“I’m ready to see what we’ve got,” said reigning Southwestern Athletic Conference defensive player of the year Christian Anthony. “I can hardly wait to get back on the field.”
Good thing. GSU’s work-in-progress offense promises to be a stark contrast.
Senior quarterback Greg Dillon, most valuable player of the 2008 Bayou Classic and Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, will not be under center. Newly hired assistant coach Bob Leahy is set to call plays after the departure of offensive coordinator James Spady for Nevada.
“I won’t lie, (all of that change) is a concern,” said fourth-year Grambling running back Frank Warren, “but we have lots of seniors, and we will just have to step up and take a leadership role. We will have to discipline ourselves, and motivate the rest of the team, since so much is different with the quarterback and coaching situation.”
Practice begins at 4 p.m. Monday on campus in Grambling; sessions follow at the same time on Wednesdays and Fridays, then at 9 a.m. Saturdays, with a hiatus when school is closed for Easter. Scrimmages will be held on Saturdays. The Black and Gold spring game is set for April 24.
Coach Rod Broadway’s Tigers are coming off a disappointing 7-4 campaign — a record that the defensive end Anthony firmly describes as “not a Grambling-type year.” GSU failed to win the SWAC’s Western Division title for the first time in Broadway’s three-season tenure.
Change, perhaps inevitably, followed on the staff — though Broadway was quick to note in a conversation with me that “everybody is happy; everybody left for other opportunities.”
First to go was 11th-year assistant Sammy White, the former three-time SWAC champion receiver at Grambling under Eddie Robinson. Now employed elsewhere on campus, White had served as receivers coach (1998-2003; 2007-09) and offensive coordinator (2004-06) through a period of sustained success that included five league championships and six divisional titles.
Spady, who served as OC from 2007-09 as Grambling earned its two most recent Western division crowns and its 22nd SWAC championship, had been part of at least two other coaching searches this offseason.
Meanwhile, compliance officers at GSU are requesting a sixth year of eligibility for Dillon, who originally walked on at another university before walking on again at GSU. College athletes by NCAA rule only have five years to complete four seasons of eligibility.
That paperwork is still in process, leaving Grambling to use its remaining quarterbacks for these spring sessions: Justin Higgins, who led the state of Louisiana in passing yards as a senior prep quarterback at Rayville, and Danny Reyes — Dillon’s backup in 2009.
Higgins arrived in Grambling with a bum knee, and has struggled with inconsistency ever since. Reyes is 6-of-12 all-time at GSU, with 63 total yards and a touchdown. He was originally recruited by Jay Davis, the quarterbacks coach who has also left — reportedly for a offensive coordinator job with a Division II school.
“It’s a transition, and it’s a big one,” said Warren, who rushed for a team-high 901 net yards in 2007 and then 926 last season — just shy of becoming the second Grambling running back to reach 1,000 since 1993. “But we hope to full in the gaps on offense with (fellow senior running back) Cornelius Walker and myself, and with our receivers. We just don’t know how it will go, and probably won’t until that first scrimmage.”
Grambling’s defense loses defensive backs Nigel Copeland and T.J. McCord, but gets back Kenneth Anio, who missed the 2009 season with a broken leg. Every other significant starter returns.
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