2023 Football

Fayetteville State University embracing being the CIAA’s hunted

After years of chasing an elusive CIAA title, Fayetteville State feels ready to defend the crown and much more in 2023.

ROANOKE, VA — Past trips to CIAA Media Days in the mountains of Virginia have been filled with dreadful questions for Fayetteville State University head coach Richard Hayes Jr. But Thursday was different.

FSU exorcized its demons at Salem Stadium last November, knocking off Chowan in a thriller that went down to the last second as a field goal gave it a win as time expired. Nine months later, Hayes and his players proudly brandished their championship hardware on their fingers. 

Being picked number one in the preseason is a great feeling, but you still got to play ten games,” Hayes told HBCU Gameday at Media Day. “So we’ll take the honor. We feel like we deserved it, for being crowned champions last year. So coming into the pre-season, obviously, we deserve to be the preseason pick, but we still got to play the games.”

While that is true, the typically demure Hayes had to admit it felt good to flip the usual script. 

“We know what it felt like four years in a row to not win it. We know what that feeling was and it was not a very good feeling. And then to win it and to have that feeling —  I think that’s motivation in itself,” he said. “We know we’re going to be a good football team this year and we know we expect to be back here.”

Caden Davis, Fayetteville State
Fayetteville State quarterback Caden Davis runs against Winston-Salem State. (Steven J. Gaither/HBCU Gameday photo)

Part of what got FSU to the title game was a two-quarterback system of freshmen Demari Daniels and Caden Davis. The Broncos made the switch during the stretch run to keep defenses off-balance, and it paid off in a major way. Both young men are back with the knowledge that they will likely be splitting time again.

“Playing basketball, playing football, playing different sports my whole life being around a team — I’ve got a real good team mindset,” Davis said. “So whatever we do, we’re going to do for the team to win. Playing both of us. Playing one of us. Whatever it is. Playing neither of us —  I’m with it.”

Fayetteville State University thought the title game would be its storybook ending to the 2022 season, but fate had something else in mind. FSU secured a spot in the playoffs following the win. There are no automatic bids for conference winners in Division II football, but FSU was chosen for a playoff spot where it matched up against Delta State from Mississippi. The CIAA champs were blanked 51-0. 

Hayes considers the experience a lesson learned. 

Fayetteville State, CIAA
Fayetteville State University celebrates the 2022 CIAA title. (Steven J. Gaither/HBCU Gameday photo)

“We can’t celebrate the CIAA championship for so long,” Hayes said of what he learned from last season’s playoff game. “Last year we kind of won the championship and didn’t really know if we were going to get into the playoffs. We didn’t have a watch party. We didn’t even get together that Sunday because we didn’t believe we were going to get in. And then one of the guys called me, said, ‘Coach, we made it — so let’s end the celebration and get ready for Delta State.”

Davis was honest about what happened while maintaining optimism about the future. 

“We got knocked in the head a little bit,” he said. “We had a lot of younger guys never been to the playoffs. And I feel like this year if we come back and we get an opportunity again — we’ll be ready.”

“We know what it feels like now to go up against some of the top competition in the country and so we have to get better in that aspect,” Hayes added. “We’ll be prepared this year.”

Part of that preparation includes playing solid competition in Fayetteville State’s two non-conference games. 

“We’re going to open the season off Thursday night on the 31st (of August) at UNC-Pembroke,” Hayes said. “And then we’re going to welcome a perennial playoff team in Lenoir-Rhyne to Fayetteville. So those first two games are really going to tell us who we are and what kind of adjustments we need to make going into CIAA play.”

And once the Broncos get into conference play, they will have a bigger target on their backs than ever. Graduate linebacker Gerald Simpson says the team is fine being the hunted in the league this year. 

“We want all the smoke,” he said. “We’re not ducking the smoke and we know people are coming for us.”

Fayetteville State University embracing being the CIAA’s hunted
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