(pictured above: Maurice Lewis rushed for over 1,900 yards over the past two seasons.)
The upcoming football season figures to be a momentous time for new Winston-Salem State Head Coach Kienus Boulware.
The team’s Sept. 6 home opener against UNC Pembroke will be the start of a new era.
“My approach for this season will be no different than in the past,” said Boulware, who served as defensive coordinator under Connell Maynor, who is now the head coach at Hampton. “There are still a few loose ends for us to tighten up. But all of us are excited about the upcoming season.”
The Rams were 45-6 under Maynor, a record that included three straight trips to the NCAA Division II playoffs. With Maynor’s departure, WSSU will have some new faces working the sidelines.
Former Wake Forest assistant Steve Lobotzke replaces Boulware as offensive coordinator. Allen Brown, who was Boulware’s high school coach at Thomasville, takes over as associate head coach. At Thomasville, Brown compiled 331 career wins and won seven state championships as head coach and assistant.
“Having Coach Brown on board will be a big help, especially when it’s time to make those tough decisions that come up during the course of a game,” he said.
Entering the season, the biggest question mark is defense. A year ago, the Rams were the No. 1 in Division II in total defense (allowed 233.6 yards per game). But the core of that eight-player group, which includes NFL prospects Carlos Fields (Oakland Raiders linebacker) and Jerome Junior (Jacksonville Jaguars safety), finished their college careers last fall.
Spring drills produced some mixed reviews. Boulware’s elated that the Rams showed a lot of offensive potency by scoring 33 points in the spring game. On the other hand, he expected more from his defense. Over the past three seasons, WSSU ranked among the country’s defensive elites.
“I was excited about how well our offense performed during the spring,” he said. “From a defensive point of view, I wasn’t so happy. We lost a lot on defense, so we need other folks to step in and step up. I believe that it’s more a matter of the defense developing chemistry.”
WSSU isn’t likely to make any significant defensive changes. Everett Proctor and Larry Hearne are the top returnees in the secondary, while Terry Ross and Danny Bunn both have all-star potential at linebacker. Up front, the Rams figure to be formidable with ends Michael Bloomfield and Casey Davenport, along with nose guard Duvontae Covington. The front line will have better than adequate depth with Alfy Hill (6-5, 275), Quinton Alton (6-7, 300) and Boston College transfer Connor O’Neal (6-3, 295).
Offensively, look for the Rams to employ more of an up-tempo pace, which will include running some no-huddle at times.
“We’ll rev things up with tempo,” Boulware said. “But we won’t go so fast that it will cause us to get out of sync.”
The quarterback position is a toss-up between last year’s starter Rudy Johnson and Phillip Sims, the highly-touted transfer from Alabama and Virginia. Johnson, an all-conference pick last season, threw for 2,401 yards and 25 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
“At the end of spring practice, it was a dead-heat,” Boulware said. “We can go with either one as the starter.”
The Rams strong suit on offense appears to be at receiver with CIAA Offensive Rookie of the Year Chase Powell (64 catches, 770 yards, seven touchdowns) leading the pack. Powell, however, isn’t likely to be a one-man show. Donovan Rasberry and 6-feet-6 Kenny Patterson were productive during spring drills, and freshman Jalen McDaniel could prove to be the wild card. McDaniel had offers from N.C. State, UNC, East Carolina and Wake Forest in 2013.
The ground game is in good hands with Maurice Lewis coming back for his final college season. Lewis (902 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) is also a proven commodity as a dependable receiver coming out of the backfield.
The offensive line is solid, but could be better with added depth. All-CIAA tackle Michael Sabb (6-4, 295) is the anchor. Robert Kearney (6-3, 285) and Justin Kee (6-2, 320) are gifted, physical and game-tested.