BY CRAIG T. GREENLEE
SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE
It’s no surprise that Winston-Salem State is the hands-down favorite to repeat as CIAA football champs. The Rams are coming off a history-making season in which they won 13 games, the most ever for a historically black college and they were also crowned Black College National Champions. WSSU fell one game short of advancing to last season’s title game of the NCAA Division II playoffs, losing 21-14 to Wayne State (Mich.) in the semifinals, but now it’s almost time for a new season to start. Coach Connell Maynor recently spoke to The Chronicle in a Q&A interview. Entering his third year as the “Head-Ram-In-Charge,” Maynor has compiled a 21-3 record.
Q: Are there any lingering memories of how last season ended with a defeat on WSSU’s home turf in the playoffs?
A: We made a good run. Everybody gave 100 percent and we played hard, played well. There were some dropped passes, missed blocks, missed tackles, and as coaches, we didn’t always make the right calls. For us, it was a case of not executing like we had earlier in the season. The bottom line is that we just got outplayed that day. It was a tough situation. But we’ll learn from it, remember how it felt to lose, and stay hungry. This team still has some goals to achieve. Hopefully, we can take that next step this season.
Q: Florida A&M is the only historically black college to ever win an NCAA championship in football (1978). Do you believe an HBCU will ever win an NCAA title?
A: I believe it’s going to happen.
Q: What makes winning a national football championship so difficult for black schools?
A: I believe it all comes down to scholarships. Most of the schools that end up playing for the Division II national championship are schools that have close to the full allotment (36) of scholarships allowed for football. The number of scholarships that other teams in the playoffs have is in the low 20s. In those situations, you’re not competing on a level playing field.
Q: Why is that?
A: During the course of a long college football season, injuries can take a toll. If your school can offer 36 scholarships, you can lose some players to injuries, but still have enough quality depth and the train keeps moving. But if you’re a program that has only 20 scholarships, there’s going to be a major drop-off talent-wise if several key players go down (with injuries).
Q: Fan expectations have always been sky-high for Winston-Salem State football. Is that good or bad? Does it matter?
A: For me, it’s good. Once you start winning, people get excited about coming to the games and they expect the best all the time. All of that comes when your team wins. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Winning never gets old.
Q: What motivates you?
A: I’m very competitive at everything I do and I don’t like to lose. It’s in my DNA. Because I’m so competitive, it pushes me to be the best. That’s why I get out there and beat the roads so I can find the best players and the best coaches for this program. I love to compete at the highest level.
Q: You’ve had a satisfying and rewarding relationship with Rams athletic director Bill Hayes, who was your college coach at Winston-Salem State and at North Carolina A&T. How would you describe that relationship?
A: It’s like father and son and it’s a great friendship. He’s been like a father to me since the first day I stepped on the Winston-Salem State campus. But it’s not just me. He’s also been a father and role model to his own sons as well as so many other guys who played for him during his coaching career.
Q: As a college player, you learned early on how much confidence Bill Hayes had in you. What happened?
A: We were getting ready to play the third game of the season in my freshman year at Winston-Salem State (1987). Coach Hayes asked for a vote among the coaching staff as to who should get the call as the starting quarterback. All the assistant coaches voted for the other two quarterbacks (Bobby Junior and Kenny Jones). The only vote I got was from Coach Hayes and I was named the starter. He’s always been loyal to me. When he left to go to North Carolina A&T, I knew that I had to go with him.
Q: The start of preseason practice is only days away. What are your thoughts about the upcoming season?
A: We put a lot emphasis on playing hard and competing from start to finish. Our players have learned that if they do the right things for 60 minutes, things tend to work out in their favor, and the wins and losses will take care of themselves.