Trojans open spring practice

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 26, 2002

After an offseason of assessment and adjustment, the Troy State football team returned to the practice field on Monday afternoon seeking to fill a variety of significant voids in preparation for its second season of Division I-A competition.

The Trojans, who finished 7-4 in their first season as a "major" college competitor last fall, practiced for two hours in shorts and helmets at Memorial Stadium in the team’s opening workout of the spring. The team will return to the field on Tuesday for another workout in shorts before working in pads for the first time on Wednesday.

Troy State head coach Larry Blakeney seemed pleased with his team’s first afternoon of work.

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"We are going to find out a lot about our football team over the next few weeks," said Larry Blakeney, who is beginning his 12th season at the school. "We have a couple of positions where we need to find players, and we have a couple of more where we need to find the right combinations. We looked good for the first day. I was pleased with our overall effort."

The Trojans return 16 starters from last season but have several significant holes to fill ­ starting in the offensive backfield.

Gone are quarterback Brock Nutter and running back Demontray Carter, both seniors.

The duo accounted for more than 78 percent of the team’s total offense (2,696 yards) and 66 percent of its scoring (27 TDs) last year. Carter alone tallied 1,448 all-purpose yards in 2001, the second-highest total in school history.

Neither position will be easy to fill, Blakeney said.

"Both of those guys won a lot of games here," Blakeney said. "But we feel like we have very capable players competing for those spots."

Vying to fill the void at quarterback will be sophomore Hansell Bearden, junior Derek Bynum and redshirt freshman Kacson Maddox. Only Bearden has game experience, having played in seven games last season, when he completed 16-of-28 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw three interceptions.

Bearden will have the inside track at the position, going into the spring at the No. 1 spot. He will likely not be challenged until this summer when junior college transfer Matt Ray arrives from Butte (Calif.) College.

At running back, senior LeBarron Black, junior DeWhitt Betterson and sophomore Jermaine Richardson will battle for the starting nod. Betterson rushed 52 times for 283 yards and a touchdown last season, while Black recorded 63 carries for 151 yards. Black has started four career games and has more than 1,000 yards in his three-year career.

"You could see several guys in the mix this spring," Blakeney said of the running back position. "That position is as wide open as it has ever been around here. It is going to be a fun battle to watch."

Offensively, the Trojans do return their top receivers from last season in senior Heyward Skipper (60 rec., 995 yards, 9 TD) and sophomore Jason Samples (30 rec., 365 yards). The team will also add Cal State-Northridge transfer Drew Amerson to the mix. Amerson, a native of San Diego, Calif., was already Northridge’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, finishing with 97 catches for 1,244 yards and nine TDs in 2001.

Defensively, the Trojans’ most significant loss was at linebacker, where three of the team’s top four tacklers have departed in seniors Corey Sears (111 tackles), Ben Waldrop (95 tackles) and Jimmy McClain (83 tackles).

Only senior Naazir Yamini, who has started 25 consecutive games, returns with experience at the position.

"We have three or four young guys who we will be looking very hard at to see if they are ready," Blakeney said.

Leading the pack this spring will be a trio of redshirt freshmen, Bernard Davis, Leverne Johnson and Keith Staple, along with returning backups Gordon Williams and Michael Jackson. Robby Farmer, who suffered a broken leg last fall, will not participate in the spring workouts but is expected to contend for a starting job in the fall.

"We are as decimated at this position as we have been for a long time," Blakeney said. "We feel like we’ve got good talent there, but it is raw and unproven. We will take a long, hard look at everybody this spring to find our best three."

The Trojans will also be seeking a punter this spring, with senior Roger Ridgeway and junior Lance Lieb battling for the starting nod.

After originally scheduling Tuesday’s practice for 6:30 p.m., Blakeney said the Trojans will instead hit the field at 3 p.m. due to the anticipated cold front passing through the area.