Howard University quarterback Ron Wilson summed up his team's attitude about recent investigations of his school's football program:
"We can't let all the previous bad attention affect us as a team, and I don't think we will," said the senior Bison starter. "We've talked about the situation as a team and we decided we have to play for today. This 'scandal', as they call it, is history. It's overand behind us. Most of these players have only been here one or two years. It's time to think about football."
The investigations may be out of the players' minds, but allegations that Howard coaches physically abused members of the team under the previous coaching staff are still being investigated.
Under Floyd Keith, the new coach last season, Howard finished 5-6, in fourth place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
"People tend to forget that 5-6 for ateam that started nine freshmen was not that bad," said Keith. "I've got a real good feeling about this team. These guys are confident, bordering on cocky -- but I don't mind that at all."
Wilson may be the most confident of all. Despite his 36.8 pass completion percentage, he was the third-leading quarterback in the MEAC in overall offense -- rushing and passing -- last year.
"We'll have a winning season," he said. "We were second in the conference last year in total offense. That's an indication of what type of offensive unit we have. As far as personal goals, I'd like to be MEAC offensive player of the year and make the first team, but it doesn't mean much if we don't have that winning season."
Wilson believes the Bison could win the conference title because the team is a little more experienced this season. "Recruiting-wise, this freshman class is the best incoming class since I've been here."
One of the bright freshman hopes is Oliver Bridges of Suitland, Md., a rangy, fast, wide receiver who may push the more experienced receivers to get in top form quickly for the season opener in Charleston against West Virginia State.
After playing Bethune-Cookman at RFK Stadium in the second game of the season, the Bison meet powerhouse Florida A&M, a new conference member, in the Gator Bowl. Bethune-Cookman is also a new addition to the MEAC and both teams figure to make Howard's chances for a winning season more difficult.The Bison lost to A&M the last two seasons, most recently by six points.
"I think both teams are good additions to the conference," Keith said.
"The MEAC has really been strengthened. I compare it now with the Mid-America Conference."
Keith is not planning any wholesale changes for this season, but he and Wilson hinted that the offense may be more wide-open and emphasize more passing than in previous years.
"We got caught in some situations last year where we were running too much when we should have been passing. I thought we just didn't throw enough. Our strength seems to be in our passing game and we shouldn't wait to be forced to use it."
Wilson, one of 12 seniors, said he wuld be glad to take on the leadership role. He seems to have support from Keith.
"I think Ron is a damn good quarterback," he said, "He was third in our conference in total yards last year and he works like hell. Show me a QB in the MEAC who can press 300-plus pounds. He was only at 150 last year. And people forget that he missed a lot of time with injuries at the end of lastseason."
One of Wilson's receivers, split end Robert Artisst, said the team especially the offense, is still adjusting to Keith's coaching system. "He places a lot of emphasis on receivers leading defenses," Artisst said. "We have a lot of intricate audibles and the four weeks of spring practice we had to adjust to coach Keith before last season just wasn't enough."
Howard's defense, still a question mark, will look to seniors Kenneth Pimpton and Larry Hamilton. Pimptom, a three-year starter, will have the main responsibility for shadowing MEAC quarterbacks.
Pimpton is conscious of the pressure Howard's football program has been under the last few months because of the investigations.
"We're taking it upon ourselves as a team to make this program at Howard as good as possible."