New head coach Adrian Jones has set lofty goals for a Shaw team that wasn’t too far away from a winning season in 2015.
A plethora of close losses doomed the Bears to a 1-9 record, and 1-6 in the Division II CIAA, under former coach Robert Massey last year. But six of those nine losses were by just 10 points or fewer, and the lone win came against eventual CIAA champion Winston-Salem State.
With an impressive class of freshmen expected to make an immediate impact, Jones thinks the team can make a sharp turnaround in 2016.
“I inherited a good football team — the record doesn’t show that, but these kids want to win,” Jones said. “A lot of times (when) a new coach comes in, .500 is what you try to put your goals for ... but we decided that we wanted to win a CIAA championship.”
Here are four things to know about Shaw’s season.
1. New leadership under Jones
Jones, 42, comes to the program with extensive experience in the CIAA and elsewhere.
The Durham native was a two-time All-CIAA selection as a cornerback for N.C. Central in the 1990s. He was also an assistant coach, working with defensive backs and outside linebackers, for N.C. Central’s CIAA titles in 2005 and 2006 before he led Southern Durham to a 3AA state championship as the team’s head coach in 2013.
After being named Shaw’s coach in March, Jones signed several players — quarterback Timothy Abbott, running backs Rashad Mosely and Tevin Perry and defensive end Jamari Jiles — that he had recruited at now-FCS-level N.C. Central earlier in the offseason.
2. Freshmen take over
The Bears’ backfield will be filled with several new players as the offense seeks to improve from its 16.9 points-per-game average from a season ago.
Currently penciled in as the starting quarterback is Abbott, a 6-2, 215 pound freshman who threw for almost 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns at Calvin Coolidge High in Washington, D.C. last year.
Abbott will be handing off to a trio of running backs: junior Rahim Winston, who played at Durham Jordan; Perry, who played at Bunn and set a school record last season with 2,336 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns; and Mosely.
“Timothy has come in and grasped the offense and I think he’s going to be a great leader,” Jones said. “That backfield is pretty loaded, and on any given day, any of those guys can step in and be the star.”
3. Bears need to avoid turnovers
Only five out of the 168 members of Division II football threw more interceptions than Shaw (21) and only four had a worse turnover margin than Shaw (minus-19) last year, which played a major role in the team’s numerous narrow defeats.
Jones said he’s worked throughout summer camp on fixing those problems, teaching quarterbacks to throw the ball away when necessary and running backs to practice ball control.
4. Success on defensive line
A pair of senior defensive linemen will form the core of the Shaw defense.
Defensive end Dominique Hannibal, 6-0, 275 pounds, and tackle Dwight Campbell, 6-0, 285 pounds, combined for 89 tackles and 23 tackles for loss last year and should be even more aggressive this year.
“Those two guys at the D-line are hard to block,” Jones said. “Our guys, offensive line-wise, struggle blocking those two guys, and I’m just thankful those two guys are on our team and not an opponent.”
Previewing the season
College football is here. From now until Aug. 31, we’ll have previews both online and in print. Here’s the schedule:
Aug. 25: Shaw
Aug. 26: St. Augustine’s
Aug. 27: Campbell
Aug: 28: The ACC and East Carolina
Aug. 29: Duke and N.C. Central
Aug. 30: North Carolina
Aug. 31: N.C. State
Sept. 3 Limestone
Sept. 10 at Wingate
Sept. 17 UNC-Pembroke
Sept. 24 Bowie State
Oct. 1 at Elizabeth City State
Oct. 8 Fayetteville State
Oct. 15 at Livingstone
Oct. 22 Johnson C. Smith
Oct. 29 Winston-Salem State
Nov. 5 at St. Augustine’s