Big South Football Team Previews: Charleston Southern
The Big South Conference continues its daily preview of each football team in the reverse order of the predicted order of finish in the Conference standings. Today: Charleston Southern University, which is looking to bounce back from a 3-8 season a year ago. The Buccaneers open the season with three-straight games in Florida, the first of which is Saturday, Sept. 3 at UCF on Bright House Sports Network.
Although the record in 2010 was not what anyone hoped that it would be, the future continues to look bright for the Buccaneer Football team as they build off the individual success of last year.
"The story to me is that Charleston Southern University has become synonymous with winning football games," said Coach Jay Mills. "We have transformed and transcended from a program that had 13 consecutive losing seasons to a place where it is equated with winning football. I think it is indeed a compliment and a credit to all of those who have been part of building this current tradition. Now we are at the point that it has come as a surprise, not that CSU is winning, but that CSU had an off year and did not win as many games."
The Buccaneers have suffered just two losing seasons in the past seven seasons under Mills and have not had back-to-back losing seasons under his direction. It took just over six years for Mills to become the winningest coach in CSU history, accounting for well over half the school's total wins.
Charleston Southern has faced more FBS opponents than anyone else in the Big South, and kicks off the 2011 season with two more FBS opponents in Central Florida and Florida State. Despite that schedule, from 2005-2009, CSU posted the most wins of any team in the Big South conference.
"The visibility of our football program has been intentionally magnified to champion the vision of CSU, which is to be nationally recognized for integrating faith in learning, leading and serving," said Mills on the difficulty of his schedule.
"Although our squad will be young, both in chronological age and experience, our talent base is good. Also, 11 freshmen benefited from our injury-plagued 2010 campaign by receiving valuable playing time. The key to our on-the-field achievement will be each individual's development over the summer. I'm confident of success in the future; the arrival of which will be dependent upon the rate of the maturation process," said Mills.
CSU will return a total of 16 players who started at least one game for the Buccaneers, including 10 on the defensive side. Four of the five offensive linemen (Levi McFatter, Kayson Wharton, B.J. Baker and James Nicholson) will return after starting every game last year for CSU. Jeff Hartung, who saw time in a backup role as an offensive lineman and tight end last year, will fill in at the center spot, already with eight games under his belt in his sophomore season. Mike DeTerlizzi and Carson Leshin will serve as the tight ends, while Nick Kemper will battle for a starting spot, along with junior Jason Edmonds and freshmen Jean Bazile, Brent Riley and Logan Mines.
Quarterback Malcolm Dixon, who played just three games as a quarterback after being thrust into action due to injuries on the team, completed 77.8 percent of his passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns. He was the Big South Freshman of the Week and was a CFPA Division I FCS honorable mention performer of the week. He returns as the starting quarterback but there are any number of quality options waiting to step in, including Richard Mounce and Derek Hatcher, both of whom took multiple snaps last season, as well as newcomer Briar Van Brunt.
At wide receiver, the leading receivers are gone, but a number of quality athletes who are ready to fill the void are stepping in. Kirby Broome saw an increased role toward the end of the season in 2010, and was the main target during the spring game. Nathan Perera also saw action last year and will compete against transfer Chase Jones, and redshirt freshmen Estevan Cintron, Chris Theodore and most-improved wide receiver Wes Murray for those starting spots. Fellow transfers Corvaughn Archie and Mike Davis along with freshmen Kevin Glears and Marcellas Pope will all likely see plenty of playing time as well.
Redshirt-senior B.J. Hackworth will hold down the starting job at the running back position but will be tailed closely by Teddy Allen, who carried the ball 24 times as a true freshman last season. A contrast in style to the power backs, Anthony Simmons will likely see plenty of carries in speed situations, as will Keelyan Bryant. Trey Dorsey and Richard Jones will also be battling for carries during the season.
"The key to our growth is not change, but simply doing what we do, better. I've been very pleased with the approach and improvement shown in all phases toward this objective this spring. Productivity in the run game and on offense and stop the run on defense are paramount to success this fall," said Mills.
Defensively, three of the four starters on the defensive line will return, and two of the three starting linebackers, led by sophomore Cornelius Sterling, who played in all 11 games and finished the year third on the team with 57 tackles. In all, seven of the top 10 on the team in tackles will come back, including sophomore Brad Sweatt, who earned CoSIDA/ESPN Academic All-District honors, starting in 10 of 11 games. Jacque Carter returns for his senior season after starting all 11 games last year on the line, while Will Hunt and most-improved defensive lineman Coril Joseph will also return with plenty of experience. Matt Woods, Isaac Lowrance, and Delvon King will add depth and experience to the line, while transfers Brad Spivey and Emmanuel Koleosho, along with freshmen James Smith and Chadwick Coleman will also battle for time as they gain game-time experience.
Sterling and Sweatt will be joined by true sophomores Gabe Middlebrook and Calvin Bryant, as well as most-improved linebacker Michael Chocholousek, who made an immediate impact in the spring game and as a transfer, will immediately add experience to the linebacking corps.
Preseason All-American junior defensive back Charles James tied the school record with six interceptions this year, leading the nation in that category. After just two years, James has tallied eight interceptions and is just three shy of the career record. The addition of transfer Brandan Davis as well as a talented freshman recruiting class will make the defensive backfield one of the strongest parts of the defense. A preseason All-Conference selection in 2010, senior Chris Kuzdale will also return after missing a pair of games in 2010 with an injury. Also returning as the starting SPUR after a tremendous spring is most-improved defensive back Jordan Fulford, who will be backed up by 2011 Edward A. Gadson Memorial Scholarship recipient Zac Johnston. Kenny Johnson, Daniel Dieudonne, Matt Hardy, Demaris Freeman and O'Brian Campbell all return with plenty of talent and experience as well.
"Outstanding team chemistry has been a standard for Buccaneer squads. Competitive special team play is a byproduct of such an asset. More consistency in the kicking game is a goal that will lead to overall team accomplishment this fall," said Mills.
The kicking game continues to look solid for CSU as Andy Brown stepped in this season to take over the place kicking duties in addition to his normal punting task. This season, Brown posted the sixth highest average per punt against Mars Hill, booming four punts for an average of 43.5 yards per punt. He also finished a perfect 19-19 on PATs and 1-1 in field goals, making a 43 yarder against Coastal Carolina in the season finale.
The loss of Gerald Stevenson will no doubt have an impact on the kick return game, but after returning three kickoffs back for touchdowns last season, the absence may result in more kickoffs down the field instead of on the ground. Cintron will do the bulk of the kickoff returning, while Jones will come in and field the majority of the punts. Glears and James will serve as the backups, along with a host of others who have had the opportunity to return kicks over the past seasons. Transfer Michael Davis and newcomers Marcellas Pope and Trey Dorsey will also compete for both the kickoff and punt returner positions.