Howard University's new football coach, Joe Taylor, suffered through some long afternoons as the Bison's defensive coordinator in 1982. He has decided the way to erase those memories is to start from scratch.
Taylor and his staff have used this spring practice to make sweeping personnel switches, completely change the offensive and defensive schemes and work on rebuilding competitive and positive attitudes.
"I've been very pleased with the hitting level, emotion, attendance and intensity of the guys," Taylor said. "We've put in a lot of new things but the guys are working hard and getting locked into the new schemes. The attitude is much better, they want to play. They have me excited."
Taylor has moved so many players to different positions (and plans more shifts yet), his blackboard looks like a state of confusion. The biggest move took 5-foot-10, 230-pound senior-to-be Mike Holmes from offensive guard to fullback.
"He has been running the ball very, very well," Taylor said. "He's improved his speed from 4.9 to 4.7 (for 40 yards) and we like what we see so far. In our offense, we need an effective fullback. We threw out the option series and are going strictly with the pro-set offense."
Going with a pro-set offense has benefited Brian Sloan, a drop-back passer; he has moved ahead of last year's starter, Sandy Nichols, a good option quarterback. Nichols led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in total offense last year. Sloan will be a junior this fall, Nichols a senior.
"Right now," Taylor said, "Brian, Mike Holmes and Andrew Kelly are running ahead of Nichols and backs Melvin Sutton and Jeff Owens." The starting fullback before he broke his thumb, Owens was a 1982 redshirt.
Defensive end Calvin Epps has moved to center, tight end Jay Robinson to offensive guard and quarterback Edwin Watts to split end. Martin Brown, redshirted last year (knee sprain), is back at outside linebacker and Robert Sellers goes from outside to middle linebacker.
Another possible strengthener for Howard's defense against the run (last in the conference last year) is the return of tackle Harold Gilky for a senior season. He didn't play in 1982 because of a disagreement with then coach Floyd Keith. Cornerback Chris Jackson, academically ineligible last fall, also is back.
"On paper, both the defensive line and the linebackers should be very much improved," Taylor said. "They've shown the most progress. With Gilky and Brown back and two very good transfers from Virginia State, linebackers Carroll Hughes and Phillip Lee, we'll be much stronger on defense."
"The offense is much simpler than before, that's the key," Taylor said. "We have a system now instead of rote memory. I thought it was disastrous last year to throw to one receiver (Tracy Singleton) all the time. He caught 65 passes and the next receiver caught 17. We plan to throw the ball all over the field, spread it around. We have people who can catch the ball."
Taylor said 70 players are participating in spring drills. The only player excused is Perky Warner, occupied with varsity baseball.
"We've accomplished quite a bit and, so far, have been very lucky with injuries," Taylor said. "After our spring game (next Saturday), we'll evaluate the players and a few could be dropped. When I was hired, the word used was continuity. Next year won't be a rebuilding year, we plan to be much better . . . We're using these spring drills to teach and put the best 22 people on the field."