Morgan ends spring expecting progress

Hill-Eley has depth to turn program around

College Football

April 28, 2007|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN REPORTER

When Donald Hill-Eley became Morgan State's 18th head football coach in 2002, he faced the massive task of erasing an ingrained negative mentality.

"I figured it would take at least five years to turn around 23 years of losing," Hill-Eley said before theBears completed their annual Blue-Orange game last night at Hughes Stadium. "Now, I'm in the last year of my contract and this is the time to show how we've either progressed or have not. It's time to determine how far the program has really come."

So, a burning question remains in the minds of those in the program: "Fact or Fiction?" This will serve as the team's motto for 2007, a season the Bears will enter with more depth than ever before under Hill-Eley, stronger players and the hope of finally crashing into the elite ranks of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

"I think we've done some things for Morgan," Hill-Eley said. "We've graduated kids and we're teaching them how to become productive citizens. I feel good about that situation. But the bottom line is coaches have to win games."

The Bears have had three consecutive losing seasons, although two of them were 5-6 finishes (including last fall) in which a play or two could have easily reversed the totals. So, this spring the emphasis has been on fundamentals and individual attention.

"It's been very intense," said quarterback Mario Melton, who remains slightly ahead of Byron Selby (Dunbar) for the starting job. "The coaches saw last season what we can do when we play together and it's been like [fall] camp all over again. We're not being laid-back like usual in the spring."

The addition of defensive coordinator Alonzo Lee vastly improved one of the team's biggest deficiencies from the previous season, as Morgan shot to the top in the league against the run. Conversely, the offense sputtered.

"We've never had a balance. We've either had a good offense and a bad defense or vice versa," Hill-Eley said. "Now, we don't have the pressure of having to score 35 to win."

The defense has lost a number of standouts, most notably All-MEAC linebacker Darius Leak and defensive back Everette Baker, who suffered a concussion last season then began having seizures and is home in Florida recuperating. They were the two leading tacklers.

But the unit has 15 linemen practicing (as opposed to five during Hill-Eley's first spring), including All-MEAC end Terrell Floyd and a budding star in Anthony Young. Leak is the only loss at linebacker, and the secondary is anchored by veterans Kendall Jackson and Dakota Bracey.

Melton and Selby provide a one-two punch at quarterback, and Hill-Eley believes Chad Simpson, who is attracting pro attention, "is probably the best running back in our division." Simpson broke off two 60-yard touchdown runs in the spring game.

Another getting looks from the NFL is Roderick Wolfe (Edmondson), who has "developed into a threatening receiver," the coach said.

Melton, who was 5-3 as the starter after replacing the injured Selby, said the motto "Fact or Fiction" is self-explanatory. "We're either going to build it up or we're not," he said. "It's a matter of being more consistent and reliable."

The Bears will get two big breaks. Seven of their 11 games are at home and they will not open the season with cross-town rival Towson, easing the early pressure.

kent.baker@baltsun.com

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