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Ayers hoping to bring success back

PostPosted: Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:54 am
by BestOfBreed
From the Charleston Post Courier:
http://www.charleston.net/assets/webPages/departmental/news/Stories.aspx?section=sports&tableId=103712&pubDate=8/22/2006

Ayers hoping to bring success back
Tuesday, August 22, 2006

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BY ANDREW MILLER

Wofford coach Mike Ayers has become a victim of his own success.

After winning the school's first Southern Conference title and advancing to the Division I-AA semifinals in 2003, expectations around the Wofford program have gone through the roof.

And why shouldn't they be? With an enrollment of fewer than 1,200 students, Ayers has built the Terriers into a winner in the Southern Conference. Since 2002, no team in the Southern Conference has produced a better record than Wofford. Over the last four seasons, the Terriers are 35-13 overall, with a SoCon best .729 winning percentage.

So, while some coaches and fans around the SoCon might have been satisfied with a 6-5 record in 2005, Ayers certainly was not among them.

"Last season was a disappointment to us," said Ayers, who has compiled a 116-85-1 mark in 18 seasons with the Terriers. "Over the last three or four seasons we've set the bar pretty high around here, so going 6-5 just doesn't cut it. We honestly expect to win every time we step on the field. Our goal is to win a Southern Conference championship every season, so our standards and expectations are pretty high."

With only a handful of upper-classmen as starters last year, the Terriers had one of the youngest teams in the SoCon in 2005.

"For whatever reason, last year was the youngest football team we've ever put on the field," Ayers said. "That probably hurt us a times during the season."

Ayers said some of the blame for last season's 6-5 record falls on his shoulders.

"Ultimately, it's my fault when the team doesn't perform on the field," Ayers said. "I should have done a better job of coaching. We were not able to make the critical plays at the critical time in some games. We just didn't do a good job of getting those guys ready. We may have tried to do too much. We have a better plan this year and we're a year more mature in some critical spots."

With 11 retuning starters, Ayers is optimistic about the Terriers chances of returning to the upper echelon of the SoCon this fall.

"Anytime you've got a year of experience under your belt, your players will be able to make those critical plays in critical situations," Ayers said. "Kids that have that added year of experience, they may not be faster on a watch but they'll play faster. Once you get the thought process out of it, that allows your guy to play as fast as he can play. If he's out there thinking, he won't be the player he needs to be and it won't work for you."

Along with six returning starters on offense, the Terriers will again have the services of running back Kevious Johnson. Johnson, the 2004 SoCon freshman of the year, missed last season because of academic troubles. In just two seasons, the 5-9, 190-pound junior has rushed for 1,897 yards and 18 touchdowns.

"The bottom line for him is that he's hungry, he wants to get back, he wants to play," Ayers said. "He missed it. He's ready to go. In January we had the early morning workouts and after the first workout, you could tell he hadn't done a lot of agility work. It was a pretty hard morning for him.

"He came up to me after it was over. I said 'Kevious, we've got a lot of work to do this semester.' He looked me in the eye and said 'Coach, I missed all these guys. I missed Wofford.' He's done all the things he needs to do. I think with Kevious in the lineup we've probably got the best group of running backs we've had since I've been here."

Quarterback Josh Collier returns for his second season as a starter. In the Terriers' option offense, Collier was the team's second-leading rusher with 530 yards. He also threw for 617 yards and three TDs.

"Our offense starts with Josh," Ayers said. "He's a great decision maker, but he needs to be a little more consistent with some of things he does. But that goes back to experience. He has a year under his belt, so I think we'll see an improvement from Josh this season."

Defensively, the Terriers return five starters, but will be without All-America nose tackle Katon Bethay, who graduated last May.

"That's a big hole to fill," Ayers said. "Katon was probably the best nose guard we've had here."

Filling in this year at nose guard will be either Bryan Blair and Jared McCullough.

"Bryan is one of those guys whose an unusual-looking nose guard," Ayers said. "I'm not sure if Brian is 5-5 or 5-6, but he's 255 pounds. He's very explosive, very quick, probably one of the toughest guys that we have to block. Jared McCullough has a very similar body type to Katon Bethay, a big, thick guy. He's still learning the position, but he's got a lot of talent."

Reach Andrew Miller at apmiller@postandcourier.com.