This year Kentucky State’s offensive players are moving up from understudies to starring roles.
It’s a change senior Martez James says the Thorobreds are prepared to make.
“A lot of people who are starting were backups last year,” said James during KSU’s football media day Friday, “and they’ve already got some game time experience.
“We’re ready to take on the challenge, to put the work in and have a successful season.”
James is one of those players moving up, taking over as starting quarterback for Jerrell Noland. Last year as a senior, Noland went 5-4.
James saw playing time behind Noland last year and had one start, a win against Fort Valley State, when Noland was injured.
“It helped,” he said of the start, “but any game time experience helps. I treat it like practice – go out and play.”
Kentucky State opens its season at home Sept. 8 against Kentucky Wesleyan with eight new starters on offense.
KSU coach Wayne Dickens said many of the new starters believe they’re ready for that role.
“A toddler believes he can do everything his older brother can,” he said. “He may surpass his older brother, but that takes some time.”
And that time could bring some growing pains.
“We lost eight offensive starters,” Dickens said. “We’re going to be really young, and there are going to be young mistakes. There’s no way around it, no way to dance around it. We’ll need to grow up quickly.”
On the other side of the ball KSU returns all but two players from last year’s defensive unit.
The Thorobreds have seven players who earned SIAC pre-season honors, and five are on defense – defensive back Bernard Crawford and defensive end Carlos Ware were named to the first team defense, and defensive back Grandson Brown and linebackers Terry Horton and JacQuan Persley were named second team.
The other SIAC honorees were lineman Zach LaGrange, named first team offense, and kicker Cade Berryman, named second team special teams.
If the defense needs to shoulder more of a load while offensive starters get acclimated, senior defensive back Cory Spalding says that won’t be a problem.
“Our goal every week is for the other team to have a zero,” Spalding said. “We want to keep them from scoring, and it’s like that if our offense is ranked best in the conference or worst in the conference.
“That doesn’t change what we do on defense. We want to play with a chip on our shoulder. No matter what the offense does, we want to do what we do every week.”
After the opener Sept. 8, the Thorobreds go on the road and don’t return home until Sept. 29 for a game against Albany State.
Homecoming is Oct. 13 against Miles College.
KSU has been picked to finish fourth out of five teams in the Western Division of the SIAC. Last year the Thorobreds were 3-4 in conference play.
“It’s a hard conference to be 5-2 in,” Dickens said. “The schedule makers, when they set the schedule, didn’t do us any favors. We play all four on our side (West) and the top three on the other side.
“The schedule is formidable.”
The teams projected to be the top three in the East are Morehouse, Albany State and Fort Valley State.
The top three picks in the West are Miles, Tuskegee and Stillman.
“I don’t expect us to go 0-10, and I don’t expect us to be 3-7 either,” Dickens said, “but I don’t get to take a single snap, I don’t get to throw a single pass, and I don’t get to make a single tackle.
“There’s not a lot I can do once the game starts.”
What can help the Thorobreds once the game starts is their camaraderie. That extends beyond the field as the team was the Gridiron Moving Company last week, helping students move into residence halls.
“More than anything, the overwhelming strength of this team is the tie, the bond these guys have with each other,” Dickens said. “They don’t want to let each other down, and that can carry you through some tough times.”
Spalding sees that togetherness with the defensive unit.
“We’ve got four guys on defense who’ve played all four years,” he said. “We know each other well, and we trust each other. We have a lot of confidence.
“Things are going very well. They’re moving fast, and we’ll be game ready soon.”
nLocal players on this year’s KSU roster are William Leach Jr., Major Herron, James Pugh and Deshon Floyd. Frankfort High graduate Quan Weaver is a redshirt freshman on this year’s team.