Pendergrass' return boosts Morgan State

Senior seeks health, leading role on defense

College Football

September 08, 2000|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

In Phillip Pendergrass' perfect world, he wouldn't be sitting in an office at Hill Field House, speculating on the prospects of another "we'll see" season for the Morgan State football team.

The defensive tackle, who stands 6 feet 4 and weighs 280 pounds, would have played the full 1999 season and graduated in May, and would have spent the summer most anywhere but his hometown of Wilmington, Del.

"I'm more of an independent person here," said Pendergrass, in that office at Hill Field House, predicting great things for a Morgan State football program hoping for its first winning season in more than two decades.

His presence for this fall comes courtesy of a season-ending ankle injury last season that gave him another year of eligibility. It has been a blessing for a defensive line that needed experience and leadership, and has been one of the pleasant surprises during Morgan State's camp.

"We haven't gone against any opponents yet, but ... I'm pleased with the performance so far," said defensive coordinator Roger Casiani, who at the same time hinted that Pendergrass' time in the season opener against Florida A&M - a game in which his speed would be necessary, but he will be limited because of questions about his mobility.

"He's stronger than ever," teammate and linebacker Justin Patton said. "He's just got to work on his movement a little more."

The Pendergrass motion - a work in progress - was hindered when, while lined up across from an offensive guard, a Bethune Cookman tackle crossed over and chop-blocked him from the side. His leg never moved, and his ankle turned over.

"It was like `wow, I've never been injured before,' " Pendergrass said, recounting his initial thoughts after the hit, early in the 1999 season's second game.

Only nausea set in by the time official word of his season's end came, turning him from starter to cheerleader during a 2-8 campaign.

The redshirt year gave Pendergrass another year to graduate in Information Systems. He would figure out what his coaches were talking about and chafe less at head coach Stanley Mitchell, who had come to be seen as something of a martinet during that first fall camp. And he gained a certain appreciation of the game he hopes to take a professional stab at once he gets through playing in Northeast Baltimore.

Computer programming also interests Pendergrass, but the recent proliferation of different football leagues lends credence to his resolve to chase his dream. "I want to play some sort of football," he says.

Pendergrass' leadership comes from this zest. It fills a void left because three of last year's defensive linemen - Carl Carter, Carlos Mitchell and Larry Tucker - are gone.

Mitchell believes that this is perhaps the senior's greatest value to the team so far, motivating younger players to keep going during the two-session days that ended early last week.

"He's taken on a piece that a senior should take on," Mitchell said. "He's been through the wars, and when he's not in, he's coaching those [younger] guys, and encouraging them."

Now that Pendergrass is back, the question now at hand is whether the extra year on the field will be worth his time. Once again, there is the history of 42 victories in 20 seasons seen through the rose-colored glasses of possibility and talent that should perhaps produce more.

Pendergrass is banking on the latter, even with the struggle of playing eight of 11 games on the road, and none of them at Morgan State's home field, Hughes Stadium.

"It's going to be tough, but we're used to it because of last year," he says of a season in which the team played seven of its ten games on the road. "If everyone does their own job, we'll be successful."

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