News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Alabama A&M refuses to believe hype

Second in a series

By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer

The Alabama A&M Bulldogs are the defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champions and picked to win it again.

Coach Anthony Jones’ response: So what? The score starts out 0-0, and so does the record.

“No one has given us an advantage or spotted us points because of what happened last year,” Jones said. “If you want try to relive last year, things are going to really be bad for you.

“We realize how competitive this conference was last year, and we anticipate it being the same.”

Besides, that team lost one of the league’s best defensive players in linebacker Johnny Baldwin, and fullback Kevin McCants is the only returning running back who recorded a carry last season.

Only Grambling, which won three straight championships from 2000-02, has ever successfully defended its title.

Quarterback Kelcy Luke is a big reason the Bulldogs were picked to repeat after finally winning a SWAC title in their fourth trip to the championship game.

Luke has passed for 4,389 yards and rushed for 1,227 in his career.

“I just always feel the most important person you can have back there is a signal-caller with experience and leadership ability who’s been a winner,” Jones said. “It’s invaluable to have a kid back there who understands the offense and more importantly knows how to help the people around him get better.”

Perhaps that will include whoever takes over at tailback, where the Bulldogs must replace Nic Luke, Kelcy’s brother. And on the offensive line, which lost three starters.

One candidate in the backfield is Ulysses Banks, who averaged 34.3 yards a kick return and scored twice as a freshman to earn SWAC freshman of the year honors. Those 14 returns were his only touches on the season, however.

“He’s not a big guy. We lose power with him, but he brings plenty of speed,” Jones said. “He’s an explosive back. We saw what he did last year returning kicks. You’ve got to account for him all over the field.”

Anthony Green, among others, is also competing for the job.

Like Banks, wide receiver Thomas Harris made an impact as a freshman. He had 27 catches for 327 yards.

Tight end Charles Moody is a two-time all-conference player.

The line returns starting tackles Darius Turner and James Sanders, a preseason All-SWAC pick.

The defense also took a few big hits. Baldwin and defensive lineman Kevin Lockart were both All-SWAC first-teamers last season.

But starting ends Christopher Traylor and Dominic Cummings return. Traylor led the team with 9.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss despite missing four games.

At linebacker Avery Moland was the team’s No. 2 tackler behind Baldwin with 66 tackles.

The secondary returns six players with extensive experience, led by cornerback Frank Moore. Moore led the SWAC with six interceptions last season.

Punter/place-kicker Rashan Cylar is also back.

Jones figures a program’s strength shows in how it copes with the loss of players like Baldwin, a fifth-round NFL draft pick.

“Now, we’ve got to get somebody else ready to play,” he said.

The Bulldogs open Sept. 1 at Tennessee State in Nashville.

Alabama A&M football at a glance

  • Head coach: Anthony Jones, 41-18 school (sixth year); 59-31 career (ninth year).

  • Last year: 9-3 overall, 6-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference (champion).

  • Offense: QB Kelcy Luke is back but only fullback Kevin McCants registered a carry last season among returning running backs. Only two returning starters on the line, but tackle James Sanders is preseason All-SWAC pick. TE Charles Moody has twice received all-conference honors.

  • Defense: Returns eight starters but loses stars Johnny Baldwin and Kevin Lockhart. Plenty of star power remains. LB Avery Moland was team’s No. 2 tackler while CB Frank Moore led the SWAC with six interceptions and DE Christopher Traylor had team-high 9.5 sacks despite missing four games.

  • Special teams: P/PK Rashad Cylar returns.

  • Key losses: LB Johnny Baldwin, DL Kevin Lockhart, RB Nic Luke.

  • Opener: Sept. 1 at Tennessee State.

  • Pivotal game: Oct. 27, Alabama State in Birmingham.

  • Outlook: The Bulldogs are picked to repeat as SWAC champions. They’ll need new players to come through on the offensive line and at tailback, which appear to be the team’s biggest question marks. Kick returner/running back Ulysses Banks was a big-play threat on returns as a freshman, and A&M is hoping he can produce in backfield as well. The defense returns playmakers despite losing Baldwin, a fifth-round NFL draft pick.

    The Associated Press

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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