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Rebuilt Wildcats surge toward top

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


It was the moment Alvin Wyatt knew Bethune-Cookman had officially turned the corner.

His greatest rival told him so.

Minutes after the 1997 Florida Classic, after Florida A&M had beaten B-CC 52-35, Rattlers coach Billy Joe seized the Wildcats coach's arm amid the post-game chaos and gave his assessment.

"Coach, I smell something brewing in Daytona," Wyatt recalls Joe telling him. "Wyatt, ya'll are doing something right."

Indeed he was.

Gone are the days when B-CC football was in disarray, when the school was placed on NCAA probation in 1995 for using ineligible players. Penalties were imposed, scholarships were lost and interest waned as fans at Municipal Stadium became as sparse as wins.

Thank Wyatt, who took over in 1996. Under his stewardship, B-CC has won 15 games in the past two seasons, posting its first back-to-back winning seasons since '84-'85. If not yet a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference contender, B-CC certainly is a force.

This year especially. The team is blessed with skill, talent and savvy, no more so than at quarterback, where preseason All-MEAC selection Pa'tell Troutman is expected again to shine in his third year as starter. In 1999 he completed 77 of 146 passes for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns, and he rushed for 1,023 yards and nine touchdowns.

"He's the best black college quarterback around," Wyatt said. "I know that for sure."

Coach isn't alone. Street Smith's Black College Football edition featured Troutman on its cover and touted him as a preseason MVP pick.

Troutman, though, is more excited about the talent that will surround him than any individual honors.

"We're stacked this year," the senior said. "I'm real confident this year. My first year (as a sophomore) I had too much adrenalin flowing through my blood. I can sit back and relax now. We have the talent.

"Everybody is a lot closer, everybody is stepping up and everybody has their head on their shoulders when it comes time to play now."

Troutman is joined on the preseason All-MEAC team by wide receiver and return specialist Antonio "Mookie" Stanley, defensive lineman Damion Cook and kicker James Mathis.

The Wildcats have seven starters returning on offense and defense, and 45 letterman return in all from last year's 7-4 team, which finished sixth in the MEAC.

Wyatt has been tinkering with his "Wyattbone" offense -- his four-reciever, one-back set -- this season, hoping to open up the passing game to set up a rushing attack too often stymied by past opponents.

The coaching staff has been doing some tinkering with Troutman, too, slimming down all the muscle the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder packed on last season, restoring the speed, agility and quickness he flashed his sophomore season.

All this, and yet BCC still labors under sanctions until 2002; there are 16 fewer scholarship this season and eight less next season.

But just as important to Wyatt as any returning starters or new offensive schemes is the restored base of fans and alumni that now fill Municipal Stadium.

That, he said, is the true indication of how far Wildcat football has come since the dark days of 1995.

"Now we've got the support of our alumni, boosters, friends, fans, that's really wrapping their arms around us," Wyatt said. "I feel like the 12th person was missing and we've got them back."

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