Howard University, behind record-setting quarterbacks Jay Walker and Ted White, has relied on an outstanding passing game in recent seasons.
This season, however, Coach Steve Wilson wants the Bison to run more and take some pressure off new quarterback Bobby Townsend.
The Bison averaged 149.6 rushing yards per game last season, but had several poor performances, gaining minus-eight and zero yards in back-to-back games against Florida A&M and North Carolina A&T. This year, Wilson said he wants juniors Jermaine Hutchinson and David Johnson to carry more of the offensive load. He even switched Hutchinson's jersey number to 34--the same number worn by former Chicago Bears great Walter Payton.
"Walter was tough, but he was pretty," said Wilson, who played against Payton during his NFL career. "Jermaine reminds me so much of Walter. His toughness, his strength, his elusiveness. The offense will change this year, and it's going to all be revolving around Jermaine. He's going to get the ball."
Johnson led the Bison with only 467 yards last year, and Hutchinson was third with 361. Both occasionally broke loose for big plays, but neither got the ball for regular stretches. When the running game faltered, opponents would stack their defensive alignment, literally daring White to throw.
And White could throw. He passed for 3,296 yards last season, nearly twice what the team gained on the ground, and rewrote the school and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference record books.
But White is gone and Townsend will take over. The 6-foot-6 junior has more speed than White and should give the offense new weapons. The running game was solid for the second half of last season, making White a more dangerous quarterback. The Bison hope the running success carries over into this year, easing Townsend's transition.
"When they put pressure on Ted, we had to step up," Johnson said. "We're going to help Bobby along for a while."
Townsend is looking forward to that help. He played at times last year, but saw more action as a wide receiver, where he made 11 catches.
He'll also get help from a veteran offensive line led by two seniors, guard Mpumi Masimini, a pre-season all-MEAC pick, and tackle Levar Young. Much of the running success Howard had last year was behind those two.
"The running game can take a whole lot of pressure off the pass," Townsend said. "It would take a lot of pressure off everybody."