By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000
Florida A&M coach Billy Joe stares at his schedule, perennially one of the toughest in Division I-AA, and feels a little like a cowboy invited to a gunfight with the flashiest pistol in the group.
Unfortunately for Joe, there is a good chance the only thing coming out of the barrel is a stick with a flag that says "Bang."
After coming within 44 seconds of advancing to the Division I-AA championship game last season, Joe and the Rattlers will attempt to replace a quarterback who threw for more than 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, not to mention three of their top four receivers. For the first time in a long time, FAMU's offense may not be the talk of the MEAC.
"Even though we have an outstanding quarterback coming back, we're going to be down a little bit," Joe said. "We have the trigger man, but I don't know if we have the bullets now."
One big bullet returning to FAMU is receiver Jaquay Nunnally. Nunnally caught 68 passes for 774 yards and seven touchdowns last season. After catching 93 passes in 1998, the senior needs 43 to break Jerry Rice's career record.
"I think he will have his best year ever this year," Joe said. "There's a good chance he may break that record, but the fact that he's the only one returning gives me some cause for concern. Hopefully some of the rising freshmen and sophomores can get the job done."
Working in the Rattlers' favor is the fact that quarterback Quinn Gray has been around the system for five years. After three years of being knocked from the No. 1 job by junior college or Division I transfers, he is finally set to take the reins of the Gulf Coast Offense.
The past two seasons, Gray has been bumped by Pat Bonner and JaJuan Seider, both of whom went to the NFL after graduating. This season, Joe is sticking with the senior who threw for 1,329 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
"This is our first home-grown quarterback," Joe said. "Last year JaJuan Seider came from West Virginia and earned the job after the first three games, had an unbelieveable season and was drafted by the Chargers. But this year we have no quarterback at this time conceivable of beating Quinn out. I'm very happy we have an experienced quarterback going into the season."
While Gray is the most experienced part of the offense, the Rattler defense is going to be the main reason for any success FAMU might have.
Beginning with defensive end Jauron Dailey, who had 19 tackles and two sacks last season, and ending with a linebacking corps as fine as any in the nation, and FAMU could improve upon last year's numbers. That's saying something when you consider the Rattler defense held opponents to 23 points and 158 yards rushing per game.
"Jauron Dailey is very quick, an outstanding pass rusher with great technique," Joe said. "He's going to get it done for us. He's truly an All-American."
Behind Dailey is a linebacking squad led by Patrick Burrows, whom Joe compared to Earl Holmes Jr., one of the greatest tacklers in school history.
"We have great depth at linebacker," Joe said. "I could go on and on and on talking about those guys. We have Patrick Burrows, who could be the best linebacker to ever play at FAMU. Our defense is linebacker driven, and one thing we have have quality is linebackers."