Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 17, 2013

SALISBURY — Daryl Williams passes out business cards that introduce him as Livingstone’s head football coach, but officially he is Livingstone’s interim head coach.
That distinction may not seem huge, but it’s a very big deal on the recruiting trail, and recruiting for D-II schools like Livingstone hits a vital period in just a few weeks.
“When you’re the interim coach, the first question a kid you’re trying to recruit asks is, ‘Are you gonna be the coach?’ ” Williams said.
Williams said Livingstone’s administration has been supportive, and Dr. Jimmy Jenkins, Livingstone’s president, made the trip to last Saturday’s game against St. Augustine’s in Raleigh and had encouraging words for Williams after another tough loss.
“He told me to keep my head and to keep doing things the right way,” Williams said.
While the Blue Bears are 2-4, you can make a case that Williams has done a lot in a short time with a small staff that includes defensive coordinator Rodney Hughey, offensive line coach Brian White, defensive line coach Rodney Simmons and tight ends coach Sherman Howze.
Basically, Livingstone has made the transition from not competitive to competitive in a matter of months. If one play goes differently the past two weeks — or one call goes differently — Livingstone is 4-2 right now instead of 2-4, and Williams is being hailed as a genius.
Livingstone posted outrageously bad defensive numbers a year ago, some of the worst in Division II — allowing 512 yards per game, 46.8 points a game and 230 rushing yards per game.
After six games this season, Livingstone’s defense has improved to a respectable 60th in D-II, yielding 358 yards per game. To put that number in perspective, Catawba ranks 52nd and allows 350 yards per game.
Livingstone’s offense also is decent, 97th in D-II with 371.5 yards per game. Again, that’s not far off Catawba’s numbers. The Indians are 83rd nationally with 381 yards per game.
The bottom line is still wins, not yards gained or allowed, but the numbers do indicate Livingstone is on the verge of winning its share instead of losing steadily. That’s especially true in the CIAA, where only three of the 12 teams — Virginia State, Winston-Salem State and J.C. Smith — will take a winning record into this Saturday’s games.
Williams was still thinking positively Wednesday, although the Blue Bears have dropped two winnable games in a row. Livingstone pushed up and down the field against both Virginia Union and St. Augustine’s — the Blue Bears had a 456-301 yardage edge on St. Augustine’s — only to lose because of red-zone turnovers and misfortune.
Williams quietly opened his laptop and displayed an e-mailed photo on the big screen in his office. On that screen, Livingstone receiver Rodney Brown makes a great catch in the end zone, clearly inbounds and clearly with the football secured, but the Blue Bears were denied that touchdown by a missed call.
“To err is human,” Williams said, managing a rueful smile. “But I’m not one to criticize officiating, and we’re not going to cry over spilled milk. Nothing we can do about it now. Tough losses the last two weeks, but our kids are still upbeat at practice and the staff is all-in. We’ll stay with the process. We’ll continue to build a foundation. We know how close we are. People who watched our game last week, regardless of who they rooted for, left the stadium knowing who the better team was.”
Livingstone is close to that signature win it needs to get everyone’s attention, and it’s possible the Blue Bears will spoil 3-3 Shaw’s homecoming this Saturday.
On paper, it’s a very even game, another one that could come down to one play or one call.
This will be our second homecoming,” Williams said. “You want to win some of those, so you don’t get invited back.”
Livingstone will be an underdog Saturday, but that’s a one-TD underdog instead of a five-TD underdog. That’s the difference from recent years.
Serious progress has been made under William and his staff. Based on his track record, more strides forward seem likely. Maybe he can say goodbye to that interim part of his job title soon and can go out and sell Livingstone to recruits the way he wants to.
“I am so proud of this football team, and I am so happy to be the coach of this football team,” he said. “We aren’t the Livingstone of past years.”