STATE COLLEGE COUNTDOWN
West Alabama looks to build on 6-5 year
Wallace's Tigers coming off 1st winning season in 14 years
Fifth in a series
By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer
The West Alabama Tigers finally recaptured that winning feeling, and now they're trying to keep it.
The change has been evident around campus and around Livingston during the offseason since the Tigers managed their first winning season in 14 years, elevating the mood and the hopes of long-suffering fans.
"There's a real positive attitude around the whole campus and the community about football again," said coach Bobby Wallace, who managed the milestone in his debut season. "That rubs off on your players. Now they're walking around and people are asking about football and talking about it in a positive manner instead of a negative manner.
"That was a big step last year, getting that winning record."
The Tigers don't want to see the good times end quickly after that 6-5 season.
But they lost seven of a school-record nine All-Gulf South Conference performers, including No. 2 all-time rusher Jerin Wright and receiver Chris Coach.
The pair combined for 19 touchdowns last season, and Coach also returned punts and kicks while collecting 49 of the team's 92 catches.
"We lost some really talented players from last year's team but overall I think this team from top to bottom is much more athletic than the team we had last year," Wallace said.
Quarterback James Reiter returns even if his biggest weapons don't. He passed for 1,674 yards and ran for 549 last season.
At running back, Dusty Gracie practiced with the team last year but was a partial academic qualifier and couldn't play.
"We have real high hopes for him being an outstanding running back," Wallace said. "He's just got a lot of talent."
Tyrone Tomlin was the team's No. 3 rusher last season, and 232-pounder Jason Jude, a former Athens High standout, played in six games for Mississippi State as a freshman in 2004.
"We've got three pretty good people to take one guy's place. That's not bad," Wallace said.
Fullback Cole Mason is a Southern Miss transfer.
Receiver Dwiuan White averaged 29 yards on 13 catches last season, and Wallace said the Tigers have more big-play threats at the position.
"There's definitely people that can hurt you catching the football," he said.
Defensively, the Tigers ranked third in the league against the run last season and have seven starters returning, along with several transfers.
Brothers Will Roach, a free safety, and Quentin Bowens, a defensive end/linebacker, have returned to football together.
Roach spent two seasons at Alabama while the 26-year-old Bowens also signed with the Crimson Tide out of junior college but failed to qualify and spent one season at Jacksonville State before dropping out. He hasn't played since 2002.
The front line returns tackles Jason Riles and James Gardner and Wallace said end Jacobi Avery was the team's best defender during spring practice.
Linebacker Tariq Ali is a two-year starter.
The Tigers, who open Aug. 30 at Samford, also play Division II playoff team North Carolina Central, replacing a pair of NAIA teams on the schedule.
West Alabama football at a glance
Coach: Bobby Wallace, first year; 107-112-1 overall (20th season)
Last year: 6-5 overall, 3-5 Gulf South Conference (seventh).
Offense: QB James Reiter returns without key members of his supporting cast, RB Jerin Wright and WR Chris Coach. The Tigers do have some transfers and speedy WRs.
Defense: Seven starters return and brothers Will Roach and Quentin Bowens, both former Alabama signees, transfer in. DT Jason Riles and LB Tariq Ali among returning starters.
Special teams: PK Mitch Warfield is an All-GSC performer.
Key losses: RB Jerin Wright, WR Chris Coach, LB Kidane McBride, LB Lewis Thompson.
Opener: Aug. 31, Concordia College.
Pivotal game: Nov. 11, North Alabama
Outlook: West Alabama is seeking a second straight winning record after snapping a 14-year streak of losing seasons. Wallace said this team has more speed at receiver and more athleticisim on defense. But Wright and Coach were the teamís biggest offensive threats last season, leaving a big void. The schedule is far tougher with the addition of Samford and North Carolina Central.
- The Associated Press
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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