Following a trying 2011 season which added fuel to offseason workouts, Charleston Southern looks to turn the page in 2012 and return to the winning ways which saw the program compile the Big South’s most victories from 2005-2009.
Morale will not be a problem for the Bucs, as excitement continues to abound – both within the team itself and in the athletic department as a whole – over the new Athletic Facility that the football and track programs call home. Completed in July, the center houses spacious locker rooms for football and track, as well as a state-of-the-art athletic training facility. CSU football moved into its new digs just before the calendar turned to August, and has already enjoyed the upgrades.
“One of the reasons I came to CSU is because of the improvements that were coming,” CSU junior quarterback Malcolm Dixon said. “It’s great to have a new locker room. Our old one was small so this is great for the whole team to have some more room – some man space. It’s exciting to think when I look back on this, I can say I was one of the first to use it. That’s special for me.”
Perhaps no one within the Buccaneer Football family has a better perspective on the new building than 10th year head coach Jay Mills, who acknowledged the role played by every CSU athlete to strap on shoulder pads since the university began its football tradition in 1991.
“This facility is built on the shoulders of the past players,” said Mills. “Facilities make a difference, no doubt about it. But it is the people that make this place.”
In keeping with that philosophy, the players that comprise this year’s CSU roster hope to instill pride in those that came before them by making significant strides from a season ago.
CSU has challenged itself in recent season openers against the likes of Central Florida, Florida, and Miami. The Bucs will have to wait until week three to face off against an FBS opponent this year, but the first two contests of the campaign figure to be pivotal in the march toward success.
Added excitement surrounds CSU’s opener, as the Bucs travel to downtown Charleston to meet The Citadel for the first time since 2007. A renewal of the Holy City’s local rivalry, and a primetime kickoff to boot, will fuel the Bucs’ fire as they look to down the Bulldogs for the first time since a dramatic 38-35 overtime triumph in 2006.
Following The Citadel matchup, CSU returns home to christen the new athletic facility with its first gameday experience. Jacksonville will be the opponent for the Bucs on September 8, as CSU looks to avenge a narrow road loss to the Dolphins last year.
CSU then heads back on the road in week three, jetting to Champaign, Ill. for a matchup with Illinois, marking the Bucs’ first-ever meeting against a Big Ten foe.
A road bout with Shorter, and a home date with Edward Waters, put a bow on CSU’s out-of-conference slate. As usual, CSU will be tested in league play, as it faces the top three teams in the Big South (as predicated in the preseason coaches’ poll) on the road in Stony Brook, Liberty, and Coastal Carolina. Home clashes with VMI, Presbyterian, and Gardner-Webb also highlight the docket and figure to generate interest among the local CSU fan base.
The battle for the starting quarterback position was one of the prominent storylines of spring ball for Charleston Southern, and continues to be so during fall camp. Redshirt junior Derek Hatcher supplanted junior Malcolm Dixon at the top of the depth chart in the spring, and each has provided highlights in the lead-up to the season.
Hatcher, a left-handed thrower from Orange Park, Fla., has seen limited game action to this point of his career, but showed great improvement in his passing and decision making to assume the top spot in spring. Dixon, a former wide receiver who started eight games as the Bucs’ signal caller last season, continues to grow as a quarterback and a passer. The Tifton, Ga. native possesses a strong arm and intangibles, but his greatest asset may be his athleticism and ability to make plays on the move. No matter who gets the starting nod come opening day, it would not be a surprise to see the other receive snaps between the lines on Saturdays as well.
Whoever is behind center at The Citadel on September 1 will have an experienced and talented receiving corps at their disposal. The leader of the group is junior Nathan Perera. Perera had only six catches through four games last season, but erupted for 37 grabs, 642 yards and four touchdowns over the last seven contests of the year. That performance earned him a nod to the Big South’s First Team All-Conference Offense, as he concluded the campaign second in conference games with 5.33 receptions and 94.4 yards per game. Perera hauled in ten passes for 232 yards – nine off the program’s single-game record – and two touchdowns against Stony Brook, and that kind of game-breaking ability is the reason he was tabbed to the Big South’s All-Conference Preseason Team.
Perera may take most of the headlines, but CSU’s other receivers feature a diverse array of talents and can wreak havoc in opposing secondaries. Senior Mike Davis, a former junior college running back, thrived in the slot last season, finishing second on the club in receptions with 23. Davis figures to remain a primary target in the short to intermediate passing game, where his sure hands and powerful running style make him tough to handle.
Another bright spot in 2011 was the play of junior college transfer Corvaughn Archie, who emerged as a go-to target in conference play. Archie’s breakout day came against Coastal Carolina in a back-and-forth, 45-38 shootout, as he tallied 11 catches for 204 yards. He finished the campaign with 19 catches for 355 yards, leading the club with an 18.7 yard per catch average.
Junior Kirby Broome has also proven to be a reliable target over the middle, while Chase Jones emerged late in the year and brought in a pair of touchdown catches. Redshirt sophomore Estevan Cintron also has game repetitions under his belt, thanks to the three starts he earned last year.
While the quarterback competition has received its share of the spotlight, the success of the CSU offense in 2012 could be largely predicated on the offensive line and the ability to generate more consistent production in the running game.
Due in part to injuries, the Bucs struggled to run the football in 2012, averaging less than 100 yards per game, and three yards per carry. Nick Kemper returns as the elder statesman of the offensive line as the starting center, while right tackle Austin Spears and right guard Clayton Truitt figure to form a strong right side after gaining valuable experience a year ago. On the left side, Mose Countryman will protect the quarterback’s blind side at tackle, while Jean Bazile returns from injury to start at left guard. Jason Edmonds provides experience on the line as a back-up at guard, while the Bucs’ depth and youth is served with the likes of freshmen Blake Stone and Benny Timmons.
Competition abounds at running back, where Keelyan Bryant tops the depth chart. Trey Dorsey, Teddy Allen, and Zac Frazier all figure to see carries, however. Allen led CSU with 360 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 2011, while Bryant provides speed and Frazier added both burst and power. Dorsey is also dangerous and adds a big-play dimension, as he showcased his explosiveness in the return game against Central Florida and Florida State last year before succumbing to injury in the Jacksonville contest. When Dixon is at quarterback, CSU will have another weapon in the run-game as the Jacksonville native torched his home-town school for 163 yards on 27 carries last year.
A blend of experienced talent and impact newcomers hope to combine to produce a new and improved CSU defense. The man in charge of that unit is a new face, as Shawn Quinn takes over as defensive coordinator after spending two years as the linebackers coach at Georgia Southern.
Quinn hopes to bring a Southern Conference attitude and a more aggressive style of play to the Bucs, and players have been energized by his coaching style thus far. CSU plans to implement multiple schemes, but its greatest strength may be in the defensive backfield.
Senior cornerback Charles James piled up many preseason accolades over the summer, including being named Big South Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. James enters the year one interception shy of tying Phillip Ashley’s program record, and hopes to lead with his play on the field and enthusiasm on and off it.
The coaching staff is also excited about the talent of junior college transfer Damian Dixon, who sits opposite James and could give opposing quarterbacks plenty of problems. Juniors Demaris Freeman and Matt Hardy give the Bucs’ experience and dependability at strong and free safety, meanwhile.
Applying pressure on the passer is key to disrupting any offense, and redshirt junior defensive end Will Hunt looks to lead a front four which returns plenty of familiar faces. Hunt led the Bucs with four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss in 2011, and hopes to get help from fellow defensive end Cornelius Sterling, as well as tackles Isaac McKenzie and James Smith. Sterling, McKenzie, and Jacque Carter provide valuable experience on the front, while Smith hopes to build off a stellar freshman season in which he proved his worth against both the run and pass.
Junior college transfer Zack Johnson has impressed at outside linebacker in spring and fall, while Zac Johnston will man the other outside linebacker position. Gabe Middlebrook returns from injury at middle linebacker, while Brad Sweatt, Calvin Bryant, and 2nd team All-Big South performer Mike Chocholousek also hope to make a difference.
Strong special teams play is vital to the success of any squad, and the Bucs hope to produce that in 2012.
Young talent will be relied on in the kicking game, as CSU looks to replace four-year punter and part-time place-kicker Andy Brown. Cameron Mitchell will aim to help CSU win the field-position battle at punter, while Mark Deboy takes over the kicking duties with T.J. Higgins and Tyson Pryor also willing and able to lend a hand.
Charles James is always a threat in the punt game, and will hope to spark CSU as a punt returner. Sophomore Kevin Glears possesses some of the best straight-line speed on the Bucs’ roster, meanwhile, and the Goose Creek product strives to show that off as the primary kick returner alongside Trey Dorsey. Dorsey is shifty and proved tough to bring to the turf in his injury-shortened freshman season as he broke big returns against both Central Florida and Florida State.