Less than two weeks before Howard University's football opener at the University of Maine, the team remained unsure of where it would play three of its scheduled home games and whether tailback Harvey Reed will be healthy enough to play in the opener. Answers are expected within the next few days.
The home schedule was jeopardized by administrative delays in installing the artificial turf at Howard Stadium, but that problem may be solved sooner than expected, according to the associate athletic director, Sondra Norrell-Thomas. Norrell-Thomas is running the athletic department in the absence of Athletic Director Leo Miles, who has been hospitalized with back problems.
Norrell-Thomas said the school is trying to arrange to switch its home games against South Carolina State (Sept. 28), Norfolk State (Nov. 2) and Liberty Baptist (Nov. 9) to an area college or high school field. The home game scheduled Sept. 14 against Rhode Island already has been switched to a road game. The only home game certain to remain unchanged is the Oct. 19 homecoming, which traditionally is played at RFK Stadium.
"We are going to play them (the three games in question) here," Norrell-Thomas said. "That has always been my preference. We have several options, but I don't want to say specifically what they are until it is decided."
One option originally considered was to play all of the scheduled home games on the road.
Negotiations for installation of the artificial surface also are progressing, Norrell-Thomas said. She said it is possible construction could begin before the end of September.
Right now, Coach Willie Jeffries, in his second year with the Bison, is most concerned about Reed, a sophomore who led the Bison with 603 yards rushing during the 2-8 season last year. Reed missed practice last week with what Jeffries said is a hip pointer. Reed resumed light workouts Wednesday and Jeffries hopes he can be ready for the Sept. 7 opener at Maine.
A bright spot for Howard over the first two weeks of practice has been the play of the offensive line in the dive-option offense Jeffries brought with him last year from Wichita State.
Sophomores Roy Pierson, a 6-foot-5, 311-pound tackle, and Eric Moore, a 6-foot, 290-pound guard, have won positions on the right side. Another sophomore, Calvert Thomas, who is 6-4 and 265, has won the starting left tackle position.
The competition at left guard between sophomore Grady Crosby and freshman Pat Boyd, and at center between junior Vernon Robinson and freshman Todd Meiklejohn, is a luxury that the offensive line coach, Tom Seward, said Howard has not had in recent years.
"In the past, we just didn't have the numbers and the competition for the line positions," said Seward. "We had to play people because we had no one else, and the players knew that."
He said his linemen can bench press an average of 330 pounds this year. Last year, the average was 302. Meiklejohn, from Miami, bench presses 350 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds, according to Seward.
"This year's line is bigger, stronger and quicker than last year's," Seward said. "This year, we have the tools. Last year, although some people might not think so, our line was playing over its head just to accomplish what it did. It really could have been a lot worse than it turned out."