Morgan's defensive resurgence coincides with Lee's return to Bears

After two seasons as North Carolina A&T's coach, Lee resumed defensive coordinator spot at MSU

November 04, 2011|By Chris Eckard, The Baltimore Sun

Battling through the rain and the wind last Saturday afternoon, the Morgan State defense showed the kind of discipline that had constantly been pounded into each player's mind since the start of practice months ago.

They wrapped up tackles, pursued the ball carrier and stuck to assignments. Alonzo Lee, the team's intense and commanding defensive coordinator, enjoyed the scene from the sidelines.

For the first time in more than five years, the Morgan State defense held its opponent scoreless, resulting in the Bears' third straight win — a 12-0 victory over Delaware State — and being a half game out of first place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

The Bears' newfound defensive success, in large part, is thanks to Lee, a disciplinarian who departed from the program two years ago only to return this season. A once proud defensive unit earlier this decade has returned to form this year.

"Coach Lee is just doing an unbelievable job with the defense and it's helping turn the whole program around," junior defensive end Justin Young said. "He's always on us. He's always pounding us."

Lee accepted the head coaching position at North Carolina A&T after the 2008 season. In his previous two seasons, Morgan State finished No. 1 and No. 2 in the Football Championship Subdivision in total team defense. But a rocky start with the Aggies and a 1-10 finish a year ago left him without a job.

Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley didn't hesitate in bringing back the coach he had known for more than a decade.

"He has always been a defensive guru and able to get players to play within themselves," Hill-Eley said. "He's very schematically sound with what he's doing."

From the moment practice opened this August, Lee has stressed three things — discipline, playing assignment football and running to the ball. And he only accepts his approach, having no problem benching a talented player in favor of one buying into his system.

"The bottom line is that discipline wins two additional games per year," Lee said. "You get guys that don't fall totally in line and you don't see those guys on the field. The guys on the field are the guys that are disciplined."

"If you're not doing what he's saying, you're not going to touch the field," junior linebacker Tierney Yates said. "It doesn't matter who you are. Everyone has a responsibility and you have to do it the way the team needs it to be done."

The return has been positive for the Bears. They posted their first shutout since 2006 and have forced more turnovers (23) than any other team in the conference. The Bears rank third in points allowed and fourth in total defense in the MEAC.

"It's good for me because I don't have to be a head coach on both ends of the field," Hill-Eley said. "I trust the change he makes in the depth chart, I trust what he does schematically and what he does with his staff."

But the Bears saw early struggles this season, falling to in-state rival Towson and FBS opponent Bowling Green by a combined 84 points to kick off the year. The team took the adversity in stride and ripped off four wins in the past five games, allowing more than 17 points just once.

"I feel good that we came together because there were so many people that wrote us off early," Hill-Eley said. "We started off and had a couple losses. Rather than giving up, our guys were resilient."

With three games remaining, including Saturday's matchup with Bethune-Cookman in Florida, Morgan controls its own destiny to win a conference championship.

"We're peaking at the right time," Lee said. "Each guy is really buying into each other. We're building that family atmosphere. No one wants to let the next guy down. No one wants to be the weak link."

xcxceckard@baltsun.com

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