June 13, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE STATE 2012 PRESEASON FOOTBALL OUTLOOK
A LOOK BACK
For the second consecutive season, the Fayetteville State Broncos matured as a young and rather inexperienced football team at the beginning of the season into one of the CIAA's most dangerous squads by the season's midpoint.
While Fayetteville State won four of its last five games to close the 2010 season, the Broncos again came together in 2011, finishing the season with four wins in their last six games. Fayetteville State was in play for a berth in the prestigious Pioneer Bowl the entire season, and finished the season tied for second in the loaded Southern Division.
Much of the anticipation entering the 2012 football season centers on the continuity Fayetteville State will enjoy in the offensive backfield - the first time the program has experienced such continuity since the CIAA Championship season of 2009.
In each of the last two seasons, the Broncos staggered out of the gates offensively as the team tried to quickly assemble together under the direction of a quarterback new to the program. While junior college transfer Brandon Blumears-Cluff (Sr., Phoenix, Ariz.) possessed quality leadership traits, toughness and a deft ability to scramble, the Broncos found a more suitable balance between the running game and the passing attack under true freshman Chauncey Concepcion (So., Charlotte, N.C.), who emerged as one of the elite young players in the CIAA after taking over in the starter's role midseason.
Concepcion, despite his small frame at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, proved to be a capable dual threat under center for head coach Kenny Phillips and the Broncos. He completed nearly 50 percent of his passes despite entering the season as the backup, and finished the year leading the Broncos to four victories. He passed for 799 yards and five touchdowns while running for 336 yards - the second-most on the team.
Despite playing just half a season, Concepcion was named to the CIAA's All-Rookie team at one of the game's prime positions, and with Blumears-Cluff, gives Fayetteville State experience depth at quarterback. With such depth, Phillips will allow the two quarterbacks to compete in the preseason for the starting job. With more than 750 all-purpose yards a year ago, Blumears-Cluff is definitely in the conversation.
To kickstart a running game that struggled emerge in the early going last season, Fayetteville State will look to redshirt freshman Andre Montgomery (Goldsboro, N.C.) and incoming freshman Tyrel Bryant-Dove (Fayetteville, N.C.), who starred at nearby Seventy-First High School to fuel a new era at running back for the Broncos. Providing more depth at running back is Chris Hairston (So., Jacksonville, N.C.) who showed glimpses of star potential after rushing for 4.9 yards a carry as Fayetteville State's third-leading rusher with 304 yards on just 62 carries as a true freshman last season.
The Broncos do lose offensive line stalwart Larry McDonald, who finished his career starting every game in his four years at Fayetteville State. His 42 starts are the second-most in Broncos' history. But the line remains fortified with the return of key players like William Hunt (Sr., Plymouth, N.C.), Blade Shoop (Jr., Southern Pines, N.C.), Desmond Roberts (Jr., Henrico, N.C.) and Deric Privette (Sr., Bunn, N.C.), making the offensive line virtually intact minus McDonald to open the 2012 season.
And the receiving corps also boasts inexperience that should benefit from the stability at quarterback as well. Jamere Pugh (Sr., Henderson, N.C.), who played in the 2009 CIAA Championship game, returns aver averaging more than 15 yards per catch last season. Antonio Allen (Jr., Raleigh, N.C.) is also back after averaging more than 15 yards per reception to go with four touchdowns. Xavier Molina-Williams (Sr., West Covina, Calif.) is back as a reliable tight end who averaged nearly 10 yards per catch a year ago. Kassun Williams (So., Rocky Mount, N.C.) and Ricardo White (So., Monroe, N.C.) are poised to become deep threats as well as flourishes last season.
Like the rest of the team, Fayetteville State's defense regrouped midway through the season, holding its last three opponents to an average of just 14.7 points per game.
Much of that rapid improvement could be traced to defensive back Joshua Scales' return to the playing field. After shaking off a debilitating knee injury during his freshman season, Scales (Jr., Pinehurst, N.C.) shook off another injury to start 2011 to finish with the highest average of interceptions per game in the nation. Ranking second in the CIAA in passes defended, Scales was named to the All-CIAA First Team.
"He's a very good athlete," Phillips says of Scales. "He really trained and worked out real hard (last) summer, and that's the difference in his maturity from last year to this year. He's come off a knee injury and has done a very good job for us."
But while the Broncos see the departure of marquee players like linebacker Marcos Esquivel and Andre Lyles, youth is served for Fayetteville State. In addition to Scales, the Broncos have seasoned and successful players all over the defense, including linebacker Steven Moore (So., Chapel Hill, N.C.) who was named to the CIAA's All-Rookie Team in 2011.
Moore was one of the most devastating defenders in the CIAA this season, racking up 36 tackles, including a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss, which ranked fifth in the CIAA. He also led the Broncos with 5.5 sacks and had a 37-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
"I think the guys are now understanding what we expect out of them on the defensive side of the football," says Phillips. "The young guys now understand what it takes to be a college football player. They're not freshman anymore or sophomores anymore. They understand the concepts we're trying to teach defensively here at Fayetteville State."
And there's depth to go with the growing experience. Linebacker Bryce Williams (Sr., St. Petersburg, Fla.) ranked third on the team in total tackles with 49 last season, including 7.0 tackles for loss, which was also third-best on the team. Defensive end Joseph McLean (Jr., Erwin, N.C.) was fourth in tackles with 38 to go with 5.0 for loss and 2.5 sacks. Derrick Redman (Jr., Fuquay-Varina, N.C.), who starred on the defensive line in 2010, returns after redshirting a year ago.
On a defense returning nine starters, the Broncos figure to be their most dangerous. The linebacking corps - a signature position under Phillips - should continue to wreak havoc with the return of the emerging John Brown (So., Fayetteville, N.C.) as well as Dennis Rorie (Sr., Wadesboro, N.C.), who also added 38 tackles last season, and Marcus Allen (Jr., Spring Lake, N.C.). The secondary returns virtually intact with Simeon Marshall (Jr., Jacksonsville, N.C.) and Chris Person (So., Cove City, N.C.) back in the fold as well.
Considered a strength for a couple of seasons, the Broncos' special teams hit a snag in 2011 with the struggles of kicker Austin Turner and the previous season's departure of former CIAA Special teams Player of the Year, Richard Medlin, who signed with the NFL's Miami Dolphins. Turner, while finishing among the league leaders in punting average - he had 10 kicks of 50 or more yards - Turner was just 2-for-13 in field goal attempts, and 1-for-7 in field goal attempts between 30-39 yards.
But redshirt sophomore Antonio Mayo (So., Jacksonville, N.C.) is ready to assume the mantle, and filled in ably for Turner in spots in 2011, booting a field goal and hitting an extra point when Turner was benched briefly.
Pugh is primed for a big season a kick returner after averaging 23.1 yards per kickoff return last season, and the Broncos continue to be one of the league's most dangerous punt-blocking teams. Scales, who also excels as the team's holder, returns as a quality punt returner as well.
There is a new wrinkle to Fayetteville State's 2012 football schedule.
For the first time in four years, the Broncos will not open their new season with the annual Two Rivers Classic, a regional rivalry between Fayetteville State and the UNC Pembroke Braves. In 2012, the fourth annual playing of the popular matchup will take place in Week 2, on Sept. 8, at 6 p.m. at Pembroke.
Instead, Fayetteville State, which released its football schedule on Thursday, will open its season on the road against a familiar foe, former CIAA member and current Division-1 program North Carolina Central, at 6 p.m. on Sept. 1 in Durham.
Following the annual clash at Pembroke, Fayetteville State, which finished the 2011 season having won four of its last six games to finish 4-6 overall and 4-3 in CIAA play, will return home to Luther "Nick" Jeralds Stadium for two straight games against cross-divisional CIAA opponents in nonconference play. The Broncos will play Virginia Union at 6 p.m. on Sept. 15 followed by a home date against Elizabeth City State at 6 p.m. on Sept. 22.
Fayetteville State then returns to the road to begin conference action, taking on Northern Division foe Chowan at 6 p.m. on Sept. 29 in Murfreesboro. The Broncos then take on Shaw at 1 p.m. on Oct. 6 in Raleigh.
Fayetteville State is scheduled to return home the following week, Oct. 13, to take on Johnson C. Smith at 6 p.m. before hitting the road for the final time during the regular season at St. Augustine's for a 2 p.m. kickoff in Raleigh.
The Broncos conclude the season with two of its most anticipated dates. Homecoming will take place on Oct. 27 as Fayetteville State takes on Livingstone at 2 p.m.
The Broncos will then close the regular season with perhaps its toughest opponent of the season, 2011 National Semifinalist Winston-Salem State, on Nov. 3 at 1:30 p.m. Fayetteville State will also honor its seniors before the game.
A LOOK AHEAD
With three CIAA Championships in a decade, the Fayetteville State Broncos' lone goal remains the same - to compete at the highest levels in the conference. Since 2009, youth , inexperience and injuries have hampered those goals to some extent, but the Broncos once again enter a new season bent on competing for their fourth league championship under Phillips.