For Winston-Salem State, early-season football schedule will determine much

For Winston-Salem State, early-season football schedule will determine much
June 25
00:00 2015

In photo above: Running back Tyree Massey (5) scored six touchdowns and averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season. (Photo by Craig T. Greenlee)

   Seventy days. And counting.

   The start of another Winston-Salem State football season is only two-and-half months away. Even though the first official day of summer was last Sunday, the hunt for productive recruits continues as the Rams seek to reload in the wake of last year’s 9-3 finish.

   Winston-Salem State opens the season with four straight road games. The tone for the entire 2015 campaign could be determined based on how the Rams handle the first month of the season. Coach Kienus Boulware realizes that the early-season encounters will be an acid test for his crew.

     WSSU will face UNC Pembroke in the season opener on Sept. 3. The Braves figure to be much improved and are eager to show that they’ll be better than their 2-8 record from a year ago.

   The following week, the Rams play Valdosta State (Ga.), which has a good number of returnees from last year’s squad that lost in the quarterfinals of the national playoffs. The Blazers (10-3) were ranked 15th in the national rankings.

    WSSU’s early-season road sojourn continues with a trip to Tuskegee (Ala.), a team that’s expected to advance to the Division II playoffs for the third year in a row. The Golden Tigers barely missed making the Top 25 in last year’s end-of-season poll.

The month of September closes out with a CIAA opener against Elizabeth City State in the Down East Viking Football Classic played at Rocky Mount. In last year’s game, the Vikings stayed in a contention and trailed 14-7 at intermission. The Rams blew the game open with three second-half touchdowns and cruised to a 35-7 victory.

“Those early games will serve as a good measuring stick,” said Boulware, who will be entering his second season as the Rams head coach. “We’ll be going up against some teams that made the playoffs last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Valdosta State and Tuskegee in the pre-season national rankings. We’ll be in good shape if we can enter our first home game with a 4-0 mark.”

   Over the past five years, Winston-Salem State has had eight or more wins each season. Although the team lost a good share of top-flight performers on both sides of the ball, the Rams are expected to win the CIAA and reach the playoffs. That didn’t happen last year. It was the first time since 2010 that WSSU was absent from postseason play.

   Unlike last year when Rudy Johnson and Philip Sims split time at quarterback, there will be no suspense as to who gets the starting call for 2015. Boulware makes it clear that the job belongs to Justin Johnson, who missed spring practice as a result of being ruled academically ineligible.

    Johnson, a redshirt sophomore from High Point, has overcome his academic shortcomings and is ready to step in and produce. Boulware’s choice to go with Johnson over spring QBs Demetrius Lewis and Rod Tinsley Jr. – both freshmen – is based on Johnson’s familiarity with the multiple offense that the Rams will once again embrace after switching to the Pistol formation last season.

   “Of the three quarterbacks, Justin has the most experience with the system, so he’s our starter,” said Boulware. “Justin puts pressure on defenses with his ability to run and throw.”
    On the offensive front, the Rams have three anchors in Jac’que Polite, Isaiah Towns and Josh Wormley. Polite and Towns were starters on a line that paved the way for 35.7 points and 442.9 total yards per game a year ago.

   Boulware expects the Rams to show enough offensive balance to keep opponents from stacking the line of scrimmage to stop bruising running back Tyree Massey (5.4 yards per carry and 6 touchdowns). Johnson will look to connect often with a pair of receivers who have the same last name but are not related.

   Eric Williams had 37 catches for 583 yards and 9 touchdowns a season ago. Transfer Rashan Williams gives Johnson another reliable target to throw to.

   Defensively, the Rams figure to have their share of new faces. When pre-season practice begins in August, Boulware hopes to establish sufficient depth on the line which will enable WSSU to go two-deep at each line position. The key leaders up front are Michael Bloomfield (8 sacks, 4 QB hurries, 9 ½ tackles for losses) and Michael Douglas.

   “Overall, we’re young, talented and athletic,” said Boulware in assessing what he observed during spring practice. “Now it’s all a matter of building team chemistry and getting better at what we do each day.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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