Conway well-positioned at linebacker

Bowie State: Atcheson Conway looks to build on his success of 2001, when a switch from cornerback did wonders for him and the Bulldogs.

Division Ii

August 30, 2002|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

When all 6 feet, 205 pounds of Atcheson Conway first walked onto a Bowie State football field last season, Bulldogs coach Henry Frazier III saw a freshman cornerback with decent size and above-average speed.

But defensive coordinator John Morgan had other ideas and immediately plucked Conway out of the secondary drills and inserted him at linebacker.

"When he made that change, I didn't say anything, but I was sort of thinking, `He's 205 pounds and we have him in the middle,' " Frazier recalled. "When he [Conway] picked off a pass on our first defensive play of the season, I said, `Hey, Coach, I guess you know what you're doing.' "

Conway's interception against Johnson C. Smith was just the beginning for the Silver Spring native. In his standout freshman season for the Bulldogs, he led the team in tackles (103), interceptions (seven) and forced fumbles (four). He was also ranked in the top 25 nationally in Division II in each of those categories.

Now a sophomore, Conway will lead a Bowie defense that was one of the best in the nation last year and returns nearly all of its key parts.

"He sees the play so quick and he still has that 4.6 or 4.5 speed, and for a linebacker that is blazing," said Frazier, whose Bulldogs rebounded from a 2-8 season to finish 7-3 last year. "But his instincts and hitting ability are what Coach Morgan saw to move him down inside. Once in a while, those big guys will get a good shot at him, but he's going to win most of those battles."

Linebacker wasn't entirely new for Conway, who played there at times at Paint Branch High in Montgomery County on a unit that included current Florida State defensive end Darnell Dockett and Alabama cornerback Gerald Dixon.

However, Conway, who said that his lack of a definitive position probably hurt his status as a Division I prospect, was recruited by Bowie State to play cornerback. At Paint Branch, he played safety and cornerback and was a fullback on offense.

"I felt I wasn't big enough to play linebacker in college," Conway said. "In high school when I was playing linebacker, I was just running sideline to sideline ... but not here. I really had to respect the position and learn to read keys."

Throughout last year, Conway bugged Morgan for a return to the secondary. But after being named a Black College second-team All-American in one publication, and the Division II Freshman of the Year in another, Conway has lost all bargaining power.

"I told him he's not moving," Morgan said. "He does everything for us. He covers running backs out of the backfield, he'll cover tight ends, and he'll cover wide receivers in the slot. He is the Ray Lewis of the Bulldogs' defense."

Senior captain Antone Sewell called Conway the best cover linebacker he has ever played with, and told of numerous times last season when quarterbacks tried to drop a ball over Conway's head, only to see the linebacker make a play.

However, Conway, 20, has prided himself more on his ability to stop the run.

He has added about 10 pounds of muscle so he can protect himself better, and he has vowed to play smarter and more controlled without sacrificing any aggressiveness.

"I just go a 100 miles an hour, and wherever the ball is, that's where I try to get," he said. "Because of my size, they [opponents] probably underestimated me last year, but I would've, too. A 6-foot, 205-pound linebacker, it doesn't sound like much."

Then, with a hearty grin, he added, "But they are probably not going to underestimate me anymore."

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