Job. 1 for first-year Prairie View A&M coach Heishma Northern: Replacing Donald Babers, a 3,000-yard career rusher. Also, school record-holding quarterback K.J. Black. And three starting receivers. And All-America defensive end Quinton Spears. And punter Pedro Ventura, and placekickers Brady Faggard and Kyle Mathews.
So, Northern’s remade staff won’t be the only new faces in the wake of Henry Frazier’s departure for the MEAC’s North Carolina State. After seven seasons as a key assistant with the Panthers, however, Northern is a known commodity — a nose-to-the-grindstone worker who earned this opportunity.
He’ll get tested, though — and tested well — very early on this season. Prairie View opens the new year against defending MEAC co-champion Bethune-Cookman in ESPN’s annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge at Orlando, Fla.
“I want to start off good on national TV as you want to represent the university and conference well,” said Northern, a former standout defensive back at Southern and long-time assistant at Grambling. “I cut my teeth playing and coaching in the SWAC and we’re known as a football conference, but we’ve lost a few games to the MEAC schools so I want to reverse that.”
Luckily, Prairie View’s cupboard isn’t as bare as it may seem: At quarterback, there’s senior Jonathan Troast — who started two games last year before going down to a season-ending injury. Troast, who took the majority of snaps in the spring, is in competition with fellow senior Andrew McGlory and redshirt sophomore Amir Smith.
At running back, where the Panthers also lost key backup Devin Brown, newcomer Ladarraye Groover is coming off a breakout spring. He’ll battle with veteran Jeremy Waddy.
Two of Prairie View’s Top 5 tacklers, redshirt sophomores Raheem Cardwell and Marcus White, return for the 2011 campaign. Then there’s All-America senior cornerback Moses Ellis, who led the nation last season with eight interceptions.