Florida Keys

With 18 players from Sunshine State, Bears are enjoying Southern exposure

College Football Preview -- Morgan State

August 29, 2007|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,RICHMOND, Va.

Morgan State caught Jerrell Guyton on the rebound. Guyton wanted to play football for Texas Southern in Houston in 2004, but detoured to Morgan State and Baltimore after a chance meeting with Bears coach Donald Hill-Eley.

From such quirks, college football legends are sometimes made.

A native of Miami, Guyton effectively opened a pipeline to that football-rich area for Hill-Eley. When the Bears open their season tomorrow night at home against Savannah State, their roster will number 18 Floridians, the second most by state after Maryland's 24.

"Florida has been major for us," Hill-Eley said. "It's changed the team morale; it's changed the team speed."

It also gives the Bears their best chance to end a streak of three straight losing seasons.

As many as seven players from Florida could start tomorrow. An additional five or six should receive substantial playing time.

The migration essentially started with Guyton, a 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker who was dismissed as too small by Texas Southern. When he visited the Houston campus late in 2004, Morgan State was in town for its final game of the season (a 37-21 victory).

Guyton met Hill-Eley on the sideline that day, offered to send tape, "and the next thing you know, I had a scholarship," he said.

It's not as if he knew where he was going, though.

"I never heard of Morgan State. I didn't know anybody that went to school here. When I first got up here, there were two people from Florida," he said.

Guyton had starred at Miami Edison and then went to Dodge City (Kan.) Community College before arriving in Baltimore in 2005. Soon after, he played a role in helping running back Chad Simpson (South Florida), wide receiver Edwin Baptiste (Bethune-Cookman) and defensive end Clarence McPherson (Akron) transfer to Morgan. All three had played at Edison.

"All of us coming out of high school basically are family," Guyton said. "You've got to look out for each other. If you see an opportunity where your friend can step in and do some good, you're going to let him know."

Simpson was disgruntled with limited playing time at South Florida. He quit the team not once but twice.

"Guyton was saying this is a good place, the coaches are down to earth and fair," Simpson said. "That's what I was looking for."

By the fourth game of the 2006 season, Simpson was Morgan's starting running back. He totaled 795 rushing yards, including games of 192 and 178. He was voted to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's preseason first team this summer.

"I'm trying to be way better than that," he said. "I'm trying to be a new man. I've been focusing on being great, being the first 2,000-yard Morgan running back here."

After listening to Guyton and Hill-Eley, Baptiste didn't bother with a recruiting visit. He just decided to come.

"Jerrell let me know what they were trying to build here," Baptiste said. "Coach Hill wasn't selling anything. He was talking to me like a man and said the best players will play. He offered a scholarship and I came off word of mouth."

Of the 18 players from Florida, eight are transfers and 13 are from Miami. Hill-Eley, who once coached with the Baltimore Stallions in the Canadian Football League, enlisted the help of former CFL players Kwame Smith and Joe Washington to open doors in Florida.

Hill-Eley said Morgan's campus helps close the deal, especially with transfers.

"A lot of times they'll contact a bunch of different schools," he said. "We always believe if we can get them here on campus and show them our facility, we shouldn't lose a one of them, and we've been successful getting them in here."

Strong safety Gary Albury came from Orlando, transferring from Mississippi. Cornerback Darren McKahn came from Miami Miramar and Connecticut. That's half the starting secondary.

McKahn said the high number of Florida recruits attracted him to Morgan. "I didn't visit," he said. "The people who were telling me about this school, I trust."

Hill-Eley said he even won a recruiting battle with Auburn for running back Devan James from Pompano Beach. For the most part, Hill-Eley goes head-to-head with Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman for Florida recruits.

He recruits Florida himself in May and December, a key point in certain cases.

"I recruit as the head coach, so I don't need to call back to tell the head coach `I got a kid, what do you think?'" he said. "I can make my decision on those kids right there, and sometimes you have to do that."

Hill-Eley also said he first tries to speak with the parents to present the picture beyond football.

"I don't fill the kids with the Sunday [NFL] dream," he said, "and the parents understand. When you treat them right and make sure to keep education up front, you really don't have a problem."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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