Friday, February 09, 2007

Selected 2004 Grambling preseason stories

GSU's program regroups after bumpy ride
August 7, 2004
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - The prevailing attitude, as Grambling State reconvenes for summer sessions, can be summed up with one word: Finally.

Players report on Sunday to a program remade through personnel changes, but resilient after all the adversity, said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears.

"These bumps in the road have had the tendency of drawing our players closer together," Spears said.

Fans knew a few familiar faces would not be on hand when practice begins again on Monday. All-conference wide receiver Tramon Douglas, along with three of the team's four starting defensive backs, graduated in May.

But, beginning with the dismissal of defensive line coach Gabe Northern in early December, the look of the program's leadership began a drastic overhaul. Sixth-year head coach Doug Williams then hired a new defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, only to leave for a job in the NFL as they took over.

Spears was named interim, and then made another change at defensive coordinator. That was all before athletics director Al Dennis was let go on July 1. The defensive coordinator position remains open.

But now it's time to get to work. Coaches and players alike are eager for the comfortable repetition that the summer sessions will bring.

"For me, practice is a joy," said GSU defensive line coach Luther Palmer, the leading candidate for a defensive coordinator spot that's been vacant since late April. "Getting back on the football field will be a relief from everything - regardless of where we're coming from. Being on that field is not exactly work. It's a labor of love. This time of year, you're biting at the bit."

Defensive standout Kenneth Pettway said Palmer's infectious energy has helped the team pull through.

"Even if the team got down, he didn't," said Pettway, who led the team in tackles in 2003. "When the season rolls around, and we get to December, that will be the payoff - when we get another ring. He keeps the whole team's spirit up, every day."

Selected at the Southwestern Athletic Conference's annual media day to finish second in the West, Grambling State enters the summer sessions with pitched battles to replace Douglas and those defensive backs. They'll also be entering an off-season for the first time since 2001 without a new championship trophy in the athletic support facility's lobby.

"We'll have to focus in on the task at hand," Spears said. "We're not the champs anymore. Coach Williams always stressed that there would be trials and tribulations. But you've got to tie your shoes and come on in to work, every day. Our guys have done that."

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GSU has new passing pattern
With Douglas gone, WR stable emerges
August 8, 2004

By Nick Deriso
It will take an army to fill the shoes of departed three-time all-conference receiver Tramon Douglas at Grambling State. Literally.

"Our philosophy this year," said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears, "is to play between six and eight guys at wide receiver."

The Tigers report for summer sessions today with a remade coaching staff and a remade secondary. But there may be no more important position to resolve than who will be downfield for quarterback Bruce Eugene, named to the preseason I-AA All America team by The Sports Network.

"I've got to get used to not seeing him out there," Eugene said of Douglas, who hauled in 28 touchdown strikes from Eugene in just two seasons. "He was that safety valve that I always had."

Douglas graduated in May, but not before breaking GSU's single-season receiving records for catches, yards and touchdowns - as well as career receptions.

"He was the heart of what we did last year," said Sammy White, who coached receivers for six seasons before being named offensive coordinator this spring.

Douglas is the only person in Southwestern Athletic Conference history, including such luminaries as Jerry Rice and White himself, to record more than 1,700 receiving yards in a single season.

"There will always be an initial drop-off when you lose a guy like Tramon Douglas," Spears said. "But I think we've got some guys who are going to step up. There's going to be a dog fight at wide receiver."

But losing Douglas isn't the unit's only challenge: Tim Abney, the team's No. 3 receiver last year, hasn't practiced this off-season because of a lingering groin injury. He had six touchdown catches - tied with senior Moses Harris, this year's presumptive No. 1 target.

"Moses had a decent year," White said. "But this year we look for him to break out."

Henry Tolbert - who the coaches call "Mr. Do Anything" - will move from running back to Douglas' position in the slot.

"A utility guy," White enthuses. "I can put him outside, too. I can put him in the backfield. He's working hard."

The top receivers going into summer sessions are Harris, transfer Frank Green and freshman Paul Hardiman, who redshirted last year. Talented performers who could quickly push into the top six include junior Bakari Guice, a former Wossman High standout, and Houston-Westbury High signee Clyde Edwards.

"We have a bunch of great receivers," Eugene said, after ticking off the list of hopefuls.

His coach agreed: "We just got a wealth of outstanding wide receivers," Spears said. "So it's going to be great to watch."

GSU's August Agenda
Interim GSU coach Melvin Spears will tell you that winning often comes down to a play or two.

He will tell you that one or two moments in its final game of 2003 kept Grambling State from an unprecedented fourth trip to the Southwestern Athletic Conference title game.

"That's correct," he said, looking determined. "That's exactly the way we are approaching this season."

So, he'll tinker with the well-established template left behind by former GSU coach Doug Williams, Spears' mentor. He'll add a flourish, or a feint.

But this is not an out pattern. No, Spears talks about the legacy of his adopted school often, taking as his mantra: "Raising the bar." He repeats it often, adding. "That's all we're going to do."

Last season, Grambling State would fall behind, only to mount a succession of late-game offensive explosions. It was October before someone other than the quarterback scored a rushing touchdown.

As GSU reports for its first summer sessions in six seasons without Williams, his former offensive coordinator will challenge them to do a little more, and do it a little better:

Camp competition: It wasn't going to be easy replacing senior All-SWAC receiver Tramon Douglas - who led the team in receiving and the conference in all-purpose yardage last year.

Then Tim Abney, a sophomore on the rise, spent the spring and summer trying to recover from a lingering groin injury. That leaves the door open behind senior Moses Harris, who is slated for the No. 1 position.

Aaron Johnson, the sophomore out of Shreveport's Huntington High, would presumably move into Abney's No. 2 role, if he sits out. Junior Bakari Guice, freshman Paul Hardiman and sophomore transfer Frank Green will compete there, too. Junior wide receiver Henry Tolbert will start in the slot.

Numbers crunch: Even though Spears has played a larger role on the defensive side this off-season, the assistants have a lot of ground to make up in working with a unit that finished No. 9 out of 10 SWAC school in pass and red-zone defense in 2003.

On the cusp: Senior linebacker Kenneth Pettway excelled after he was called upon to work on the defensive line when injuries felled ends Lennard Patton and Jason Hatcher. That versatility, and his non-stop motor, has him poised for a breakout season.

Instant impact: Clyde Edwards, the receiver out of Houston-Westbury High, has already exhibited the kind of athleticism and polish to start - even as a freshman. "He has shown that, with a little bit of coaching, he could do very well," said GSU offensive coordinator Sammy White. "He's catching everything in sight."

Shallow pool: There has been little consistency in the punting and return game. Freshman punter Larry Anderson from Redemptorist was signed, and could see immediate playing time. There hasn't been a solid returner since Kenneth Shanklin's breakout season a couple of years back. While running back Keantwon Gray looked good in the spring, a deep pool of receiver talent could also be raided to fix this lingering problem.

On the mend: Abney was poised for a breakout season, before a groin injury failed to heal properly. The staff thought resting him through the off-season would help, but Abney's still slowed by the problem. Losing almost 17 yards per reception - or, say, his four-catch, two-touchdown performance against Southern in the 2003 Bayou Classic - would be a crushing blow.

Gone with the wind: Junior backup quarterback Gary Cooper, perhaps tired of waiting for Bruce Eugene to falter, has quit the program. In two seasons, Cooper played in parts of just eight games - with 260 yards passing, two touchdowns and three interceptions. All but 54 of those yards, and both touchdowns, were in 2002.

Camp chatter: "There will always be an initial drop-off when you lose a guy like Tramon Douglas," said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears. "But I think we've got some guys who are going to step up. There's going to be a dogfight at wide receiver. The entire secondary was also a focus. Right now, the jobs don't belong to anyone. The best guys after these next 28 days will start."

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Coaching staff set at GSU
Palmer moved to defensive coordinator
August 10, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Grambling State defensive line coach Luther Palmer has been promoted to defensive coordinator by interim coach Melvin Spears.

Several other new coaches - each a celebrated local product - also took the field Monday morning as GSU began a month of preseason practices.

Palmer, originally hired by former coach Doug Williams, has been running the defense since Tom Lavigne was let go on April 29.

"I think he's going to do a really good job," said senior Kenneth Pettway, a linebacker who worked with Palmer this spring after converting to defensive end. "The players already relate to him. He could turn this defensive line alone into one that has three or four All-Americans come out of it."

Meanwhile, former GSU All-American Andre Robinson will oversee the linebackers. Calvin Spears and Chris Brown, members of the multiple Southwestern Athletic Conference championship teams under Williams, will assist with the cornerbacks.

The announcement of a new coordinator was reportedly slowed by the exit of an interim president at Grambling State and then the dismissal of the university's athletics director.

"Doug Williams gave me this opportunity, right before he left," said Palmer, whose 2001 squad at Virginia Union led Division II in both interceptions and pass defense. "It was a thrill. I'm happy to carry on his and Eddie Robinson's tradition. I think they'd agree that Grambling still has a future in front of it. There is unlimited potential here - not just in athletics but from an academic standpoint."

Palmer first caught his former head coach's eye, Williams said, when they shared the bench at the Black College All-Star Game in 1995 at Birmingham, Ala.

GSU's defensive MVP for Eddie Robinson in 1981, Andre Robinson made a head coaching position at Parker High in Birmingham into a bully pulpit for his college alma mater - establishing a pipeline of talent to Grambling.

"Andre Robinson is one of those ultimate Gramblinites," Melvin Spears said. "We feel like, with the support he has given us over the years, he deserves an opportunity to be on our staff."

Notable recent roster members include running back Henry Tolbert, strong safety Joshua Bester and defensive end Antonio Hughes. Three-time All-SWAC linebacker Robert Taylor also attended the Birmingham school.

The connections actually stretch from the earliest days of Grambling State football - when Eddie Robinson recruited future Pro Football Hall of Famer Junious "Buck" Buchanan from Parker - all the way into 2004's freshmen signees. Receiver Xavier Jackson and offensive lineman Tavares Cockrell are among the latest products to arrive at GSU.

"That's one of the biggest thrills of my life, seeing kids continue the tradition of Parker-to-Grambling," said Robinson, one of just 150 high school coaches and administrators invited to the NFL's Youth Football Summit in 2002.

Meanwhile, Calvin Spears played for the NFL's Browns and Giants for two years, then spent last season with AFL's New Orleans VooDoo. "That opportunity to play professional football will benefit our players," Melvin Spears said. "And he'll bring a younger mindset."

The son of former GSU wide receiver Calvin Nicholas, Calvin Spears is perhaps best remembered for an interception he made as Alabama A&M, trailing 7-6, was putting together a long drive late in the 2000 SWAC championship game. Spears returned the pick 47 yards for a touchdown, the decisive play in a 14-6 win.

But his former assistant head coach said Spears never finished college: "He's less than 12 hours away from graduating - and that's a priority," said Melvin Spears, who endured an off-season tempest over a master's degree that wasn't awarded because of minor unfinished paperwork. "He needs to graduate."

Brown, who played one NFL season at Jacksonville, was a member of The Sports Network's 2002 Division I-AA Preseason All-America Team.

The final decision to promote Palmer, Melvin Spears said, was borne out of a summer spent game planning, weightlifting and praying.

"Palmer and I really hit it off, because we have similar personalities," Spears said. "We both put Christ first. I think of myself as a workaholic, and he was the same kind of guy. He's here when I get here. I'll be leaving at 10 or 11 o'clock and he'll be leaving at 10 or 11 o'clock. He's been tireless."

Pettway says he shares that admiration for Palmer's work ethic.

"You think you are sneaking in here to work, trying to do something early, and Coach Palmer will be here to meet you," said Pettway, the SWAC's defensive player of the week after GSU's 2003 opener. "I think: 'If he can get up early in the morning, I can too.' Everything he does is inspirational to me."

On the Tiger beat
Freshman Clyde Edwards from Westbury High in Houston, who lined up as the No. 2 receiver, wore departed All-American Tramon Douglas' old No. 5 jersey. ... Wide receiver Antonio Hargrove transferred from Mississippi State at the last minute, arriving just in time for Monday's practice. The senior wore No. 81. ... Freshman punter Tim Manuel from New Iberia boomed his first try more than 50 yards. His father Bucky was on hand for the practice. ... GSU has 18 players on its summer roster from northeastern Louisiana, and four more from nearby Vicksburg, Miss.

Spears says: "Anytime you have an individual who has been an assistant for so long in association with one school and his coach, it says a lot about (new defensive coordinator) Luther Palmer's loyalty. We wanted a guy with that kind of long-standing commitment - somebody not just with experience but with a history of sticking around."

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Just like brothers
Spears, Brown on same page with GSU backs
August 12, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - They communicate, on and off the field, like brothers.

They finish each other's sentences, working in tandem as they once did during multiple Southwestern Athletic Conference title runs at Grambling State.

As new defensive backs coach Calvin Spears drills down into a point, he knows that assistant Chris Brown will be on the same page.

That partnership - and the youthful insight each brings - already has ignited a completely remade GSU secondary.

"We've been friends since high school," said Spears, who spent time in the Browns and Giants camps before his breakout season in 2003 with the AFL's New Orleans VooDoo. "It's almost like a marriage between us. He knows what I'm going to say before I say it, because we've talked about these concepts so many times."

Interim coach Melvin Spears brought in the two former GSU standouts after the Tigers slipped to ninth out of the 10 Southwestern Athletic Conference teams in pass defense last season.

"He brings this enthusiasm," said Melvin Spears, who is cousin with Calvin Spears' mother. "We were looking for a guy who was a student of the game - and Calvin has always been one - but also a guy who can teach our players how it's done at the next level."

Starters in practice this week are Texas Tech transfer Ivory McCann and sophomore Greg Fassitt at the corners, with sophomore Brian Langford and senior Jermaine Mills at safety.

Players also vying for a spot include corners Houston freshman Deshon Pennie, Louisiana Tech transfer Lewis Carter and Jonesboro-Hodge freshman Brandon Thompson. Converted quarterback Brandon Logan is also turning heads at safety.

"Logan is going to be a big help to us," new defensive coordinator Luther Palmer said. "He runs a 4.46, but perhaps just as important he's heady - a 4.0 student. He can make the calls back there."

They're now being led by a former player whose production at Grambling State was legendary: Spears finished in 2001 with 188 tackles, 16 interceptions, 44 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered.

Spears started on former coach Doug Williams' first team, then helped lead Grambling State to its first conference title since 1994. He now will coach on Melvin Spears' first team, as well.

"I've got the same ambition," Spears said. "Even though we haven't fallen off much, we've got to get Grambling back in the championship. I want to keep the Grambling name going."

Brown helped the school win the last of its three straight SWAC titles in 2002, streaking to a 76-yard touchdown return as GSU exploded for 31 points in the fourth quarter to beat Alabama A&M. A former SWAC defensive player of the year, Brown was later in Jacksonville's NFL camp.

"Just to be back at Grambling," Calvin Spears said, "is a great feeling."

Brown jumped in: "We've got a lot of young guys. We're trying to get them back on the same page that we were on when we were here - back into championship form."

Then, it was Spears again: "We want to give back to dear old Grambling."

Both point to the connection they made with former GSU defensive backs coach Todd Bowles, who now holds the same coaching position with the Cleveland Browns.

"He was a young guy, too," Brown said. "And he could demonstrate some of the smaller things to us. That's all that's needed here. As far as the athletic ability, it's light years above where we were."

In keeping, Calvin Spears has focused on technique and discipline this first week of summer practice.

"Coach Spears told me this coming in, and it's true: This is a good team, but they don't understand some of the small details about the game of football," Calvin Spears said.

These two not only teach, Spears said, but show: "We demonstrate - put our feet where they are supposed to be, show them how to do it," he said.

The unit - which only returns one starter, the safety Mills, from 2003 - is responding. Their head coach isn't surprised.

"Remember, Calvin Spears started every down of every game he ever played at Grambling," Melvin Spears said. "He's was all-SWAC four times - something no one has ever done at Grambling. Even as a freshman, he was such a technician."

Palmer is high on the team's new talents in the secondary. But he's over the moon about Calvin Spears.

"That's key," Palmer said of the hiring. "This guy has played it. He knows what it feels like. He knows what it tastes like."

It tastes like a lot of work, right now. Calvin Spears admits to being a taskmaster, though he prides himself on fairness.

"They don't have to call me 'coach.' I don't mind if they call me 'Calvin,' " Spears said. "As long as they respect that I'm here to help."

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GSU assistant carries symbol of team unity
August 29, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - "Pull that chain," said Mark Hall, the former player who now serves as Grambling State's strength and conditioning coach.

He has been carrying around these heavy enclosed links of shiny symbolism all week.
"Just pull it," he said. "It's not going to break, is it?"

The words have resonance with players, coming from Hall - a two-time all-conference defensive end on two consecutive championship teams at GSU in 2000-01.

Still, it's the chain itself that had everybody talking.

"I'm verbal, but Mark is more symbolic," said defensive backs coach Calvin Spears, as he chuckled.

Spears - who played with Hall before joining him on a remade GSU coaching staff this year - says Hall's dogged determination has been impressive.

A person of such honest and clear intensity, Hall doesn't confine his enthusiasm to the gym. He has been an energetic presence during practices as well - exhorting the linemen to greatness.

"Mark's more physical than me," Spears said. "He's in that weight room all day. All I've got is mind games! Besides, that thing is too heavy for me to lug around all day."

But what did it mean?

"You've got me," said videographer Charlie Lewis, a former Grambling State defensive lineman who has documented countless practices over the past seven seasons. "I've got no idea. You'll have to ask him about that."

Coach Doug Porter, an assistant to both Eddie Robinson and Doug Williams, marvels at Hall's full-go motor - though the chain remains a mystery: "I haven't figured it out yet," he said, smiling.

One of Grambling State's most important additions this off-season, Hall has helped produce a team that showed up remarkably conditioned for summer sessions. The message each morning has been as steely and simple as those thick silver rings over his shoulder.

"If you've got a unit as tight as that chain, you've got a good unit," Hall said. "That's why I wear it. That's the message: We're not going to break."

Interim GSU coach Melvin Spears thinks small things like the chain, as with so many other symbolic gestures, can mean a lot.

"The thing you struggle with, is keeping guys motivated when they are tired," Spears said, as the team entered the bottom half of another smothering summer session this week. "Mark does that so well. He's the spark plug - and a big part of why we are doing so well in this preseason."

But what, you know, about the chain?

Tim Hudson, a tireless volunteer trainer, could only allow that it "may be his lucky chain. Maybe that explains it."

Coach Spears shook his head, as a big smile bloomed: "Hard core," he said, then thought about the question.

"It's about working hard every day, and never giving up on each other," Spears said. "That's what that chain means. No one needs to be the weak link."

Tiger bites: Backup quarterback Brandon Landers has been reliable while running the two-minute drills. He'll need to put on some weight before next season. ... Wide receiver Tim Abney is the only GSU player who'll miss Saturday's season opener, Spears said. Abney - who has already used his redshirt - attended workouts this week. He says he's likely to remain out for the year, resting an aggravating groin injury. He'll file for a medical exception. ... Former longtime sports information director Collie J. Nicholson will be honored at the Alcorn State game this week.

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Teacher in the trenches
Roberts 'refining' the work done by GSU's O-line
August 30, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Sometimes a new eye sees different things.

That's been the case with first-year offensive line coach Carl Roberts, who has inherited a unit with starters from 2003 at all five positions.

"We're returning all the same guys. I'm just here to refine what they were doing," said Roberts - who spent 16 seasons as the offensive line coach at Jackson State before head coach James Bell chose not to retain him in 2003. Roberts had been out of coaching for a year when former GSU coach Doug Williams hired him to come to Grambling.

"My philosophy is simple: If I have the height and I have the weight (in an offensive line), then I can concentrate on the basic fundamentals. And we do," Roberts said. "At that point, then it doesn't matter where you are at. I can take that fundamental technique anywhere in America."

Simple, yet important stuff. The kind of stuff that caught Williams' eye after the departure of former offensive line coach Marshall Hayes - who is now at Delaware State. But then Williams himself left for the NFL in February.

Roberts forged ahead, quickly putting his unique imprint on this unit. After all, this is the personable front-line professor who sent four JSU linemen into the pros - including Lester Holmes, a No. 19 overall pick in 1993 for the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I pride myself on teaching," Roberts said. "Being technically sound, more than their size, is what will set this group apart."

In keeping, Roberts has focused on fundamentals, spending vast amounts of time even with veteran players - leaving no detail unexamined.

"That's what is going to help us win, week in and week out," Roberts said. "Game to game, we have to focus on those fundamental techniques. Hopefully, with that and our size, we can get in there and wear some people down."

The question remains if Roberts - who moved here without his family, since he'd just built a house in Jackson - will wear down himself.

He was quick to report that his wife Mildred and two daughters, Ashley and Cambria, visited over the weekend.

"It's tough," Roberts admitted. "But no tougher than being let go, or being out of coaching. You never know how the Lord is going to send opportunity."

That down-to-Earth presence is especially welcome as GSU continues to re-integrate Eddie Robinson's classic Wing-T running scheme into its offense, a process that began last season - when the team averaged 143 yards on the ground per game, up from 117 in 2002.

"We mainly are trying to get a little bit more into a demeanor of running the ball," said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears. "Running the ball comes from an attitude perspective and I think that Coach Roberts is doing an outstanding job in getting us there. I look forward to running the ball, as well as passing the ball. In our practices, we have done a real good job of protecting."

Senior center Lance Wright, for one, has been energized by the running assignments.

"It has been exciting," said Wright, a second-team preseason all-conference selection. "Once we make a commitment to the run, teams are not going to be able to defend us - not with the talent we have in the passing game."

Wright is one of those five returning starters, joining junior guards Charles Wilson and Darryl Rodgers. Senior Jonathan Banks and junior Andre' Bennett are at the tackles. The line's average height is an impressive 6-foot-5, with an average weight of 332.

"They are so big that I think the trap plays are going to be effective," Roberts said. "A lot of time a back can hide behind them."

The unit also has shown it can execute both the Wing-T assignments and some new zone-blocking schemes during the summer sessions.

"Banks moves really well for a big guy. Charles Wilson is also nimble," Roberts said. "We're working on pulling. We're working on their feet. But at the end of the day, you block. Being big is one thing, but being outstanding technically is another thing. That's our goal."

Wright has already developed a close working relationship with Roberts. It's based on respect for each other - and for the game of football.

Simple, yet important stuff.

"When Coach Roberts came, I liked his first statement to us on the football field," said Wright, who leads the team in prayer after every practice. "It was this: 'I'm about getting the job done. I'm not all about the talk. I just want the job done.' He doesn't do a lot of hollering. He just wants us to learn the game."

About Roberts
An offensive lineman during his playing days at Jackson State from 1979-83, Carl Roberts got his start in coaching as a volunteer at his alma mater in 1985. By 1987, Roberts had become a full-time member of the Jackson State staff. He would eventually add strength and conditioning, special teams and pro scout liaison to his duties with the offensive line.

But Roberts' journey to coaching the offensive line at GSU actually began in 1984 - when, as a gutsy guard on the USFL's Oklahoma Outlaws, he helped protect former coach Doug Williams at quarterback.

"If you stay with the basics, you will succeed," said Roberts. "I was never the biggest offensive lineman. In fact, I was often one of the shortest ones. But I felt like I played full-speed on every down - and I was technically sound."

An impressive coaching stint at JSU followed, and when Williams took over before the 1998 season at Grambling State, Roberts was a top hiring wish. But Williams could not pry Roberts away from JSU.

Only a housecleaning by a coach with no experience in the Southwestern Athletic Conference could dislodge a tactical legend like Roberts. Williams jumped at the opportunity.
- Nick Deriso

About those new guys
Despite established veteran leaders, two new faces on the GSU offensive line have garnered early praise.

Sophomore Chris Wiggins saw unexpected playing time, filling in at center for some of the summer sessions after a groin injury sidelined senior center Lance Wright.

"He has gotten some valuable reps, but he still doesn't have a lot of game experience," new GSU offensive line coach Carl Roberts said of Wiggins, a 6-5, 375-pound transfer out of Delaware State. "But he came in and solidified that center position."

The team has also seen a lot of potential in lineman Doug Smith Jr., the Houston prepster with an impressive lineage. The 6-7, 340-pound freshman - ranked in's Top 100 for Lone Star State prospects - is the son of defensive tackle Doug Smith, who played eight seasons for the Oilers.

"An outstanding talent," Roberts said. "He's not weight-room strong right now, but he's strong. His dad was an outstanding talent, so he comes by it naturally."

Smith will likely be used as a top backup, Roberts said.

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Grambling's quick slants
September 2, 2004

A season-ending injury to Moses Harris puts more scrutiny on the other GSU receivers.

Freshman Clyde Edwards has recovered well from a slight ankle injury, only missing one pass on Tuesday that required him to get low. But redshirt freshman Paul Hardiman couldn't finish practice with a similar injury, and watched from the sidelines. Spears said neither should miss GSU's Saturday opener.

GSU didn't see Alcorn State's top returning defender in Lorman, Miss., last season.

Even so, senior Alcorn State linebacker Dwan Wilson posted 52 tackles - despite missing not only the Grambling State game, but also Alabama State and Stephen F. Austin, with a sprained MCL. Wilson finished with four sacks, two passes broken up, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He was named to second-team All-SWAC honors.

Pro football scouts from Carolina and Green Bay watched this week's workouts in Grambling, with special attention paid to linebacker/defensive end Kenneth Pettway, defensive end Lennard Patton, middle linebacker John Petty and, of course, quarterback Bruce Eugene.

"Patton, with some dominating performances, could be a first-team All-American," said GSU defensive coordinator Luther Palmer. "He definitely has the potential to get it done."

An athlete in the best sense of the word, Petty started as a freshman at tight end. He then switched to strong-side linebacker before this season's move into the middle.

"That's his true position," Palmer said. "He feels comfortable there. He's running well."

Former Richwood standout Lewis Carter had been pencilled in at cornerback opposite Ivory McCann. Until this week.

The multi-talented junior Bakari Guice - who, ironically enough, also prepped in Ouachita Parish, at Wossman - has been slowly working himself into a starting position.

Guice is also returning kicks and working as a receiver.

33 Points, of 40 total, scored by Grambling State in the second half last year at in Lorman, Miss.
5 Touchdowns by Bruce Eugene against ASU in 2003, including three in the air and two on the ground.
538 Combined passing yards by Eugene and Alcorn State's Donald Carrie last year.
- Nick Deriso

Getting to know... kicker Brian Morgan
We're seeing scouts out here at practice all the time. As a senior, are you getting some pro football nibbles?

I've talked to a few people. But it's going to come down to having a good season. Judging kickers is so hard - because there are so many scouts who don't know how to do it. Several of them so far have told Coach Spears I look good, but said they'd have to send a special-teams person down here to really evaluate me.

The combine is a place where the experts go to evaluate players. Where else can a kicker shop his talent?
There's a camp (an invite-only NFL special teams event sponsored by Paul Assad) in Reno in March. Hopefully, I'll get invited to the combine, too. I'd like to show them what I can get done.

Grambling signed a punter in New Iberia's Tim Manuel who is talented enough to start out of high school. That must have been a relief for a pure kicker like you, who was occasionally pushed into punting last year.
I just don't like to punt. I didn't like to punt, even back in high school. I did it then, and in my first year here, because they needed me to. But I don't practice punting anymore. So when the coaches said go out there and punt, it was all just on instinct.

Do you follow guys in the NFL who played college ball around here, like Louisiana Tech's Josh Scobee at Jacksonville?
Scobee is doing great. I know he's a heck of a kickoff guy, but I was surprised he won field-goal duty, too. The other guys ahead of him on the depth chart just kept getting hurt. Apparently, that was a good place for him to go! - Nick Deriso

·Hobbies: Fishing and golf
· Favorite pro athlete, and why: Sebastian Janikowski, because of his attitude about being the best kicker in the NFL
· Favorite actor: Nicolas Cage
· Favorite actress: Jennifer Lopez
· Why did you choose GSU?: For the opportunity to play immediately - and win championships

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