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Can Winston-Salem State Live Up To The Hype?

Connell Maynor is 35-4 in three seasons as Winston-Salem State coach. 

Conference: CIAA South
Coach: Connell Maynor
2012 Record: 14-1
2013 Non-Conference Schedule: UNC-Pembroke, Virginia University of Lynchburg, Tuskegee
2013 Classics: Cleveland Classic (Sept. 21 vs. Tuskegee)

Running back Maurice Lewis rushed for 13 touchdowns in 2012. 

Offense:

After waiting patiently for two long years, Anthony Carrothers will finally head into a season opener as a starting quarterback. The Charlotte native helped lead Grambling to a SWAC Championship as a freshman before transferring to WSSU and watching as Kam Smith re-wrote the WSSU record book. Carrothers still played a big role in last season’s march to the national championship game, finishing several games for Smith, including the CIAA Championship Game and starting the team’s first two playoff games. Now Carrothers gets his chance to run the show from start to finish. Former Texas Southern QB Rudy Johnson enters the season as his backup and former Alabama/UVa. quarterback Phillip Sims will sit behind and wait for his turn in 2014.

Despite rushing for over 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns, Maurice Lewis was often an overlooked man on WSSU’s 2012 team. That won’t be the case this season, as the passing game may need more help due to inexperience at the receiver position. Senior Patrick Mputu and freshmen Joshua Glisson and Joesph Grant will back up Lewis.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsOutside of senior Tehvyn Brantley, WSSU’s receiving unit is a crew of unknown commodities. There was much excitement over former Thomasville High School star and Tennessee recruit E.J. Abrams-Ward, who switched to receiver after competing at quarterback during the spring, but he will miss a significant portion of the season with injury. Among other returnees, the receiver to watch is Kenny Patterson, a 6’6 junior who was used sparingly but came up with a big touchdown grab in the playoffs on a hail mary from Carrothers. Among newcomers, JUCO transfer Rashaad Williams could potentially be another big weapon in the passing game.

The offensive line will have several new pieces as well. Gone is two-time All-American center Marcus Lawrence, and Nate Hartnug could be out the entire season. Only two starters return from last year, but Boston College transfer Bryan Davis is one of several newcomers expected to step in right away. The quicker this unit gels together, the better off the offense will be.

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Defense:

Often overlooked in the face of the jaw-dropping numbers that WSSU put up last season was the fact that the defense was pretty damn good on its own. The Rams return several key players on that side of the ball and brought in some newcomers that should make it even better in 2012.

Leading the way for the Rams on the defensive line is senior Donnie Owens. The senior had 62 tackles and seven sacks in 2012 for WSSU, and was ranked among the 100 best players in Division II football. Owens will be joined by junior Casey Davenport (23 tackles, 3 sacks) and three players who originally signed with Division I programs: Former App State DE John Rizor, UNC signee Quinton Alton and former Alabama signee Alfy Hill. If those players can live up to their billing, controlling the line of scrimmage shouldn’t be a problem for the Rams.

WSSU is just as deep, if not deeper at the linebacker position. The heart and soul of the unit is Carlos Fields, a preseason All-Everything and one of the 15 best players in Divsion II according to D2football.com.The reigning CIAA Defensive Player Of The Year will have plenty of help, as senior Daniel Mungin (67 tackles, 11 TFL, 5.5 sacks) returns from last year’s squad. They will be joined by newcomers Joshua Hunter (UNC) and Matthew Thompson (East Carolina).

The defensive backfield appears to be another pillar of strength for WSSU. Cornerback Larry Hearne quietly put together a nice season in 2012, preserving the opening-game win over UNC-Pembrooke and picking off five passes. Hearne will be surrounded by talented newcomers like former UConn safety junior Junior Johnson, and former UNC saftey Danny Bunn.

Anthony Carrothers will start at quarterback for Winston-Salem State. (Charlotte Post photo)

Outlook:

Over the past two years, Winston-Salem State has been the measuring stick of Black College Football. In an era where winning one playoff game has eluded the majority of HBCUs, WSSU’s five playoff wins in two years are pretty remarkable. The Rams enter Thursday night’s game against UNC-Pembroke on a 20-game, regular season winning streak. However, nearly 30 members from that team, including 11 starters, are now gone.

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One big piece that is still there, though, is head coach Connell Maynor. Maynor’s three year record stands at 35-4, with two of those losses coming in the NCAA playoffs. As long as Maynor roams the sidelines, WSSU will be a disciplined team with plenty of confidence and swagger.

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This WSSU team is not last season’s team, but it still has the potential to be a very good one. A strong defense and running game are building blocks for a winning team, and the Rams look to have both.The two question marks are the passing game and the offensive line.

If those groups click, WSSU could make another national championship run. If not this team still has enough talent to win a postseason game or two.

Prediction: 12-1, CIAA Champs

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