ORANGEBURG, S.C. — South Carolina State linebacker Joe Thomas sees the 2011 season missing among the championship years of honor displayed at the Bulldogs stadium. He’s used most moments since the team fell short of a fourth straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference crown to make sure the Bulldogs can put 2012 on the list after this fall.
The Bulldogs went 7-4 overall and 6-2 in the league, but defeats to Norfolk State and Florida A&M cost them a championship. Thomas said that didn’t sit well with the players, who were accustomed to finishing on top in the MEAC.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Thomas said of the upcoming season. “We’re ready to get our respect back and put that 2012 up on the board.”
Thomas thought the players worked harder this offseason to correct what went wrong last year.
“We were doing it nonstop,” he said.
He thought that was the case last year, too, but acknowledged the team might have entered the 2011 season feeling a little too unbeatable and got slapped back to reality when Norfolk State, last year’s MEAC champion, outlasted the Bulldogs 17-14 last September.
Had South Carolina State won that game, it would’ve earned a fourth consecutive crown.
Thomas said the defense is faster and stronger than a year ago. This season, it also has a mission, he said.
“We have the mindset that no one respects us and we have to get our respect back, so that will really push us,” he said.
Bulldogs coach Buddy Pough, starting his 11th season, knows how to build winners. South Carolina State has won at least seven games in each season under Pough.
Pough says his team will lean heavily on its run game, the bedrock of the Bulldogs’ success the past decade. Asheton Jordan, who led the team with 774 yards, will again lead the way in the backfield. Quarterback Richard Cue passed for 900 yards and rushed for 514 yards while accounting for 15 touchdowns.
The offensive line is led by guard Sam Hammond and features two seniors and a junior.
“The bottom line is we want to try and run the football and that means offensive line, running backs,” Pough said.
Thomas could be the best player on a defense that must shore things up from a year ago when it was the fifth in the MEAC in yards allowed. The group lost standouts like safeties Chris Thompson and Dominique Ellis, and linebacker Donovan Richard – all went to NFL camps this summer. Hybrid linebacker-defensive back Cortney Ingram and cornerback Darius Drummond should be able to step in to help a defense that had 17 interceptions last season.
South Carolina State could have its fate decided early with both Bethune-Cookman and Norfolk State coming to Orangeburg that first month. In between those critical MEAC games are trips to Georgia State, Arizona and Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs make it through September without too many injuries, they could have a clearer path back to the top of the MEAC.
“Every game we came to play the way we were supposed to last year,” Thomas said. “We just didn’t finish every game the way we were supposed to and win.”