News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Alabama State looking to be SWAC surprise

By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Reggie Barlow knows that he and Alabama State’s football team both have some doubters this season, and he even understands the reasoning.

Picked to finish last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Eastern Division, the Hornets have a first-time head coach with two years experience who didn’t take over until May. They’re also coming off a 5-6 season.

“It’s obvious why people might not expect much out of us,” the 34-year-old Barlow said. “We had a coaching change, and last year the offense kind of sputtered a little bit.”

There are reasons for optimism, too. The Hornets have 15 returning starters, including tailback Jay Peck and quarterback Alex Engram. Plus, cornerback Brandon Averett is back from a wrist injury that sidelined him most of last season.

The Hornets were also picked to finish last a year ago, but wound up tied for second in the division.

“We’re motivated within ourselves to prove that we can go out and play and compete at a high level,” said Barlow, an ASU graduate who spent the last two seasons coaching Hornets quarterbacks.

He took over for Charlie Coe, who left in the spring to work as an assistant for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.

Peck was the offensive workhorse last season, finishing with 1,086 yards on a league-high 249 carries.

Engram was less consistent, completing just 43 percent of his passes for 787 yards while rushing for 399 yards.

“He has the skills to be a good quarterback,” said Barlow, who coached the position the past two seasons. “We just need him to settle down a little bit and not put so much pressure on himself and just manage the game for us.”

The Hornets also have junior college transfer Chris Mitchell and freshmen Brandon Dowdell and Devin Dominquez, along with returnee Darius Mathis.

Barlow, a former NFL receiver, is more worried about replacing last year’s top three wide receivers. Antonio James is the top returnee, and he had just six catches for 80 yards last season. The Hornets are hoping for immediate impact from junior college transfer Ronald Davis.

They’re still searching for a big-play threat at that position.

“Antonio James is a pretty savvy player, who runs good routes and catches the ball,” Barlow said. “We just need more out of him. Behind him we’ve got a lot of guys who have been around the program two or three years and haven’t played a whole lot. We’re going to rely on them to step up.”

The flip side of that situation is the offensive line, which returns all five starters and their top five backups.

The Hornets’ defense was one of the league’s better groups last season, but lost all-conference cornerback Michael Coe — Charlie Coe’s son — and linebacker Chris Dupuy, who was third in Division I-AA in solo tackles.

Two key players will be linebacker Leland Jones and the 5-foot-7, 159-pound Averett.

Alabama State opens Sept. 1 against Jacksonville State.

Alabama State at a glance

Coach: Reggie Barlow, first season school, overall.

Last year: 5-6, 5-4 Southwestern Athletic Conference (T-second East).

Offense: RB Jay Peck was league’s No. 2 rusher last season. ... QB Alex Engram returns but his three top receivers don’t. He completed just 43 percent of his passes in 10 games. ... Peck and LG Ivora Hall are preseason first-team All-SWAC picks.

Defense: CB Brandon Averett returns from a wrist injury that cost him most of last season. ... DL Noel Alphonso had a strong freshman season for group that ranked third in the SWAC in scoring defense (20.6 ppg). ... LB Leland Jones and DE Noel Alphonso also return.

Special teams: Seeking replacement for P/PK Anthony Johnson.

Key losses: WR James Cray, WR Brandon Horace, DB Michael Coe, LB Chris Dupuy, P/PK Anthony Johnson.

Opener: Sept. 1 vs. Jacksonville State

Pivotal game: Oct. 27 Alabama A&M in Birmingham.

Outlook: Barlow replaced Charlie Coe, who left for an NFL job during spring practice. He takes over a team picked to finish last in the SWAC Eastern Division by league coaches. Barlow does have 15 returning starters to work with. Peck is the workhorse of an offense that ranked near the bottom of the SWAC last season. QB Alex Engram must be more efficient passing.

The Associated Press

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

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