Florida A&M tries for glory in the shadow of Florida State

TALLAHASSEE Fla.

Rubin Carter has at least one big fan in Tallahassee, someone who believes that he’s the right man to lead Florida A&M back to prominence.

“Give Rubin Carter another two or three years and FAMU will be a small college powerhouse.”

Those words came from Bobby Bowden, the coach at Florida State the ‘other’ school in Florida’s capital city.

These are tough times for Florida A&M, a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference school that’s trying to fend off financial peril. Plus, the school has reeled from the decision to jump up to Division I-A, a move that came largely to try and compete with Florida State one of the nation’s most successful big-time college sports programs that is based just blocks away.

“The effort to go I-A was almost catastrophic,” said Eddie Jackson, a retired FAMU vice president who has closely followed the school’s sports programs for more than 40 years.

Getting FAMU back on track is a giant challenge, yet it’s one that Carter relishes.

“We have to regain the respectability we previously had in the MEAC,” Carter said.

In his first head coaching opportunity, Carter is 13-9 in two seasons at FAMU with successive 5-3 conference records and the losses coming to the same three schools both seasons Delaware State, South Carolina State and Hampton (Va.).

Although the Rattlers return most of their starters from a year ago, league observers are skeptical about FAMU’s chances of moving past those three, picking them for a fifth-place finish this year.

Players respectfully disagree.

“We have to beat Delaware State, South Carolina State and Hampton,” said senior quarterback Albert Chester II, who completed 62 percent of his passes a year ago for 1,986 yards and 18 touchdowns and had just five interceptions. He also ran for 320 yards and four touchdowns.

Chester’s 12-5 record as a starter pales compared to his father’s final two years as FAMU’s quarterback, when the Rattlers went 23-1 and won the 1978 Division I-AA title. But the younger Chester has become comfortable in his role.

“He’s started to settle in and become his own man now and make footprints of his own,” Carter said.

Chester II talks with his father all the time about his game, looking for tips.

“He won a national championship,” Chester II said. “Why wouldn’t I listen to him?”

Chester II has plenty of good targets to choose from. Willlie Hayward leads a cadre of three senior wideouts who will give Chester, a redshirt senior, reliable downfield targets. Hayward caught 49 passes a year ago for 674 yards and five touchdowns.

“The receiving corps is probably one of our strongest positions,” said Carter, who has eight starters returning on offense and 10 on defense along with one of the best kickers in the MEAC. “Experience is always good. It is the ultimate situation as a coach to be able to have the experience.”

Demitric Henry and Anthony Edwards are expected to share the bulk of the running duties while 325-pound right tackle Justin Delancy is the anchor on the offensive line.

Middle linebacker Vernon Wilder, defensive end Tyrone McGriff and defensive backs Jason Beach and Michael Creary lead a defense that gave up 357 yards and nearly 30 points a game a year ago. The Rattlers will also rely on the talents of all-conference kicker Wesley Taylor, who averaged 41.3 yards a punt and hit 14 of 22 field goal tries last season.

“He’s the X-factor,” Carter said.

Many around FAMU’s program think the same about Carter.

He was an All-American defensive tackle at Miami in the 1970s and took over at Florida A&M when longtime coach Billy Joe a new member of the College Football Hall of Fame was fired despite a successful 11-year run. Carter has been somewhat handcuffed by the school’s money woes; the jump to Division I-A wiped out the cash surplus that had been built up by FAMU’s athletic department.

Slowly, there’s hope for better days, and Carter believes they’re coming, too.

“One year at a time,” Carter said.

– Associated Press



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