Bears adding bite to their defense

Safety: Larry `Choo Choo' Davis is a key ingredient in the team's aggressive new scheme.

College Football '05

Morgan State & Towson

September 01, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Larry Davis would rather just block out the nightmare. Before last fall, when Morgan State could not stop any opponent and tumbled to a 5-6 record as a result, Davis had never endured a losing football season in his life.

A year later, the Bears are promising a new look and a different bottom line on defense. They have a new coordinator in Michael Vite, who has installed an aggressive multiple set featuring blitzes from all angles. Gone is the read-and-react scheme that rendered Morgan State too passive.

And in Davis, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior strong safety who goes by the nickname "Choo Choo," Vite thinks he has the ideal leader to spark the unit's comeback.

Davis' performance got lost at times amid last year's futility. The Bears, who led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in total offense, saw that go to waste with a defense that allowed a long list of big plays and 38.5 points per game, worst in the MEAC and 114th among 117 Division I schools.

The native of Newport News, Va., is not exactly sneaking up on people. Davis already might be the most versatile defender on the Morgan roster. With 10 interceptions over the past two seasons, he needs six more to set the school career record. After leading the Bears with five interceptions and adding 46 tackles as a junior, he is positioned to become an all-conference first-team member for the second straight year.

"I'm glad people notice me, but the winning is what matters," Davis said. "I know I can look in the mirror and say I've worked hard. I know what I've put in. Last year was very difficult, but I won't dwell on it. I won't let it be a burden. We're in a nice system for our defense to be productive in and for me to have fun in."

Vite, who had successful assistant coaching stints at Murray State and Southern Illinois before spending last season as an associate head coach at Bacone College - it ranked seventh among National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics schools in rushing defense - sees Davis as the perfect chess piece on defense.

Davis has enough size to move into the box and lend sturdy run support. He is fast enough (running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash) to cover a tight end or a slot receiver in a man-to-man alignment. He is savvy enough to drop back into a zone, read a play and disrupt a passing lane. And Vite will turn Davis loose on plenty of blitzes.

"The strong safety is like a quarterback in my system. I know I have an older young man who knows the game and has a feel for the game," Vite said. "I'm not a sit-back-and-read [the-offense] guy. You can't do that anymore, with the way offenses are now. I wanted to bring a different type of attitude here. There's a lot of things [Davis] can do that fits this defense."

Davis, 23, picked up his nickname before he was born. While his mother, Marilyn Black, was pregnant with him, she endured numerous sneezing spells.

But Davis is not one to make much noise around his teammates.

"Choo doesn't like to be in the spotlight," sophomore linebacker Lamar West said.

"He's not a vocal guy. He's not going to be in your face going off," added Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley. "He can cover ground and help you out in the running game, and he can help in those seams in the vertical [game]. He's going to make sure he has guys lined up properly, and he's going to be in the right place."

At a glance

Coach: Donald Hill-Eley (4th season)

Last year: 5-6

Conference: Division I-AA Mid-Eastern Athletic

Radio: 88.9 FM

Stadium: Hughes Stadium (10,000)

Offense: Pro set

Defense: Multiple

Outlook: Hill-Eley enters his fourth season at Morgan after suffering his first losing season there. The Bears previously had recorded back-to-back winning years for the first time since 1970-1971. Replacing QB Bradshaw Littlejohn, the MEAC Player of the Year, is a large concern. Littlejohn led the league's most productive offense, and the offense now belongs to sophomore QB Byron Selby, who has four returning starters around him, led by TB Craig Nelson and senior WR Kelvin Dickens (MEAC-high 92.6 yards per game). Under new defensive coordinator Michael Vite, the Bears' defense must improve significantly. The Bears allowed 42 or more points five times.

Season opener

Matchup: Morgan State at Towson

When: Tonight, 7

Radio: 88.9 FM, 89.7 FM

2005 schedule

Date Opponent Time

9-1 at Towson 7 p.m.

9-10 Bowie State 6 p.m.

9-17 vs. Savannah State-a 2 p.m.

9-24 vs. Hampton-b 4 p.m.

10-1 at Bethune-Cookman 2 p.m.

10-8 vs. North Carolina A&T-c 4 p.m.

10-15 Howard 1 p.m.

10-22 at Delaware State 1 p.m.

10-29 Florida A&M 6 p.m.

11-5 Norfolk State 1 p.m.

11-10 at South Carolina State 7:30 p.m.

a- Cleveland; b-East Rutherford, N.J.; c-Landover

2004 results: 5-6

Date Opponent Score

9-4 Bowie State W, 41-35

9-11 Gardner-Webb L, 56-49

9-18 at San Jose State L, 47-28

9-25 Hampton L, 49-37

10-2 Beth.-Cookman L, 51-21

10-9 at N.C. A&T W, 28-26

10-16 at Howard L, 42-35, OT

10-23 Delaware State W, 34-30

11-6 at Norfolk State W, 58-28

11-13 at S.C. State L, 38-35, OT

11-20 at Texas Southern W, 37-21

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