tampabay.com

Wildcats not wanting for a will to win

By IZZY GOULD
Published September 1, 2006


Alvin Wyatt laughs when coaches complain about their facilities.

Then he considers what's missing at Bethune-Cookman: a quality weight room, an on-campus stadium, a locker room that doesn't feel like a bunch of kids stuffed in a phone booth.

The school provides him on-campus housing - a dorm - and he shares an office housed in a trailer. After B-CC lost to rival Florida A&M last year, Wyatt thought he'd ask the president for a car. She handed him keys to a U-Haul.

Don't ask about salary.

"You're looking at the lowest-paid coach in Division I-AA football, probably Division II, too," Wyatt said with a laugh. "The chump change that I make, it's a front that you're looking at."

All things considered, Wyatt gets a lot out of so little.

Depleted by the loss of 10 defensive starters in 2005, B-CC finished a respectable 7-4.

"How are we getting the job done?" Wyatt asks. "We're doing it because we're getting our kids to believe in themselves like they've never believed in anything else in their lives."

The Wildcats are in good shape offensively, returning their top two scoring threats in Jimmie Russell and Eric Weems.

Russell ranked third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for total offense with 1,761 yards and 10 touchdowns. He'll likely rotate with fellow junior Jarod Rucker, who returns from an injury.

When Russell was forced to give up the ball, his best option was Weems. The senior running back/receiver finished third in MEAC scoring with 14 touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions.

Also back is senior receiver Jonathan Summers, who had caught a pass in 32 consecutive games before the streak was snapped against FAMU.

P.J. Smith and Chauncey Hampton will split time at running back.

Perhaps the most glaring hole is on the offensive line where the Wildcats must replace Johnnie Santiago, Fred Nolan and Vernon Edwards.

The Wildcats hope the defense can be their strength.

Taurean Charles returns at linebacker as a preseason All-MEAC first-team selection and was a finalist for preseason defensive player of the year. His 94 tackles ranked him sixth in the MEAC.

The secondary is anchored by junior Robert Williams, who led the MEAC with six interceptions. And the defensive line features Ramon McCullough - a USF transfer - and Dennis King.

B-CC also adds USF transfers Ronnie McCullough and Josh Ballon to the starting lineup in hopes they spread some of what they learned playing for a Big East school.

Special teams proved to be a huge problem at critical moments and probably cost the Wildcats games against South Carolina State, Florida A&M and possibly Hampton.

Regardless, Wyatt still plans to stick with kicker Jesus Cortez, a three-year veteran with 50-yard range.

But can he be consistent when it counts?

Cortez was 11-for-20 in field goal attempts last season, including two in games decided by three points each.

"To win seven ballgames and have an opportunity to really win 10 or maybe 11 had we not missed a field goal or two, that set us back to 7-4," Wyatt said. "We accepted that and moved forward gracefully."

BETHUNE-COOKMAN

WHERE: Daytona Beach.

ENROLLMENT: 3,000.

NICKNAME: Wildcats.

COACH: Alvin Wyatt (67-33, 10th season).

CONFERENCE: Mid-Eastern Athletic.

LAST SEASON: 7-4, 4-4 MEAC (fifth).

LOCAL TIES: OL Robert Allen (Hudson), DE Wayne Byers (East Bay), DE Terrance Cato (Brandon), DT Ramon McCullough (transfer from USF), WR Dohnovan Simpson (Jefferson), OL Blake Varino (Jefferson), LB Ronnie McCullough (transfer from USF), LB Josh Balloon (transfer from USF), DB Steve Barthelot (St. Petersburg High).

STADIUM: Municipal Stadium (10,000).

OUTLOOK: B-CC appears poised to improve on its 7-4 mark from a year ago. Defensively, the Wildcats are anchored by Taurean Charles, a preseason All-MEAC first-team selection who logged 94 tackles in 2005. The offense returns two of the MEAC's top scorers in junior quarterback Jimmie Russell and senior receiver/running back Eric Weems. Special teams cost B-CC at least two games with missed field goals.

WEB SITE: www.cookman.edu/athletics

SCHEDULE: Saturday - vs. Southern at Jacksonville (Gateway Classic), 7 p.m.; Sept. 9 - Savannah State, 4 p.m.; Sept. 16 - at South Carolina State, 6 p.m.; Sept. 23 - Norfolk State, 4 p.m.; Sept. 30 - at Morgan State, 6 p.m.; Oct. 7 - Delaware State, 4 p.m.; Oct. 14 - Winston-Salem, 4 p.m.; Oct. 28 - North Carolina A&T, 4 p.m.; Nov. 4 - at Hampton, 1 p.m.; Nov. 11 - Howard, 4 p.m.; Nov. 18 - vs. FAMU at Orlando (Florida Classic), 4 p.m.