Nov. 3, 2011
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Death, taxes -- and Larry McDonald starting a football game.
OK, that's an easy cliché to make, but clichés are often clichés because they are posits that have proven true over an extended period of time. And if there's one thing Fayetteville State football can compare to the hard-wired inevitabilities that face us all, it's that offensive guard Larry McDonald is going to start a Broncos football game.
And now he has only one left.
McDonald (Sr., Mebane, N.C.), who will make his 42nd consecutive start, one for each game Fayetteville State has played since he stepped foot on campus as a freshman in 2008, and the rest of the Broncos will seek their third straight win on the road to close the regular season when they travel to take on Virginia Union at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Hovey Field in Richmond.
"He's one of those football players you rarely get, where he walks in out of high school and right into the starting lineup," head coach Kenny Phillips says of McDonald, who will graduate in May. "You don't see that a lot, especially on the offensive line. At this level, you usually have to wait a couple of years to develop those guys. But he walked right in and has done an outstanding job for us for four years.
"It's a shame four years go by so fast," Phillips quips. "You would've never thought that this is his senior year, but he's done a great job for us on the field and a great job in the classroom. He's accomplished a lot in four years, and that's what you look for when you come to college as a student-athlete."
Now, though, his collegiate football career appears to be nearing an end.
Or is it?
Fayetteville State (4-5, 4-2), which has won four of its last five games, enters the regular season finale with an outside shot still of earning a bid to the Pioneer Bowl in Georgia. While the CIAA Championship matchup has already been settled with unbeaten Winston-Salem State taking on red-hot Elizabeth City State, the Broncos are right there in the mix should Pioneer Bowl representatives take a look their way.
With freshman quarterback Chauncey Concepcion (Charlotte, N.C.) and CIAA Offensive Back of the Week Colon Bailey (So., Manteo, N.C.) settling the offense down - Fayetteville State is 4-1 in games in which Concepcion has take the majority of the snaps - the Broncos are clearly a different team than the one that started the season 0-4.
But there is no talk in the locker room going on about anything past Nov. 5.
"We're talking about Virginia Union," Phillips says sternly. "We're talking about this football game on Saturday."
And so the focus shifts to the Panthers (4-5, 2-4), who have lost three straight games and five of their last seven, and the Broncos' senior stars, among them linebacker Marcos Esquivel (Kearney, Ariz.), who needs just one more tackle for loss to take over the all-time lead at Fayetteville State in the category. Current defensive line coach Damien Adams, who played for two of FSU's CIAA Championship teams, holds the record presently.
But it's because of the inspired play by Esquivel and others, including CIAA Defensive Back of the Week Joshua Scales, that have the Broncos in position to make another late-season charge.
"He brings a lot of energy to the game," Phillips says of Esquivel. "We really did miss him the first three games of the football season when he was recovering from a broken hand. "If that guy is out there on defense for us, we wouldn't have given up as many points as we gave up. He elevates everybody's game on the field. At any given moment, he can make a big play happen."
With Esquivel helping to knock freshman sensation Keahn Wallace out of the game, Scales made plenty of big plays in last week's 44-23 win over Johnson C. Smith, picking off two passes - including one in the end zone - to lead the CIAA in interceptions, with five. He also registered six solo tackles, including ones saving a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
The Broncos will need more big plays on defense on Saturday against a Virginia Union team that brings size and a hard running style to the field again this season.
"They are going to run the football, and we've got to prepare ourselves for 60 minutes of a grind on the defensive side of the ball," Phillips says. "They'll line up in two tights (ends), with an offensive lineman at fullback and another offensive lineman at the wing, and they're just going to try to knock you off the football. We've got to control that running game and get them into passing situations."
Virginia Union is led by running back Jerrel Washington, who has rushed for a team-high 610 yards, though with just 3.4 yards per carry. The Panthers rank sixth in the CIAA in rushing, with just over 128 yards per game, but are ninth in total offense. Fayetteville State ranks 11th in rushing defense, but this is a different team now, one that allowed Johnson C. Smith just 75 yards of rushing last week.
"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."
Nobody on the current roster, though, understands Fayetteville State football more than McDonald, who is closing his collegiate career in style, having picked up the last two CIAA Offensive Lineman of the Week awards.
But there's always been more to McDonald than just football.
"He keeps all of the young guys focused on the task at hand - and that's to continue to fight and play football," Phillips says. "You never know what can happen in a football game. He's got another football game left in his career, and like any player, he'd like to end his career on a winning note. We've got an opportunity to win three games in a row, and with his leadership, it's a possibility."
Focus. Fight. Winning.
All describe McDonald - as well as the potential of what is next for the Fayetteville State Broncos this year.