The B-CC sophomore can run and catch, and FAMU likely will key on him to prevent a third straight Florida Classic loss.
By SHARON GINN
Published November 20, 2004
Eric Weems grew up hearing about the rivalry between Bethune-Cookman College and Florida A&M but never related to the emotions behind it.
When B-CC coach Alvin Wyatt recruited the Daytona Beach Seabreeze athlete to play multiple roles in his Wyattbone offense, Weems jumped at the chance to join the Wildcats - more because it was a chance to play in his hometown and bring laundry to Mom on weekends than it was a burning desire to go after a certain orange-and-green-clad team from Tallahassee.
Only when he stepped onto the Florida Citrus Bowl field as a freshman at last year's Florida Classic did Weems begin to understand.
"I didn't really know how big it was, but everybody was telling me how big it was," Weems said. "I was just really excited to play. When I first got in front of that crowd (of 73,358), it was just amazing. It's breathtaking."
If the view from the field was spectacular, it was even better from the stands - for the Bethune-Cookman fans, that is - in the game's closing seconds. Weems squeezed past three defenders, caught an 18-yard pass from quarterback Allen Suber and got one foot in the end zone, giving the Wildcats a 39-35 victory.
The play capped a second half in which Weems helped orchestrate B-CC's comeback from a 28-10 deficit. He scored three touchdowns, two of them rushing, in the final 17 minutes. He not only helped B-CC to consecutive victories over the Rattlers - something only two other Wildcats teams had done - but vaulted it into the Division I-AA playoffs for the second year in a row.
But it wasn't until later that Weems began to appreciate what he and his teammates accomplished. No doubt, he is wiser this time around.
Like the rest of the Wildcats (5-4), Weems is hungry for the chance to redeem what has been a disappointing season and for the opportunity to be part of the first B-CC team to beat FAMU three years in a row.
And he has much more on his shoulders. Suber is gone, and Suber's heir apparent, Lawrence McCloud, injured a knee in the preseason and has missed the season. McCloud has been replaced by a glut of young quarterbacks, led by freshman Jimmie Russell and sophomore Jarod Rucker. Who starts often has depended on who isn't injured that week.
"(This season) coach has expected me to step up and be a leader and take control of the team," Weems said. "We have freshmen quarterbacks coming in, and this was the first time they're playing (in college)."
Weems acknowledges it is an unusual role for a sophomore, but he has relished the responsibility. While he is low-key and tends to deflect praise off the field, Weems clearly wants the ball when he is on it.
He leads the Wildcats in rushing and receiving at 9.6 yards a carry (52 carries, 500 yards, seven touchdowns) and 16.3 yards a catch (26 catches, 423 yards, two touchdowns).
But Weems said he is often underestimated. At 5 feet 9, 175 pounds, he wasn't heavily recruited and doesn't always get the respect on the field that he has earned.
"I just like going up against the (defensive backs)," he said. "They're thinking they can guard you, but they really can't. I don't look at the height advantage. It's what's on the inside. If you've got a big heart, you can do anything."
He may have heart, but he has lost the element of surprise. FAMU likely will try to do what Howard did in beating B-CC 10-7 a week ago: double team Weems in an effort to throw off the Wildcats offense.
If that doesn't work, it could be a long afternoon for the Rattlers.
"Eric Weems is an unbelievable football player," FAMU coach Billy Joe said. "When we see that No. 5 line up, we know that at any time he can break it for 6. He's explosive, with unbelievable speed. He's a veteran now.
"He's just highly talented and could be an outstanding football player for any Division I-A team."