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Wofford counting on young stars to step up

PostPosted: Thu Aug 10, 2006 9:19 am
by BestOfBreed
http://www.wilmingtonstar.com/apps/pbcs ... /608090753

Wofford counting on young stars to step up

By PETE IACOBELLI
AP Sports Writer
GREENVILLE, S.C. | A winning season like last year might've been good enough for Wofford before - but not anymore.

Linebacker Justin Franklin remembers his freshman year of 2003 when the Terriers rolled to a Southern Conference title with a perfect league record and reached the national semifinals.

"There was a swagger," Franklin says, "just a difference knowing that if we went for it on fourth down on our 20 and didn't make it, we knew we'd stop them and get the ball right back."

Franklin, a senior who is the team's top returning tackler, sees that special charisma returning. And he thinks that means the Terriers will improve on their 6-5 finish a season ago to compete for a SoCon championship.

"In the past, we'd be happy winning more than we lost," Franklin said. "This is a different Wofford."

The Terriers have risen into league contenders the past seven seasons, peaking from 2002-04 with a 30-8 mark. However, the team took a step back last year with its mediocre finish.

Some of that was due to the loss of Kevious Johnson, a 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore who missed last year because of academics.

"Could he have helped, yeah. Could he have made the difference, I don't know," Wofford coach Mike Ayers said.

Johnson returns in good standing this fall, prepared to make up for his season away.

Ayers recalls the start of January workouts and Johnson looking winded and out of shape. "Kevious, we got a lot of work to do this semester," Ayers told him.

"He looked me right in the eyes and said, 'Coach, I missed all these guys. I missed Wofford. I'm going to get it done,'" Ayers remembered. "And he's done the things he needs to do."

Terrier quarterback Josh Collier says Johnson's return will elevate everyone. "Knowing you've got a guy who's a 1,000-yard back gives us confidence," he said.

What also should boost Terrier hopes, Ayers says, is that many of the players recruited off Wofford's high-water marks are poised to contribute.

Players like quarterback-turned-halfback Dane Romero and fullback Adrian Young saw unexpected time in the backfield last year because of injuries. Ayers thinks there are many younger players who can make a similar impact this season.

"All the guys that we have on the team, none of them have ever had a losing season," said Ayers, who starts his 19th season at Wofford. "And most of them have had great years. They understand how we do it. They understand how we did it. The thing we've got to do is do it."

Collier, a junior, could help get that done. He took control at quarterback last year in replacing Wofford's combo of Jeff Zolman and Trey Rodgers. Collier was the Terriers' second-leading rusher with 530 yards and tied for the team lead with six rushing TDs. He also passed for 617 yards, the Terriers highest total in four years.

Franklin should lead the charge on defense, which must fill a big hole at nose tackle left by the departure of three-year standout Katon Bethay.

If Ayers and his staff made the right calls on recruits the past few seasons, any dropoff should barely be noticed.

"I think we've upped the bar some," Ayers said.

Perhaps that's why another 6-5 season just won't cut it in Franklin's eyes.

"We expect to do better than that," he said. "It's not the same at Wofford."