Seeking reversal, Bears run together

Changes: New coach Donald Hill-Eley has Morgan thinking as a team as it tries to end a string of 22 straight losing seasons.

August 30, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Attitude adjustment.

Those are the bywords for Morgan State, which is striving to overcome a string of losing seasons that began in 1980 and shows no signs of abating.

"We know what we're capable of by working together," said linebacker Albert Gamble, the team's leading tackler in 2001 and fulcrum of the defense. "We have a different outlook from the losing stuff. It's more of a team thing. When changes come, your attitude changes, too."

The implant of the one-for-all concept comes from new head coach Donald Hill-Eley, last year's offensive coordinator, whose unit finished fourth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in total offense.

"We're trying to get them to believe in themselves. Before you can achieve, you have to do that. Getting them to come together is the biggest goal," said Hill-Eley, former wide receivers coach for the CFL Baltimore Stallions.

To that end, the Bears are doing a number of things as a team - visiting middle schools and high schools to meet young players, wearing shirts and ties, attending church as a unit and generally trying to establish a team identity.

Overall, the Bears are 372-320-33 in their football history - in large measure because of the legacy left by the late coach Earl Banks, who built the school into a powerhouse in the 1960s.

Living up to that standard has never been easy.

"For various reasons, this school has lost for 22 years, but from the start until now, Morgan football is still over 50 percent in winning percentage," Hill-Eley said. "That's what we're stressing."

Gamble is one player who probably already received the message while Morgan struggled to a 2-9 record last season but lost four times by six or fewer points to provide hope.

Gamble, one of the top linebackers in the MEAC, is moving from the middle to the outside. Last season, the 235-pound junior registered 96 tackles - 61 solo - to become the leader of a defense that needs to be tightened even more.

"We have just about the same personnel," Gamble said. "So, all we have to do is work more as a team and don't look on it as a one-on-one game. We can't look on mistakes as an individual problem. The whole team must pick each other up."

Gamble said he can use his ample speed better by moving to the perimeter. "I love to run and can match up more outside," he said.

Morgan has abundant talent with 56 returnees, so much that Hill-Eley said, "Our depth is better than anyone's in our conference. Our 2s are the same as our 1s."

That will serve the team well, particularly early, when it opens at Gardner-Webb tomorrow, visits Towson on Thursday and then runs into MEAC favorite Florida A&M nine days later.

"We're prepared for that by taking a charter to Gardner-Webb and not having to stay after the game, and then we'll modify practice for the next game depending on our injuries," Hill-Eley said.

The offense has promise, with sophomore quarterback Lejominick Washington - who passed for a school-record 551 yards in one game last year - all-purpose threat T.J. Stallings, tight end Vishante Shancoe (who has pro scouts interested) and a line that averages 300 pounds.

The kicking game rides on the capable foot of Jon Vorosholin.

But the important thing is how rapidly the team adjusts to Hill-Eley's philosophy and approach.

"He's like a big brother to us," Stallings said. "You can talk to him about anything, and he takes care of you almost beyond the limits. I think we'll be all right."

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