Ayers looking for momentum when Terriers face Bulldogs

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Ayers looking for momentum when Terriers face Bulldogs

Postby BestOfBreed on Wed Aug 30, 2006 10:42 am

http://www.thetandd.com/articles/2006/0 ... 605873.txt

Ayers looking for momentum when Terriers face Bulldogs

By THOMAS GRANT JR., T&D Senior Sports Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

SPARTANBURG – An atypical 6-5 season provided more than enough reason for longtime Wofford head coach Mike Ayers to sport a fiercer than usual scowl.

Yet entering his 19th season with the Terriers, it’s been all smiles for the fiery Terriers’ sideline leader and longest tenured head coach in the Palmetto State.

Even with the graduation of All-American nose tackle Katon Bethay, Ayers sees a backfield he, without hesitation, calls the “best corps of running backs in the history of the school” bolstered by the reinstatement of Southern Conference Freshman of the Year Kevious Johnson. There’s also the return of 11 starters and a stronger team camaraderie following a tough, physical training camp, all of which adds up to high optimism for a program which owns the highest winning percentage of any SoCon team since 2002.

“In the past, we’d be happy winning more than losing,” said senior linebacker Justin Franklin. “This is a different Wofford.”

A loss to the Bulldogs, however, would not just even the Terriers’ all-time record in season-openers at home, currently standing at 21-20-1. With five straight games against Palmetto State schools, including conference home games against Furman and The Citadel, the last thing Ayers wants is something which would stall any early-season momentum.

“I think anytime that you open up, you want to get off to a good start,” Ayers said on Monday. “I think the thing that it does is that psychologically, it helps your football team and makes them understand that all the hard work that you’ve put them through has paid off. Playing a team the caliber of South Carolina State ... you’ve got to come out and you better play extremely well. If you’re fortunate enough to win the game, that gives up a leg up.

“If for some reason at the end of the year, you’re vying for one of the spots in the (Division I-AA) playoffs, and you’ve gone head-to-head with a team and you’ve beaten them, you should have an advantage.”

Having a focal point of the offense back in Johnson, who missed last season for academic reasons, provides a major boost for a rushing attack which ranked fourth in the nation last year with an average of 283.4 yards per game. The Fitzgerald, Ga., native is already ranked 13th on the school’s all-time list with 1,858 yards and played a role in Wofford’s 24-22 win over SCSU two years ago with a game-opening 90-yard kickoff return.

“There’s no doubt when you look at him being Freshman of the Year, he’s just an explosive difference-maker,” Ayers said. “When he was gone, we had some other guys who stepped in and did a real nice job. That player who took his place ended up getting hurt and it left a void. Anytime you have a guy that’s a 1,000-yard rusher and you take him out of the mix, there’s definitely a change and there’s a difference. But it’s great to have him back and the thing that we want to focus on is getting him back on track and getting us back on track.”

Johnson’s return makes a backfield even more deeper with converted halfback Dane Romero, Andrian Young and newcomers Brian Whitehurst and Jeremy Marshall. Despite having a potently lethal running game and an experienced offensive line, much of the focus in training camp has been on the passing game.

Junior quarterback Jason Collier is back after throwing for 617 yards and rushing for 530 yards and six TDs last season. However, slated freshman backup Steve Davitte out of Irmo High School is out indefinitely with a back injury, forcing the team to move Travis Boyd from defensive back.

A team strength with three returning starters, the secondary will also most likely not have starting junior cornerback Brian Kemp who’s out with a hamstring injury. If there’s one concern Ayers does have about this year’s Terriers, it is the quality of depth on his second-team on both sides of the football.

Facing an SCSU team he called “well-coached” and one which can present problems because of their athleticism, Ayers believes his team cannot afford to make any mistakes.

“We know that South Carolina State is very physical, very fast,” he said. “They’ve given us problems in the past as far as them being able to separate off of blocks. We’ve got to do a great job with our offensive front. We’ve got to establish the run and then when we have an opportunity to throw the ball, we need to be effective.”

Ayers to speak

at OTC

Before facing SCSU head football coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough on the gridiron, Ayers will join him this Thursday at The Cinema as the first guest speaker for this year’s weekly Orangeburg Touchdown Club meeting. This is the fifth straight year Ayers has spoken to the club and has consistently been one of its best and most memorable speakers.

The Cinema will open at 11:30 a.m. with a buffet, followed by the start of the meeting at noon.

Record setter

The 2003 contest between SCSU and Wofford drew a then-record 11,486 fans to 13,000-seat Gibbs Stadium. It stood for one year until the Furman/Wofford game in 2004 drew 12,042 fans.

Birthday terrier

Wofford wide receiver Andy Strickland turns 19 on Saturday. He missed practice last week after having boils removed from his chest and stomach.

Palmetto State tour

Saturday’s contest against South Carolina State is the first of five consecutive games for Wofford against teams from South Carolina. The Terriers will play host to Coastal Carolina on Sept. 9, followed by a trip to the University of South Carolina on Sept. 16 and. after a bye week, back-to-home home conference games against Furman (Sept. 30) and The Citadel (Oct. 7).

T&D Senior Sports Writer Thomas Grant Jr. can be reached by e-mail at tgrant@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-533-5547. Discuss this and other stories online at TheT&D.com.
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