defensive systems.