Salisbury’s backfield still stacked

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 10, 2007

Keeping up with Salisbury football …Salisbury has developed a trend under head coach Joe Pinyan: Every season, the Hornets have three or four running backs capable of starting.This season’s a little different.
Instead of three or four, Pinyan has six or seven guys he’d feel comfortable giving the ball.
Seniors Ibn Ali and Robbie Pulliam return, as do juniors Dario Hamilton and A.J. Ford. Then there’s sophomore Isaiah Whitaker, whom Pinyan said had the best scrimmage out of all the running backs Thursday night against A.C. Reynolds and Burns. And Salisbury also has freshmen Romar Morris and Darien Rankin. Oh, and sophomore Dominique Phillips.
“We got two little freshmen that if they don’t keep their act together, they’re liable to jump up there and scare them out of their jobs,” Pinyan said of his returning varsity players. “We’re not hurting in the running back situation.
“Believe me, that’s not an area of concern.”
So what is? Quarterback.
Salisbury doesn’t really have one, so the Hornets, Pinyan said, are “trying to make one.”
“I think we’ll play another lineman and snap it to one of the backs,” Pinyan said jokingly. “We’ll ask if we can play 10 on offense and 12 on defense. … I don’t know. John Knox, a freshman, is probably the frontrunner right now. He’s had a great two weeks. And Jay Duke is doing a good job. He’s a senior that’s playing quarterback for the first time.
“We just fell short. We don’t have (a quarterback). Bless their hearts, they’re trying their best. But even with great running backs, it’s not an easy offense for a quarterback to run. You gotta make a lot of big decisions.”
LEADER OF THE PACK: Ali rushed for a team-high 11 touchdowns as a junior and has perhaps the best burst of speed among the bevy of backs.
Ali can also play wide receiver and is an option as a backup quarterback as well.
“I just stay humble,” said Ali, who rushed for 792 yards last season. “I just wanted to wait my turn. I’ve been quiet for three years. This is my turn.”
BIG BOYS: Salisbury has plenty of big bodies to play along the defensive line, starting with 6-foot-5, 382-pound sophomore Kionte Rankin.Pinyan said Derrick Ford, a senior transfer from Concord, is 6-4, 364, while Jason Hayes is 6-2, 285 and Joey Rankin is 6-1, 265.
“Heck, if we can coach ’em, we oughtta be good up front,” Pinyan said.
MEET THE COACHES: Every program deals with breaking in new players each season, but Pinyan has had to handle more than just new players.
Salisbury has a new trainer in Chris Yeary ó and seven new assistants.
Here’s the list: Chris Painter (offensive line), Steve Swayney (defensive line), Chip Pickard (quarterbacks), Webb Brannon (defensive backs), Greg Philpot (defensive backs), David Johnson (hornets) and Justin Morgan (wide receivers).
“That leaves nothing for me,” Pinyan said. “I got the running backs. How hard is that? I teach ’em how to be fast.”
YOU OWE ME: Pinyan told Swayney he needs to make good on a deal the two worked out before Swayney joined the Salisbury staff.
“He told me if I got him here, he’d pour me a patio,” Pinyan said. “Then when I got him here, he told me it took me 31/2 years to get him here, so it was gonna take him 31/2 years to pour the patio. My wife got in on this deal, and she reminded him that he could start the process, and the patio could go throughout the 31/2-year period.”
True, Swayney noted, but “Then if I get fired you’ll have a half a patio.”
Pinyan didn’t seem to care.
“Well,” he said, “that’s more patio than I got right now.”
PLAYING TIME: One of the new assistants, Philpot, played collegiately at South Carolina in the mid-1980s.
Philpot played for coach Joe Morrison, the national coach of the year in 1984.
TOUGH START: Playing A.C. Reynolds, a 4A school, and Burns, a 3A school, gave Salisbury a rough introduction to the 2007 season.
Pinyan gave his players Friday night off ó they practiced from 8-9:30 a.m. ó the night after scrimmaging two larger schools. Salisbury played the equivalent of 72 minutes of football, with its defense facing both teams’ offenses for one quarter and its offense facing both teams’ defenses for one quarter.
The Hornets played 12 minutes of situational work against each team as well.
“It was tough,” Ali said. “A.C. Reynolds and Burns, we ain’t played teams like that before. But it was good for us. Yesterday kind of humbled us.”
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or