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Hoping to improve on perfection

B-CC is undefeated, but receiver Antonio "Mookie'' Stanley says the best is yet to come, for the team and him.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000


What a season Bethune-Cookman is having.

Undefeated B-CC has won seven consecutive games and has taken the lead in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with a 4-0 record.

For the first time since 1998, B-CC is ranked in a national poll, debuting Monday at No.24 in the Sports Network ranking. B-CC even got a first-place vote, and with 52 votes fell just two shy of debuting at No.25 in the USA Today/ESPN poll.

That's all fine and dandy with wide receiver Antonio "Mookie" Stanley, but to him, the Wildcats have not put forth their best effort.

The same goes for him, too.

"Right now, I think we still haven't played our best football," he said. "We still have some turnovers and a couple of mistakes. We're playing good, but we haven't played up to our ability yet.

"I know I haven't done it yet, either."

Entering the season, B-CC touted the 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior from Miami as an All-American candidate, and he was named to the preseason All-MEAC team -- honors earned because his 4.4-speed makes him dangerous as a wideout and a kick-returner.

He was a first team All-MEAC selection last season as a return specialist, and made the second team as a receiver. He caught 34 passes for 484 yards and five touchdowns. On special teams he returned 15 punts for 119 yards, averaging 7.9 yards, and returned nine kickoffs for 259 yards, averaging 28 yards.

Solid numbers, but Stanley only had 878 all-purpose yards, compared with his impressive sophomore season. In 1998 he compiled 1,035 all-purpose yards, returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown against Morgan State and another 64 yards for a score against Howard, which earned him MEAC rookie of the week honors. He was given the nickname "Mr. Excitement."

But the excitement has come too rarely for Stanley this season. A strained left hamstring sustained Sept.23 when he caught a touchdown against Morris Brown has hobbled him in his senior season. He has 16 catches for 281 yards and three touchdowns in six games. His best game was a 4-catch, 80-yard, two-touchdown performance against Delaware State on Oct.7.

Because coach Alvin Wyatt needs Stanley on offense, he took him off special teams so as not to worsen the injury. Stanley means that much to the team, Wyatt said.

"He's basically our offense, as much as (quarterback) Pa'tell Troutman or (B-back) Jay Rogers," Wyatt said. "When opponents try to shut down our option attack, we go to Stanley. That was evident against Delaware State in which he had two touchdowns."

Stanley, 22, wants to return to his old form. He wants to heal as soon as he can. But he understands it's a team game, and the team's success is all that concerns him.

"As long as I'm out there, helping along with the win, it all pans out," he said.

Of course, the entire offense, from Troutman on down, had gotten off to a slow start. And despite his injuries, Stanley has found other ways to contribute by reading defenses, helping Troutman and his fellow receivers adjust on the fly.

B-CC has a bye this week, which means more time for Stanley to heal. He talks about a return to doing the things that made him successful: running good routes -- whether slants, comebacks or curls -- and getting deep on opposing cornerbacks.

The Wildcats have not played the top teams in the MEAC. They visit conference-frontrunner North Carolina A&T on Oct.28.

So like his team, Stanley figures the best is yet to come.

"I think I'm doing good as far as the season goes," he said. "But I still haven't done a lot. Hopefully I will with (four) games left. I can show the rest of the world what I can do."

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