Ledbetter is key to Bowie's betterment

September 03, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

Tracy Ledbetter has tossed aside too many offensive linemen and dropped too many ball carriers to go unnoticed.

Recognition isn't the problem for Ledbetter, who begins his final year at Bowie State today, when the Bulldogs open the season against visiting Elizabeth City State. After a stellar junior year in which Ledbetter emerged as the foundation of a defense that helped the Bulldogs taste a little respectability, people paid closer attention to the 6-foot-3, 250-pound end.

Ledbetter is no longer just a good player on a team that thinks it's ascending after a recent downward spiral. He is Tracy Ledbetter, All-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association performer and Division II preseason All-American.

"Football is not made for everybody, and I've worked a good, long four years for this. At least the conference is looking at me and saying, 'Hey, this guy can play,' " said Ledbetter, of Alexandria, Va. "But to me, [recognition] is not that important. What's important is getting that first win on Saturday."

And what's important for Bowie is that Ledbetter pick up where he left off last year, which he ended with a team-high 88 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.

On the surface, the Bulldogs' 3-6-1 season was forgettable. When first-year coach Sherman Wood was hired late in the spring of 1993, he had little time to recruit and no time to organize a spring practice. Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs, 1-10 the year before, started the season disorganized and low on depth, then got demoralized by four straight losses -- by a combined score of 106-15.

Then, things got interesting. The Bulldogs came to life, with the defense supplying the lift, going 3-1-1 in the next five games. During that stretch, when Ledbetter played some of his best ball, the defense surrendered only 48 points. By season's end, Bowie State had the third-best defense in the 11-team CIAA.

"When we talk about leadership,with Tracy it's the way he carries himself on and off the field," Wood said. "The kids idolize him. He isn't a rah-rah person, but he gets the job done. He's probably in the best shape of his life."

Shawn Hamilton, a senior defensive tackle who played in two state championship games at Havre de Grace High School and is still looking for his first winning collegiate season, has grown up with Ledbetter at Bowie State.

"Tracy has been a good influence on me," Hamilton said. "As a defensive line, we believe in each other. Coach Wood wants our defense to come after people, and we plan on carrying the team. We don't want to sit back and watch Tracy."

Ledbetter, one of seven returning starters on defense, leads the four-man front that will dictate largely how the Bulldogs' season will unfold. They must contain the run, and their pass rush must take pressure off a secondary that has absorbed the loss of all-conference performers Dwayne Zackery and Gary Beckford.

The linebacking corps will be anchored by Tony Drummond and fast-improving sophomore Vincent Young. And in the backfield, Division II preseason All-American Chris Banks will play a crucial role at free safety. Last year, Banks picked off a team-high six passes, broke up nine more and tied Ledbetter with a team-high 54 solo tackles.

The offense, which returns eight starters, is where the Bulldogs must make the biggest strides. Bowie State averaged only 3.3 yards per play last year, spending fewer minutes on the field than the defense. Wood hopes his aggressive recruiting -- he brought in 40 new recruits and doubled the number of offensive linemen to 14 -- will bolster the unit.

The starting line, led by 310-pound left tackle Brandon Flowers, averages 285 pounds. It is complemented by speed at the skill positions. Running backs Craig Mitchell (5.1-yard average last year) and Monte Bennett run 4.5-second 40-yard --es, as does wide receiver Thomas Destry.

The key is the development of junior quarterback Darrell Foote, an elusive runner who needs to improve his passing touch. He completed only 38.5 percent of his passes last year and threw for nine interceptions and three touchdowns.

But without another tenacious showing by the defense, the Bulldogs will have to wait at least one more year for a winning season. For starters, Ledbetter needs to show the preseason prognosticators they were right about him.

"The younger guys are looking up to me," he said. "I've got to out and do the things I'm supposed to do."

Wednesday: Morgan State.

BOWIE STATE AT A GLANCE

Coach: Sherman Wood (one year, 3-6-1).

Conference: Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

Last year: 3-4-1 in CIAA, 3-6-1 overall.

Stadium: Bulldog (6,000).

Offense: Multiple.

Defense: Split 4.

Top returning players: RB Craig Mitchell, OT Brandon Flowers, G Arthur Wigfall, WR Thomas Destry, DE Tracy Ledbetter, S Chris Banks, DT Perry Briggs, DT Shawn Hamilton.

Top newcomers: DE Nate Sommerville, OL Mike Moir, WR Mike Gordon.

Strengths: A veteran defensive line, solid secondary and speed at RB and WR.

Weaknesses: An unproven QB, an unproven kicker, and an offensive line that could not sustain drives last year.

Strongest opponent: New Haven.

Key game: Elizabeth City State.

Prediction: By dropping Hampton from their schedule, increasing the roster size by nearly 40 percent since last year and returning a defense that looks solid, the Bulldogs have put themselves in position for a winning season. A breakthrough season by junior QB Darrell Foote probably will ensure it.

BOWIE STATE SCHEDULE

Date Opponent .. ... .. Time

Sept. 3 Eliz. City State 1

Sept. 10 at W.Va. Wesleyan 1:30

Sept. 17 at Livingstone 1:30

Sept. 24 Virginia State 1

Oct. 1 Virginia Union (H) 1

Oct. 8 at J.C. Smith 1:30

Oct. 15 at Winston-Salem 1:30

Oct. 29 at Fayetteville St. 1:30

Nov. 5 New Haven 1

Nov. 12 West Liberty 1

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