Sizing up Towson, Combs pleased Tigers see added heft lifting Patriot chances

August 18, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

It's still early, but Towson football coach Gordy Combs is happy. More significantly, he expects he will have reason to stay that way.

Picked to finish last in the Patriot League, the Tigers might not be ready to contend for a conference title this season, but Combs is confident he won't see a repeat of last season's 2-8 record.

"We do have a strong nucleus with some of our veterans who haven't had an opportunity to play a lot, and with a very athletic incoming class," Combs said.

Ten starters return from last year, including All-Patriot League pick Jason Corle, who ran for 1,075 yards as a sophomore.

Even more encouraging for Combs is the size he sees on the offensive and defensive lines, size that was missing in 1997.

Brian Wronski, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound sophomore, and John Tierney, a 6-7, 270-pound sophomore, are expected to step into the left tackle and guard spots, joining returning offensive line starters Matt Payne (center) and Tony Campitelli (right tackle).

One of the school's goals with its move to the Patriot League was to align itself with some of the higher lights of education and Division I-AA football prowess, such as Colgate and Bucknell.

The first lesson, delivered via season-ending beatings of 34-3 and 33-0: Bring more muscle next time.

"It's a physical league. The two benchmark teams are Bucknell and Colgate, and they both like to run the football," Combs said. "After we'd gone through the Patriot League, we felt that we needed to get bigger. We feel that we've added guys on the left side of the offensive line."

At the skill positions, Kevin Smith and Adam Overby join Corle as key returnees. Smith has 27 career starts, and Overby finished fifth in the league in receiving yardage last season with 564 yards on 39 catches.

On defense, Dannie Ross (nose guard), Jason Birdwell (tackle), and Eric Erhardt return on the line, which Combs sees as perhaps his strongest unit.

Conversely, the linebacking corps lost all of its starters from 1997, and junior cornerback Jabari Garrett will be the only returning starter in the secondary.

Towson's class of newcomers this season will be its second since it was allowed to offer grant-in-aid packages to football players -- allowing it to attract better players. The hope is that with more depth, the team will be able to compete more ably.

"We have a bunch of sophomores in our two-deep roster," Combs said of the first fully funded class. "Last year, we didn't have the depth to play 60 minutes against that caliber of competition."

Pub Date: 8/18/98

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