Morgan knows questions it's seeking the answers

September 07, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

The last time Morgan State had a winning football season, Jimmy Carter was president, the Orioles were American League champions without Cal Ripken, who was in the minor leagues, and Delwyn Garnett had barely begun elementary school.

"This is my last go-round, and I'm eager to get started," said Garnett, Morgan's 5-foot-11, 230-pound senior linebacker. "I want to go out in my last year and win some games. And we have to approach every game like it's the last game of the season."

As the Bears prepare for their season opener Saturday against visiting Bethune-Cookman, there is no shortage of questions about their roster, which has pretty much been the case since 1979, when Morgan State last posted a winning record.

How will the offense, which struck fear into opponents last year, recover from the loss of its entire backfield and its top receiver? Will the beefed-up offensive line, which returns everyone, make coach Ricky Diggs look good for deciding to switch from the run-and-shoot to a pro set? Will Diggs, 3-8 last season and 6-27 after three years, be replaced if the Bears don't make significant progress this fall?

One of the more pressing queries rests with Garnett and his 10 defensive teammates.

Last year's defense, in keeping with the tradition of the Bears defenses of the 1990s, was particularly porous. The Bears allowed an average of 513 yards and 41.4 points -- worst in Division I-AA.

"It was tough and embarrassing last year. What made it so sour was looking at the film on Monday and seeing how teams just ran over us," said Garnett, who was third on the team with 79 tackles. "The burden of this year is going to be on the defense and how well we play."

Key losses will make the burden heavy. All-America tackle Matt Steeple is gone, and sophomore linebacker Greg Lomax and junior cornerback Eric Johnson, two promising players, are academically ineligible this season. Johnson tied for the team lead in interceptions (three) last year and was the Bears' fifth-leading tackler. Lomax was tied for second in sacks (two).

If the defense becomes respectable, three players -- linebacker/safety Anthony Freeman, defensive end Monjah Brown and linebacker Levi Baucom -- will play key roles. Baucom is a 6-2, 225-pound transfer from Butler County (Kan.) Community College who should give the Bears an immediate lift.

The offense has its share of putting up to do. Quarterbacks Orlando Persell and Maurice Chase, running back Tony Phillips and wide receiver Jesse Humphrey, who helped the Bears set 14 individual and team offensive records, are gone.

They leave the heavy duty to an inexperienced backfield. Junior quarterback Michael Moore has played six games over three seasons. Knee and rotator cuff injuries limited him in 1991 and 1992, and he sat out last year with academic troubles. And in Diggs' pro set offense, half back Marchell Boston and fullback Andre Thomas, who totaled 33 carries last year, take over, backed up by newcomer Rickey Dangerfield.

Diggs also is counting on receivers such as senior Bernard Barnes (24 catches, 329 yards in 1993), juniors Chris Ursini (16, 251) and Otis Covington (33, 541) and senior Dante Carter (back after sitting out a year for academic reasons) to replace Humphrey, who set a school record last year with 1,071 yards. Carter and Barnes will start.

"We lost our leading passer, our leading rusher, our leading receiver and our leading tackler, but I'm more excited about this team than any other team that I've had," Diggs said.

"The reason [for optimism] is the attitude of this team," Diggs added. "I've heard more talk from players who believe they can be champions than any team I've had here."

As for his future, Diggs said he isn't worried. He shook his head when asked how an NCAA investigation into alleged violations in Morgan's athletic department -- including the football program -- is affecting his preparation this season.

"This is the most relaxed I've ever been going into a season," Diggs said. "We're headed in the right direction. We don't have any clouds hanging over us."

Tomorrow: Towson State.

MORGAN STATE SCHEDULE

Date .. .. .. .. Opponent .. .. .. .. .. Time

Sept. 10 . .. .. Bethune-Cookman . .. .. 1:30

Sept. 17 . .. .. vs. Grambling* .. .. .. .. 7

Sept. 24 . .. .. Knoxville . .. .. .. .. 1:30

Oct. 1 . . .. .. at Charleston So. .. .. .. 1

Oct. 8 . . .. .. at S.C. State ... .. .. 1:30

Oct. 15 .. .. .. at N.C. A&T .. .. .. .. 1:30

Oct. 22 .. .. .. Del. State (H) .. .. .. .. 2

Oct. 29 .. .. .. at Florida A&M .. .. .. .. 2

Nov. 5 ... .. .. Samford .. ... .. .. .. .. 1

Nov. 12 .. .. .. at Howard U. . .. .. .. .. 1

Nov. 19 .. .. .. at Towson State . .. .. .. 1

* -- at Memorial Stadium

MORGAN STATE AT A GLANCE

Coach: Ricky Diggs (three years, 6-27)

Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic

Last year: 1-5 in MEAC, 3-8 overall

Radio: WEAA (88.9 FM)

Stadium: Hughes (10,000)

Offense: Pro set

Defense: Multiple

Top returning players: WR Bernard Barnes, WR Otis Covington, WR Chris Ursini, LT Jason Stamper, LG Marcus Moore, RG Raynon Barrier, RT Jeffrey Myers, DE Marc Charles, DT Monjah Brown, LB/DB Anthony Freeman, LB Delwyn Garnett

Top newcomers: LB Levi Baucom, QB Michael Moore, WR/RB Rickey Dangerfield

Strengths: A veteran offensive line, a fine corps of receivers, kicking game

Weaknesses: An unproven offensive backfield, defensive backfield

Strongest opponent: Howard

Key game: Bethune-Cookman

Prediction: With the addition of Grambling State and Samford, this is the toughest schedule Diggs has faced. The Bears probably won't win more than two games.

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