When you have an offense that struggled the way South Carolina State's did in 1998, possessing a stellar defensive secondary is more of a necessity than a luxury.
But even with the Bulldogs' third-ranked defense in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the lack of scoring punch caused State to record a disappointing 5-6 overall record and a 3-5 conference mark.
This year, the Bulldogs won't have the cushion of MEAC defensive player of the year and All-America strong safety Jermaine Derricott, who has signed with the Baltimore Ravens.
Also lost were cornerbacks Jami Oats, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings, and four-year starter Darryl Robinson.
With a suspect and inexperienced secondary, State will have to find ways to put points on the board. With the return of running backs Derek O'Neal and Chad Eaddy working behind perhaps the most experienced and talented offensive line in the conference, it just may happen.
Factor in first-year offensive coordinator Daryl McNeil, who left the head coaching position at Savannah State University, and scoring could become the least of the Bulldogs worries, as they try to return to conference supremacy and a spot in the Heritage Bowl.
"I feel like it should be a promising season if we play as a team and stay healthy," O'Neal said. "I like (McNeil), because he's come in and worked on the little things, and we won't be as one-dimensional with him.
"We've had the hardest camp since I've been here, and the coaches are really helping us to practice unity."
O'Neal (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) rushed for 706 yards in 11 games last season as a junior. Eaddy (5-10, 190) had 549 yards as a sophomore in nine games.
O'Neal, who is a potential pro prospect, will try to join predecessors Kenny Bynum and Michael Hicks in dominance and prowess.
Bynum set the school's single-season (1,648) and single-game (307) rushing records in 1996 and is in his third season with the San Diego Chargers. Hicks played with the Chicago Bears for two seasons after setting the Bulldogs' all-time rushing mark with 4,093 yards from 1993-95.
O'Neal and Eaddy will have the pleasure of running behind a formidable offensive line with pro prospect Steve Colimon (6-3, 305), Patrick Heard (6-7, 350) and Lewis Kelly (6-5, 270) opening the gaps.
Colimon, who rooms with O'Neal, is compared to Josey High School graduate Raleigh Roundtree, who played professionally with the San Diego Chargers.
"The whole line should be good because we all know that it's our last one," Colimon said. "All we have to do is open some holes because we know Derek is going to hit them. We've got the running backs, and coach McNeil has opened things up to where we should have a passing attack, too. We just have to go out and play hard."
O'Neal agreed with his fellow Florida native. "I can take him (Colimon) down an alley with me, because he's a big, strong boy. We go over film all the time and really focus on being where we should be. The games should be much better to watch this season."
David Aubrey, Butler HS
Kendrick Jones, Glenn Hills HS
Kelvin Leverett, Lincoln County
Sherron Milhouse, Wagener-Salley
Jahmal Rainey, Richmond Academy
S.C. State schedule
Sept. 4, Charleston Southern, 6 p.m.
Sept. 11, Benedict, 6 p.m.
Sept. 18, at Morgan State, 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 25, vs. Florida A&M, at Jacksonville, 3 p.m.
Oct. 2, at The Citadel, 4 p.m.
Oct. 9, Norfolk State, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 16, at Bethune-Cookman, 7 p.m.
Oct. 30, at Hampton, 2 p.m.
Nov. 6, at Howard, 1 p.m.
Nov. 13, Delaware State, 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 20, vs. N.C. A&T, at Charlotte, 1 p.m.
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