One day after Willie Jeffries accepted the position as football coach at Howard University in the spring of 1984, he said he took the job because "I like a good challenge." He got one, and this year he will encounter an even greater one.
The problems were many for Jeffries and the Bison last season as they went 2-8. Howard showed little offense and even less defense as it averaged 16 points a game and gave up nearly 28. Those figures were moderated somewhat by a 47-13 defeat of a weak Morgan State team in the final game.
The Bison were young last year, and although they could hardly be called a veteran team this season, 18 of 22 starters return. The question, however, is to where.
For several years, the university has been planning to refurbish Howard Stadium's turf, affectionately known as "the Dustbowl," with an artificial surface. But the work was held up by administrative complications.
The result is that a scheduled Sept. 14 home game has been switched to a road game at Rhode Island. Others might be played at an area college or high school field. "We'll just go out there and do our best," Jeffries said.
Jeffries won 50 of 67 games in six years as coach at S.C. State. He thinks a .500 record is possible at Howard this season because 95 percent of last year's freshman recruits are back. In the past, the football team was hurt by a high attrition rate, due chiefly to academic problems. Last year, only three seniors were on the team.
Two sophomores, quarterback Leon Brown and running back Harvey Reed (4.8 yards per carry), hold the key in Jeffries' dive-option offense. Jeffries said Brown must improve his passing accuracy (39 percent) to open up the running game.
Four starters, all juniors, return in the secondary, but the Bison have to hope experience will be enough to overcome the deficiencies that allowed opponents to pass for an average of 327 yards per game. Jeffries is counting on a better pass rush as a partial solution.
Defensive end Reggie Miles, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound transfer from Butler (Kan.) Community College, could be an all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference player, Jeffries said. Sophomore nose guard Billy Dores and sophomore linebacker Marvin Jackson, the team's leading tackler, are the solid returning members of the defense.
"It is still going to take us a while, and I don't know how long that will be," Jeffries said. "But I think we have more good athletes than we had before, and we are going to get a team here eventually that we feel can win."