By John Bombatch
WILBERFORCE — Senior defensive back Dashad Tucker has been counting down the days until he and his Central State University teammates can get the 2016 college football season going.
“Fifteen days! I can’t wait,” he said, during Friday’s picture day underneath McPherson Stadium. “I had to really work to make this team as a walk-on during my freshman year, and we finished 2-8 that season. We were 4-6 for coach Pearl’s first year (two years ago) and we finished at 5-5 last season.
“Myself and the rest of the seniors, we expect to do great things. We’re ready to elevate this program.”
The seniors have another year to be familiarized with coach Cedric Pearl’s system, and that means a year of being more comfortable. There’s less thinking involved in making a play, and more instinct and feel.
“Those seniors are an extension of us coaches,” Pearl said. “This is their third year with us. They understand the system and they understand what we want, and so you always rely on those guys, when you’re not there, to help the young guys and let them know what it is they should and shouldn’t be doing. That’s a definite plus.
“It comes natural. Once you know what you’re doing, you can just go out and play. You don’t have to do a lot of thinking. That’s where we would like to be in Year Three: Having the older guys know exactly what we’re doing.”
Central State has four returning standouts listed on the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s preseason all-conference squad — senior linebacker Deonate Gary, defensive backs Clim Robbins and Nehemiah Coward, and offensive lineman Aliou Diouf.
But Pearl points out that there will be plenty of new faces dawning the maroon and gold. A total of 18 Marauders graduated after last season, and there’s 30 freshmen players on the practice field now. Pearl and the rest of the team spent four days together at a Scioto Hills team-building camp near Wheelersburg, in an effort to familiarize everybody with each other.
Like Tucker says, there’s just 15 days left until the Marauders head over to Dayton’s Perc Welcome Stadium to take on the University of Dayton Flyers in the season opener for both teams and Pearl is just as excited to get things going as his players seem to be.
“The guys are really excited about that opportunity. I know CSU has played them in the past. (Linebackers coach Courtney) Gee was a part of one of those teams that actually played against Dayton, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve had a couple conversations with UD coach Rick Chamberlin and we’re looking forward to the game, and so is the community,” Pearl said.
A new face on the Marauders offense may become a familiar name to CSU fans and foes alike this season. Demichael Jackson, a fifth-year senior who has transferred in from Southeast Missouri State. Jackson tore his ACL last season, and admits he got into some off-the-field troubles soon after.
“I’m just thankful that Coach Pearl has given me another chance. I was recruited by a number of the top NCAA Division II teams in the country after my release, but I’m from Louisville, Ky. and this is two and a half hours away. The team went 5-5 last year, but they struggled on offense a little bit. So I feel that I can contribute on offense this season. I feel I can excite things around here and do a lot of things that they haven’t seen in this conference,” Jackson said.
Not even the cancellation of today’s Fan Appreciation Day event could temper the players’ attitudes. Tucker said he was looking forward to meeting the fans, but says he and the rest of the Marauders will show their gratitude on Saturdays on the gridiron.
“We’re talking about winning championships around here,” Tucker said. “There’s a good feeling of confidence in this lockerroom. Without confidence, you’re not really a ballplayer. … A lot of the seniors have been around for four years, we’ve stuck around through thick and thin. It’s a brotherhood, a family. And we’re ready to go out and win.”
Central State takes on UD at 7 p.m. on Sept. 3 at Welcome Stadium. The Marauders then play Clark Atlanta University in the Chicago Classic, a regular season game that will be held Sept. 10 at Chicago’s Soldier Field. CSU will then have its first home game Sept. 17 when they’ll host Benedictine College.
John Bombatch can be reached at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.