Shaw, St. Aug’s football teams look to bounce back in CIAA

The CIAA held its annual football media day Thursday, announcing its predicted order of finish and preseason All-CIAA selections. Heading into the 2015 season, here are the top story lines for Shaw and St. Augustine’s:

Running toward history

Shaw and St. Aug’s are coming off turbulent 3-7 seasons and were predicted to finish eighth and 11th, respectively, in the 12-team league, but both teams have weapons in the backfield that will give them a chance to compete.

Shaw running back Marquise Grizzle enters his senior season 333 yards from the team’s all-time rushing record. He missed three games last season with an injury but still ran for 750 yards and is closing in on 3,000 yards.

Grizzle was not named to the preseason All-CIAA team, but his coach wouldn’t hand off to anybody else.

“Marquise Grizzle hands down is the best running back in this conference – I’ll go to my grave with that off the last four years he’s been in this conference running the ball,” Shaw coach Robert Massey said. “Maybe the injury took (preseason all-conference honors) away from him.”

St. Aug’s running back Roderick Davenport II was named to the preseason team. Like Grizzle, Davenport has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and is on pace to become the school’s all-time leading rusher. He more than doubled his production last season with 1,133 yards.

Senior defensive back Denzel Watkins said Davenport’s effort in practice each day makes him special on Saturdays.

“It’s his work ethic,” Watkins said. “Every time he’s on the field, he’s coming 100 percent. Every time he has the ball in his hands, he’s coming as hard as he can.”

Focusing on football

Last season was fraught with off-the-field distractions for both teams. The Bears dealt with injuries, most notably to Grizzle. Massey said injuries to both lines also had an impact on their record; three of their losses were by a combined eight points.

In addition to getting key players healthy, Shaw brought in several transfers, including former Wake Forest receiver Sherman Ragland III. A track and field standout, Ragland can “take the top off” defenses, Massey said, but was kicked off the Demon Deacons for off-the-field issues. Ragland went to Southern High in Durham.

On defense, Massey said he was most excited by junior defensive back Rakeem Bromwell and sophomore lineman Dwight Campbell. Bromwell will transition to safety after starting at middle linebacker last season, and Campbell is expected to solidify the line after starting at Hampton after graduating from Durham’s Hillside High. They’ll help a defense that allowed more than 30 points per game.

Massey said he likes the team’s chances to get back above .500 like it did in 2013, when it went 6-4.

“We’ve got Grizzle on offense, (and) we’re going to be a lot better on defense,” he said. “Anytime you’ve got a running back of Marquise Grizzle’s talent and ability and you’ve got a staunch defense, you’ve got a chance to win some ballgames.”

St. Augustine lost its head coach and defensive coordinator one game into last season. Former offensive coordinator Michael Morand took over on an interim basis, but tragedy struck when starting offensive lineman Matthew Mangram was killed in a car crash in late September.

Morand said the team has refocused on football, led by Davenport’s running and defensive linemen Chasz Cosby and Darius Goodman.

Cosby earned All-CIAA Rookie Team honors and Goodman led the team with 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

“We’re doing the things we need to do off the field, so now we’re just trying to translate them onto the field,” said Morand, noting that the team’s motto for the upcoming year is “Just win.”

Extra motivation

Shaw is entering its 150th year in existence as a university, and after falling 16-9 last year to St. Aug’s in the teams’ crosstown rivalry matchup, the Bears are counting days until the Nov. 7 rematch.

“It’s our homecoming game, and it’s our 150th anniversary. It’s a big deal,” Massey said. “You win recruiting battles. For us to go into our 150th anniversary and want to be conference champions, that’s enough in itself that it will take care of our motivation.”

The Falcons will play in a new 2,500-seat football stadium, meaning no more home games at Gregson Stadium at Sanderson High.

“It’s going to be a blessing for us because we play five home games right there on campus this year,” Morand said. “That’s the first thing kids look for – they want to see what your facilities are about.”