Bears look to go retro

morgan state

August 26, 2008|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,

Forty years ago, Morgan State won eight of its nine football games. Fans were unimpressed. That defeat, by a single point, was Morgan's first after 25 straight victories.

Coach Donald Hill-Eley says it's time to rekindle the legacy of the 1960s.

"This is the year we'll be known as the Bears of old, when this team won championships and built men," he said. "There has got to be some of that rich tradition left. There's got to be."

But where? Morgan went 5-6 last season, the 26th time in 28 years that the Bears finished under .500.

The games were close. Two defeats came in overtime. No loss was by more than eight points. One game turned on an official's mistake when an apparent Morgan touchdown was ruled a fumble. Another time, a penalty on the school's marching band nearly cost the Bears the game.

At season's end players huddled, resolved to make amends. In June, for the first time, about 30 chose to stay on campus, taking classes, lifting weights, playing pickup games and honing their timing, determined to turn things around.

It was a different team that the coaches met when fall practice began.

In years past, Hill-Eley said, "we [coaches] were doing the yelling. Now it's the players saying, 'C'mon, c'mon, pick it up!'

"They are demanding effort from each other."

Friction? There's none.

"Now we're more brothers than teammates," guard Dwayne Delaney said. "There is no negativity. I guess we've grown."

No unit is closer than the offensive line, a group that dubs itself "the Trench Mob." Four of those five starters return from last season, including behemoths Delaney (320 pounds) and Robert Norris (315), the other guard.

Morgan's season might hinge on the hulks up front. Not to worry, teammates say.

"If the Trench Mob put their hands on you, it's over," said Jarrell Guyton, the Bears' star linebacker. "They are prototype offensive linemen. If I played running back, I'd be in love with all of them."

Delaney, a senior from rural Virginia, struck a chord with the coach when he arrived at camp with a gift from home.

"He's the only player ever to bring me deer meat," Hill-Eley said.

The coach had a cookout. The 30-pound bundle fed the team.

Norris, a junior, caused a stir of his own when he came to camp. Players guffawed when the big lineman wobbled out to practice on a bicycle he had bought to get around town.

Why the bike?

"The price of gas is getting ridiculous, and I drive a '99 Buick LeSabre," said Norris, a graduate of DeMatha in Hyattsville.

"I've ridden my bike to the Towson mall and back. It saves money, plus I've got more endurance now and my range of motion is a lot better. But I'm still trying to master the wheelie."

Teammates ask Norris how many tires he has flattened. But the coach is impressed.

"Robert is agile for a guy that big," Hill-Eley said. "But on that bike, he still looks like a wide-load trailer riding through campus."

Morgan's running backs know that the way to the goal line is through the Trench Mob's stomachs. Gone is Chad Simpson who, as a senior, rushed for a school-record 1,405 yards.

"We blocked for Chad and he bought us food at Wendy's," Delaney said.

Now it's high-stepping Devan James' turn to feed the Bears. A junior, James ran for 366 yards last year and has already impressed the Trench Mob with his moves.

"Once [in a scrimmage] Devan squeezed through a hole this big," said Delaney, holding his hands a foot apart. "He hit that spot and was gone upfield.

"In the huddle I said, 'Dang, Devan, I could have opened that hole some more.' "

"Nah, that's enough," James replied.

James is one of 22 Floridians on Morgan's roster, more players even than from Maryland (16). But who's counting? Not the coach.

"Treat these young men right and they recruit others for you," Hill-Eley said. "They'll go get each other, or they'll say, 'Hey coach, I got a buddy.' "

The Florida pipeline started four years ago with Guyton, now a 6-foot, 225-pound senior and the crux of Morgan's defense no matter which linebacker position he plays.

"Jarrell feels it's his defense," the coach said. "He sets the tempo. He'll hit with the linemen and run with the defensive backs. Like Ray Lewis, he makes sure the whole house is together."

Brash and outspoken, Guyton admits to having Lewis' picture on his bedroom wall.

"I really respect Lewis as far as his on-field activities," he said. "I'm a sore loser, too, and I like taking on big dudes - that's easy cookies for me. It feels good when you hit somebody and they can't get up."

Guyton said his commitment to Morgan football is such that he hasn't been home to Miami since 2007.

"Staying here all summer helped a lot. We've moved way past last year. I don't see anybody stopping us."

Not even Towson, which hosts Morgan in its opener Sept. 6? Morgan has lost 15 of 20 games to Towson, including each of the past three years.

"Towson will be a war," Guyton said. "Every year we've played them, I don't know how we've lost. They must know voodoo or something.

"We're way more disciplined now."

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