David Blanchard and his fellow South Carolina State coaches didn’t know what to make of last season.
For the first time in 12 years, the Bulldogs suffered a losing campaign. Blanchard, an assistant coach/defensive line coach who started coaching at his alma mater in 1995, said he wasn’t used to enduring a 5-6 season.
“We hadn’t experienced that,” he said. “I’m not making excuses, but we had a lot of injuries. Some young kids had to play. This upcoming season, that’ll probably help us.”
Blanchard was one of the featured speakers at Thursday night’s Greater Augusta Alumni Chapter of S.C. State annual meeting at Julian Smith Casino. Head football coach emeritus Willie Jeffries also was in attendance, along with alumni Georgia Rep. Earnest Smith and Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree.
Blanchard, a Thomson High School graduate, returned to familiar ground. He recruits the Augusta area and has found some local talent through the years.
One of the players to watch this year is junior defensive end Marquis Parks (Lincoln County). Parks was off to a solid start last season before breaking his foot in the second game and missing the rest of the season. In April’s spring game, Parks showed he was fully recovered, returning a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown.
“He can be as good as he wants to be,” Blanchard said. “He’s doing great in school, and that’s the biggest part.”
While Parks is expected to have a breakout campaign, junior linebacker Terrell Fitts (Glenn Hills) likely will miss the season. Fitts, who played in a backup role last season, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in spring practice.
S.C. State is looking to get back to its form from 2008-2010, when it won three consecutive Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles. Last year, the Bulldogs dropped five of their first seven games, including losses to Arizona (56-0) and Texas A&M (70-14), before rallying to win three of their final four.
S.C. State has high hopes when it opens the fall with a home game against Coastal Carolina, Aug. 31. The following week, the Bulldogs travel to Clemson.