Spring Football: At Livingstone, it’s Williams’ team now
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — First-year Livingstone football coach Darryl Williams has turned Alumni Stadium into a classroom.
And in this class, 65 players have learned over the past three weeks, you’d better pay attention.
“The standard has changed,” Williams said in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone on Saturday, shortly after LC completed spring practice with an insightful offense-defense scrimmage. “We’re trying to build a program where we can win year in and year out. And consistency is the hallmark of a champion. We’re trying to lay one brick each day. We’ll present the finished product on Sept. 7.”
That’s the day the Blue Bears kick off their 2013 season against Johnson C. Smith. Whether Livingstone has learned enough to right the rudderless ship that went 2-8 and dropped its last five games in 2012 is unknown.
This much is certain: the Blue Bears will be different, beginning with the all-white helmets with powder-blue stripes and block numbers on the side they’ll strap on.
“More of a classic look,” Williams said. “Like Alabama.”
Credit Williams for swinging for the fence and aiming high. His players seem to have bought into his doctrine, agreeing that the best time to learn is ahead of time.
“I don’t want to take a minute or a few seconds,” said linebacker Tyheim Pitt, an all-CIAA pick last autumn. “I want to take an hour to thank Coach Williams and his staff for what they’ve done. They stress the little things, the little details. We’re never going to be perfect, but that’s goal — to do everything right 100 percent of the time.”
Saturday’s scrimmage illustrated how far they’ve got to go. Playing slightly more than four eight-minute periods, the scrimmage ended in a scoreless tie.
“Our defense turned the corner today,” said linebacker Kenneth White Jr., another all-conference pick and the team’s leading tackler a year ago. “We stopped a pretty good offense.”
They thwarted an offense that averaged 24.1 point-per-game last season when Williams served as offensive coordinator under former coach Elvin James, leapfrogging from 150th in the nation in 2011 to 80th. It’s a souped-up offense that handed the keys to 18-year old quarterback Drew Powell, who paid dividends by passing for 18 touchdowns, rushing for another five and landing the CIAA’s Rookie of the Year award.
“We’re lucky to have him,” said left tackle Allyne Hall. “He seems more confident, like he’s making wiser decisions.”
Powell looked rusty on Saturday, often overthrowing receivers and completing about half of his attempts.
“That’s partially my fault,” Williams said. “This camp concentrated on fixing other things in other areas. I know what Drew can do. No matter how good Drew is, if we don’t play better defense we don’t have a chance.”
Powell took his pedestrian, late-April performance in stride.
“I guess that’s a win for the defense,” he said before leaving the field. “We weren’t expecting to come out here and run through them. That defense has pushed it up a couple notches. The offense is also better, but our biggest improvement will come in the fall. We don’t have to be good right now. We have to be good on Sept. 7.”
That’s a philosophy Williams and defensive coordinator Rodney Hughley seem to have firmly instilled in the Blue Bears. It’s a new beginning for a program that briefly tasted success last season when it prevailed in its first two conference matches.
“The effort. That’s what the coaches have been emphasizing in spring practice,” noted defensive lineman Hillman Evans IV. “They see what’s inside of us. We just have to see it ourselves. They’re trying to pull all that potential out of us.”
Adam Powell, another beefy member of the DL, agreed.
“It’s a new mentality,” he said. “We have something to prove to ourselves and the coaching staff. There are no more excuses — and we’re not the same old Livingstone. It’s on another level now.”
Sounds like the Blue Bears are saying all the right things — things we’ve heard before. Williams and Hughley realize they have their work cut out for them. LC’s defense leaked like the Titanic last fall when it yielded 46.8 points-per game, including 70 in a season-opening loss to Chowan.
“We had a better effort by the defense today,” Williams said with a hint of low-keyed optimism. “More enthusiasm. They ran to the ball better. They read their keys better. I was impressed.”
Now comes the hard part.
When the team reconvenes in early August, the staff will have identified Livingstone’s most-pressing needs. Filling them, and turning the long-suffering program around, will certainly take time.
“It’s getting better,” the level-headed Hall said. “Everyone’s actually starting to learn the game. We’re studying the game. We all want perfection — perfect footwork, perfect steps, perfect stance. But at the same time we want to have fun learning.”
There’s no better classroom for that than Alumni Stadium.