Howard University's mammoth defensive tackles, Thomas Spears and James Hunter, are still angry about last season's disappointing 5-51 finish.
Spears, at 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, and Hunter, 6-2 and 250, each of whom could be mistaken for a wall, have vowed to see to it the Bison will bot be beaten on the ground.
"I missed the last two games last year and I sat in the hospital (knee surgery) making plans for this year," said Spears, a junior. "There won't be any 40- and 50-yard runs this year. I plan to stop that."
Thus far, Spears, Hunter and defensive ends James Graham (6-2, 215) and Larry Hamilton (6-3, 207) have seen to that.
In two games, Howard has surrendered only 193 yards rushings on 93 attempts for a meager average of 2.6 per carry. Last week, the Bison held Maryland-Eastern Shore to minus seven yards to the ground and sacked Hawk quarterbacks seven times. Howard blanked UMES, 15-0, to even its record at 1-1.
Hunter, who is tied with Spears for the team lead in unassisted tackles with 13, missed the UMES game with a knee injury but is expected to be back Saturday against South Carolina State in Orangebury.
"We have to stop their running game. Control the line of scrimmage and we can win it," said Hunter. "My knee is fine and I'm looking forward to playing them. It's the biggest game of the year for us."
If the Bison strategy of having Graham and Hamilton funnel everything into the middle, into the huge hands of Spears and Hunter works against the defending Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference champions, the "walls" will gets quite a workout.
The Bulldogs led the conference in rushing offense in 1976, averaging 248.9 yards per game. They have shown no signs of change there, rushing for nearly 500 yards in whipping Delaware State 21-0, and North Carolina A&T, 52-0.
As far as Hunter and Spears are concerned, that type of statistic is for the accountants and won't mean a thing when they hit the field.
"We've worked hard to stop teams' running games because we know that's the secret. I really plan to enjoy myself in this game," said Spears, converted from offense to defense last year. "As soon as we settle on a set front, we'll get that unity and that's it."
Defensive line coach Fred Freeman and head coach Doug Porter agreed the play of Hunter and Spears have been the bright spots thus far in the young season.
"They've shut off everything up the middle," said Freeman. "We (defense) have 10 objectives we like to accomplish each game but if we can get five, we'll win. Against Florida A & M, we got only one. Against UMES, we accomplished eight of 10. Most of that is attributed to Hunter and Spears."
One statistic that has Porter aglow is the 12 sacks recorded by his defensive unit. Last year, the Bison totaled only 27 in 11 games.
"The defense has progressed well. Our front four is set and they've definitely been a plus for us," said Porter, who must now concern himself with finding a consistent offense. "We knew what Hunter and Spear could do, Hamilton (freshman) and Graham (junior college transfer) are actually playing their first year."
Hunter played summer pickup basketball to work on his quickness while Spears stayed inside and lifted weights and prayed his teammate didn't get hurt.
"It's good playing beside someone who shares the same objectives and goals as you do," said Spears, a Los Angeles native who selected Howard from hundreds of colleges, including UCLA and Southern California. "We feel the same vibes."
Right now, Hunter and Spears are on the same wavelength.