FAMU Rattlers Open Season With New Look, Old Issues
There’s a new coach and new devotion this season at Florida A&M. Yet the fallout from a slew of NCAA problems and serious university-wide budget cuts remain.
So, Rubin Carter’s first task as coach of the Rattlers is keeping the distractions away from the field.
Carter, hired in July as fired coach Billy Joe’s replacement at the historically Black college, is hoping a few victories might ease the campus — and relieve players caught in a difficult situation.
“This team has been through so much,” said senior safety Sammy Doughty, the Rattlers’ leading tackler with 81 a year ago. “We’ve stuck together.”
Carter’s program could soon feel the wrath of NCAA-imposed penalties, the result of 184 instances from 1998 through 2005 where athletes schoolwide participated despite not meeting eligibility requirements. And last year’s team was dismal, going 3-8.
But Carter thinks he has enough talented personnel to be competitive.
“There is some talent on the team,” Carter said. “We’re not in the best shape we need to be.”
He’s counting on the Florida Panhandle’s brutal summer weather to help there — and preaches that handling oppressive conditions now will pay off as the season wears along.
“I’ve told them they’ve got to be able to beat the heat,” he said.
At quarterback, Josh Driscoll — who sat out the 2003 season after transferring from Arkansas State — replaces longtime standout Ben Dougherty as the starter. Driscoll won the starting job in the spring of 2003, then was declared ineligible when Florida A&M made its aborted move to Division I-A.
“The past two years, we’ve had to play for ourselves, our pride, for FAMU,” said Driscoll, who threw for 518 yards and a touchdown in eight appearances last season.
Unlike a year ago, when Illinois, Virginia Tech, Tulane and Temple were opponents, the Rattlers are back in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, playing Division I-AA rivals. They have non-conference games against South Florida, Florida International and archrival Bethune-Cookman.
Joe was fired in June, partly victimized by the aborted move to Division I-A— a move the school couldn’t afford financially. A longtime NFL star with the Denver Broncos out of the University of Miami, Carter couldn’t resist the challenge to resuscitate the one-time proud program.
The school has already slashed its athletic budget sharply and has recommended taking away 28 scholarships over the next three years, in hopes of appeasing the NCAA — which will have its infractions committee hear Florida A&M’s case in October, when penalties could be handed down.
“I’ll have to deal with those when they come,” Carter said. “Right now, I want to instill a work ethic and some confidence in our football team.”
Picked by the MEAC coaches to finish eighth in a nine-team league, the Rattlers are eager to disprove the skeptics.
“We’ve got something to prove,” Kiser said.
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