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Livingstone opens at Benedict in televised game

By Dennis Davidson

dennis.davidson@salisburypost.com

Livingstone College’s Blue Bears kick off their football season this afternoon, facing Benedict in the 14th annual Palmetto Capital City Classic. The game will be played at 5 p.m., at Charlie Johnson Stadium on Benedict’s campus in Columbia, S.C. It will be televised on ASPIRE Network, channel 185 on Time Warner Cable.

Livingstone, entering its third year under head coach Daryl Williams, hopes to have a winning season for the first time in 17 years. A win today would be a nice start in achieving that goal.

The Blue Bears were 5-5 last season, but lost its last three games, to strong opponents Winston-Salem State, Fayetteville State and Johnson C. Smith.

The team returns a potent offense, but has rebuilt its defense, probably a good thing considering last year, Livingstone allowed nearly 35 points per game.

Several starters on defense have transferred in, including linebackers Demarcus Nolan and Danny Robinson and linemen Patrick Webb and Kameron Nightingale. Gone to graduation is leading tackler from 2014, linebacker Kenneth White, who had 97 stops and picked off four passes. Rodney Hughey is the defensive coordinator.

Other assistant coaches for Livingstone are Carl James (defensive backs), Tony Keiling Jr. (linebackers), Josiah Simms (offensive line) and Avery Collins (receivers).

Williams in his own coordinator of what he calls Livingstone’s “high octane, big offense,” and returning are three key components — senior quarterback Drew Powell, senior wide receiver Jalen Hendricks and junior center Shaquelle Shaperson.

Hendricks was the CIAA’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2014, despite missing the last two games to injury. In just nine games, Hendricks caught 71 balls for 1,084 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was clearly Powell’s favorite target.

Powell, who was also first team All-CIAA, completed 184 of 333 passes for 2,419 yards last season. He threw 28 TD passes and was intercepted 15 times. In addition to averaging 242 yards passing per game, Powell also led the team on the ground, rushing for 784 yards and six scores.

While its offense put up a lot of yards in 2014, Livingstone’s inability to keep the football kept points off of the scoreboard. The Blue Bears led the CIAA and ranked high, or low depending on how its viewed, nationally with 32 turnovers.

“To turn the corner this year, like we want to do, we cannot have turnovers. It was a lack of conditioning and focus and that’s on me. It’s up to me to make sure we improve in the turnover department,” Williams said earlier this week.

Livingstone has listed Latrell Flowers and Jaylin Gill as the starting running backs, after losing Justin Forte (435 yards) and Clawsandy Cayo (291 yards) from last season.

Benedict, a member of the SIAC, was 4-6 in 2014 but has brought in a new coaching staff. Mike White, former head coach at perennial SIAC power Albany State, came on last December to lead the Tigers. At Albany State, White compiled a record of 112-51 in 15 years, winning six conference championships and making seven appearances in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

White brought his team to Catawba for a playoff game in 2007. The Indians won that game, 66-35.

Benedict graduated its starting quarterback from last year, Cameron Stover, who passed for 237 yards per game. The Tigers averaged just over 300 yards and 22 points per game in 2014, while their defense allowed 393 yards and 28 points on average.

Benedict will most likely turn to either Charles Foster or Onumah Kalu as its quarterback in today’s game. The defense is led by senior linebacker Kelvin McCollum, who led the Tigers in tackles last season.

Powell and his other seniors say that they’re ready to take the Bears to a winning season.

“We have the guys in the locker room to do it, the team chemistry is here,” said Powell. “It’s now or never, so that’s how we going to attack the season and try to make it happen.”

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