Central State Back in Football World After Eight-Year Hiatus
It’s a rebuilding year for Central State — as in rebuilding the entire football program from scratch. Football kicks off this year after an eight-year absence at Central State, which won three National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championships in the 1990s and sent such players as Hugh Douglas and Erik Williams to the NFL.
“It’s finally here,” says coach Theo Lemon. “We’re excited because we’re practicing. We’re excited that we have some big guys running around campus right now.”
Central State dropped its football program following the 1996 season after the NAIA banned the team from postseason play for two years for using academically ineligible players. Later in 1997, the Ohio Legislature required the school — plagued by financial problems at the time — to drop football for two years as a condition of continued state funding.
In 2001, the school’s board of trustees voted to restore football through private donations. School officials say a football program would boost school spirit and enrollment at the state’s only historically Black public university and increase financial contributions from alumni.
Lemon, a former assistant coach at Wake Forest and former head coach of the College of DuPage in Illinois, says he has been successful recruiting because his players know they will have a chance to play right away since there is no established team at Central State.
More than half of the 85 players in camp are either freshmen or transfer students.
“They don’t want to go somewhere where they’re going to be second or third on the depth chart,” Lemon says. “These young men who come here will have the opportunity to play now.”
The Marauders will play a six-game schedule this year, and took the field for the first time Aug. 27 in Topeka, Kan., against Lincoln University of Missouri. Their home opener was the following weekend at Dayton’s Welcome Stadium against Saint Paul’s College of Virginia.
— Associated Press
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