After two consecutive disappointing 500 seasons, Howard University's head football coach, Doug Porter, is about ready to ask for some assistance from above.
"For the past two years, we have lost key people to injuries. They never get hurt in practice, only in games," said Porter, beginning his fifth season. "We put in our good reserve people and they would get hurt, too. We had no choice but to go with our young people. And young people make mistakes. That's been the story the last couple of seasons."
Porter's first two seasons at Howard produced 16 victories in 22 games. Bison followers were set to pronounce the former Grambling assistant coach the Vince Lombardi of Georgia Avenue before injuries turned Howard's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title dreams into nightmares.
Porter is not making any predictions for the 1978 season but feels his young squad will be very respectable if the "offensive line matures quickly."
"Right now, that's our main worry. We need immediate help from our freshmen linemen," said Porter.
One problem Porter didn't anticipate was the loss of starting tackles Mike Tarver and Milton Burwell. The two experienced players were the anchors of the offensive line during spring practice but they, along with split end Kevin Williams, were declared academically ineligible for the season.
"In the spring, we built around them. Now the complexion of the team has changed and it's like starting all over again." said Porter.
Elliott Boisdoire (6-foot-1, 240 pounds), who thought he had found a home at center, will probably be switched back to tackle. Boidoire was forced to play the position last year because of injuries. Little-used sophomore Frank Reed (6-3, 235) will be the other tackle.
Ralph Grimes (6-2, 230) and John Jenkins (6-1, 235) will start at the guard positions while the center spot will probably go to freshman charles Richardson (6-2, 230).
"This was the best recruiting season we've had for offensive linemen since I've been here. We've got some size," said Porter. "We just have to simplify our offense a little more and work on execution. Make fewer mistakes."
If the offensive line is unable to spring running backs Gary Madden (391 yards), Leonard Orr, Beeman Veasley and Cornelius Quarries for any sizable gains, Porter can turn to what should be an excellent air attack.
Quarterback Brian Thomas is over a nagging shoulder injury and his leadership and sharp passes may be enough to offset a suspect rushing attack. The junior completed 60 of 122 attempts for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns last year. His backup, Ronald Wilson, connected on 30 of 77 for another 403 yards and two touchdowns.
Most of the passes will be aimed at wingback Steve Wilson. The 5-11, 185-pound son of former Los Angeles Rams receiver tommy (Touchdown) Wilson latched onto 28 passes for a total 512 yards and four TDs. Wilson tied the school record for receptions in a season his sophomore year with 36 catches. The senior is only two receptions away from establishing a school career mark for receptions.
Wide receivers Greg Scott, Mike Tyler and Robert Artisst and tight ends Fitz Fowler, Roderick Walton and Dino Pierce give howard an outstanding corps of receivers.
"We'll have a good passing attack, but we have to take some of the pressure off Brian," said Porter. "Our running attack has fallen off the last two years and we have to re-establish some sort of ground attack."
The defense should be the bison strong point. Nine starters, including all-conference tackle Tommy Spears (6-4, 275) and linebacker James Graham (6-2, 215), both being touted by the proscouts, will anchor the unit.
Graham, former all-Met performer from Theodore Roosevelt High School, along with aggressive junior Scott Facyson, Mark Thomas, Thomas Clark and Mike Prince may be the best group of linebackers in the conference.
Joining Spears up front are william Lee (6-2, 215) and Larry Hamilton (6-3, 207) at the ends and James Penchion (6-0, 235) at tackle.
The secondary is tall, rangy and experienced. The loss of Herman Redden (drafted by the San Francisco 49ers) will be missed but the tandem of Fred Spence and Jack King at the corners and Carl Gilbert, Cedric Wilson and Theodore Robinson at the safeties looked exceptionally strong during the spring practice.
Porter will ask the defense to improve on last year's unit that recorded 41 quarterback sacks, forced 27 turnovers and had three shutouts.
The kicking chores will be handled by sophomore Howard Ward. The Winston-Salem, N.C. native converted seven of 13 field-goal tries, 18 of 23 extra-point attempts and punted for a 36.5 average.
Last season, the Bison finished fifth in the seven-team conference with a 2-4 mark, the worst in Porter's tenure.
"I'm looking to improve our record. I'm primarily an offensive coach, so I accept the challenge of improving our offensive attack," said Porter. "We'd like to return to the statistical years we had my first two seasons here. But with our young team, it'll be a big challenge."