Howard University head football coach Doug Porter has never been associated with a loser. He doesn't intend to start now.
The amiable, balding Porter, who spent a decade as an assistant coach at Grambling before migrating to Howard four years ago, suffered through a depressing 5-5-1 season last year after coaching the Bison to 8-2-1 and 8-3 marks his first two years. Howard finished fourth in the Mid-Eastern, Athletic Conference with a 3-2-1 mark.
"We (coaches) have to take a lot of the blame for our defensive deficiencies last year," said Porter. "We may have put too much pressure on our young kids too early. We have a lot of young kids this year too, but this is a the most talented group I've ever had here.
"We are also going back to basics, the simple things. I'm going to be the defensive coordinator this season. I've revamped it (the defense) completely. If it goes down the drain, I go too."
With the return of eight defensive starters, that isn't likely. Although standout linebackers Dana Cunningham (6-foot-5, 255) and Jeff Spencer (6-1,205) will be missed, Porter feels he has enough talent to ease the pain.
"Dana is ineligible for football this year and Jeff decided to concentrate on his studies (engineering). Hopefully, both may return next year," said Porter.
Sophomores Mark Thomas, Thomas Clark and Scott Facyson will vie with freshmen Larry Hamilton and Keith Duncan and junior James Marshall for the starting slets.
If Porter solves his linebacking problems, he should have a stable defense. The Bison secondary is intact. The foursome of Hulon Kemp, Herman Redden, Fred Spence and Carl Gilbert were mainly responsible for limiting opponents to an average of 97 yards per game. Reserves Theodore Robinson, Joe Davis, Steve McNeely and James Penchion are capable of stepping in and doing the job.
Opponents frequently stung Howard on the ground last year, gaining nearly 200 yards per game. But the returning Bison, with a year of experience, should put an end to that.
Senior Paul Ball (6-2, 215) and James Hunter (6-2, 250), juniors Tommy Spears (6-4, 275), Leonard Stephens (6-5, 235) and James Graham (6-3, 215) will be counted on to stop the run. Howard surrendered 19.2 points per game a year ago, compared to 13.5 in 1975. Spears, a vicious hitter, was switched to defense last year and immediately established himself as one of the top defensive linemen in the MEAC.
If the defense comes around, Howard will be a threat to powerful South Carolina A&T for the conference title.
The offense will put points on the board. For openers, the offensive line (Bison Express) is anchored by such All-MEAC performers as center Dan Ambrose (6-2, 230) and guard Keith Napier (6-3, 225) and Mike Tarver (6-1, 250), the strongest player on the team, turned in excellent performances last year and should start at guard and tackle, respectively, Maxie Lee (6-4, 230) was injured much of last year but it is healthy again and probably will start at the other tackle. Elliot Boisdore (6-1, 240), Bill Hewlett (6-3, 230) and Norman Gavin (6-2, 210) provide excellent depth on the line.
The battle for tight end between sophomores Roderick Walton (6-2, 220) and Maurice Pierce (6-3, 207) should be interesting. Both are excelllent receivers and strong blockers.
The explosive backfield is led by bruising senior fullbacks James Breakfield, the Bison's first 1,000-yard rusher. The 6-foot, 215-pound muscle-man showed both durability and surprising speed while carrying the ball almost 200 times and scoring on runs of 61 and 76 yards.
His backfield mate last year was Marco Morgan (275 yards, four TDs). But fleet runners Jimmy Chapman, David Jones and Leonard Orr have experience and will challenge Morgan for the other running back position.
Directing the offense will be either sophomore Brian Thomas, a late-season starter last season, or freshman Ronal Wilson. Thomas completed 52 per cent of his passes for 545 yards and six touchdowns in nine games.
Regardless of who is throwing the Bison will have a superb receiving corps. Steve Wilson (36 passes, 630 yards) and Greg Scott (11 passes, 133 yards) possess blazing speed and fine hands. Fitz Fowler, Darryl Dennis and Mike Tyler also are quick and can catch the ball.
Scott and Wilson handle the kickoff and punt returns. Both frequently broke long runs to put the Bison in good field position last year. Dennis handles the place kicking.
Howard's wing-T offense produced 21.7 points per game and three times ammassed more than 400 yards.
"I'm optimistic. The guys cme back in good physical condition and our strength situation is much better," said Porter. "I'm looking for a little help from our freshman recruits, too."
One first-year player who could rewrite the Bison record books is 6-4, 195-pound quarterback Raymond Gray. The Louisianan threw for 1,712 yards and 12 TDs as a high school senior.
"We've got good kids. Now they have to prove they can play football," said Porter.
He will begin finding out Sept. 10 against Florida A&M at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.