Rams display stout defense, bruising rushing attack in spring game

Rams display stout defense, bruising rushing attack in spring game
April 14
00:00 2016
Photo by Craig T. Greenlee
Rams defensive back Kenneth Sharpe (24) tackles the runner for a short gain.



Winston-Salem State’s football faithful recently got an early-bird look at their favorite team.

The Rams held their annual spring game at Atkins High School last Saturday. The controlled scrimmage lasted about 90 minutes in front of a surprisingly large crowd of about 500. Those loyal souls braved some bone-chilling winds on a day in early spring that was more reminiscent of a day in November.

The Red team prevailed with a 14-6 win over the White team in a contest that signaled the end of spring practice. Looking ahead to the fall, Coach Kienus Boulware hopes to take full advantage of having enough able bodies on the roster to get through an entire season.

“I like our depth and our numbers,” said Boulware, who’s entering his third season as the Rams head coach. “If we can keep everybody, we’re going to have real good chance (to have a championship season).”

Typically, Winston-Salem State fields stellar defensive teams and that’s not likely to change in 2016. Trinity Roberts, Brian James and Amyl Smith are key figures in what promises to be a formidable D-line rotation. All three recorded one sack apiece in the spring game. Xavier Gregory and Kyrell Williamson show positive signs of emerging as the designated ringleaders at linebacker.

Offensively, look for the Rams to hammer the opposition with a bruising ground game. At this juncture, there’s no way to tell who might get the call as the featured running back. Tyree Massey (867 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns) got most of the totes in 2015, but since it was his senior season, he’s no longer available for duty.

Xavier Quick (320 yards, 3 TDs and 4.5 yards per carry last season) could be the one. The Rams, though, are deep at running back. Kerrion Moore (281 yards, 1 TD, 5.6 yards per carry in 2015) showcased his breakaway skills in the spring game by darting through the defense on a 55-yard touchdown run. Moore gained 62 yards on five totes for the White team.

Malik Mosley, who saw spot duty a year ago, is a capable ball carrier who has the ability to make tacklers miss in the open field.

Perhaps the most intriguing backfield prospect for WSSU is Justus Pickett, a transfer from Tennessee who also played at Maryland. Pickett, a senior, produced the game-winning score on a 28-yard touchdown run last Saturday. He finished the day with 40 yards on 10 carries.

“We have few guys who can take it the distance,” said Boulware. “But we also have a couple of guys who can pound you until the cows come home. It’s going to be an arsenal there.”

Using this year’s spring game as a barometer for WSSU’s passing attack is a tricky proposition. With the strong winds, there was no way to get a feel for the quarterbacks’ throwing accuracy or the ability of the receivers to make the proper adjustments on deep throws and fade routes.

For now, the Rams starting QB is Rod Tinsley Jr., the redshirt-freshman who led WSSU to victory over Bowie State in the CIAA championship game last November. When fall practice begins, JUCO transfer A.J. Nocciolo is expected to challenge Tinsley.

Tinsley connected on 6 of 13 throws for 81 yards, which included a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Holmes. Nocciolo, his counterpart on the White team, completed 8 of 15 passes for 65 yards.

Boulware concedes that Tinsley has an advantage because he’s had a full year in the Rams offensive system. Even so, he likes the progress that Nocciolo has made since his arrival at WSSU in January.

“Right now, Rod has the hot hand,” said Boulware. “We brought A.J. in for the spring and he hasn’t a chance to get his feet wet in our system until now. He’s better now than when he came in. But Rod was the quarterback in the CIAA championship game. He had a chance to taste some adversity early on and grow through it.”

Tinsley finds himself in a vastly different situation from a year ago. At that time, he was one of several newcomers who had aspirations to become the Rams starter at QB. During the season, Tinsley had his struggles. But in the end, he played a big role in bringing another CIAA football championship trophy back to Winston-Salem State.

“The difference between last year and right now is confidence,” he said. “I’ve studied and I know the play book a lot better. I know my abilities and what I can do. In that championship game, we had some low moments, but we figured it out. I learned how to stay confident and believe in my teammates.

“To build on that, you keep studying film; keep getting better in the weight room and the practice field. It’s about perfecting your craft and being the best that you can be.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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