by Mike Potter
McLENDON-McDOUGALD GYM/DURHAM Mose Rison's N.C. Central football team has been getting a little impatient since the end of last year's 4-7 season that left the fans expecting more.
Four days from now, the Eagles finally get to hit someone else.
Rison and a couple of key returning players were on hand for his first weekly press conference of the season today, this time in a new format in the Eagles' basketball arena.
Bye-bye Chicken Hut. And that's bad for my taste buds, but good for my weight-loss program.
Anyway, the reason for the move was a new weekly half-hour radio show on WRJD (1410) at 2 p.m. Tuesday that's about the athletic program in general and currently emphasizing Coach Rison and his football team.
The off-season will end on Saturday at 6 p.m. at one-time CIAA and - at least the NCCU people hope - future MEAC rival Hampton. That will be the first game as a head coach for the Pirates' Donovan Rose, who took over a program that went 6-5 last season.
It's also the beginning of the centennial year for the NCCU athletic program, as the school fielded a baseball team back in the first year of its existence.
"It's a very exciting time for us right now," third-year Eagle mentor Rison (10-11) said. "It's unlike last year at this time, when I was really unsure because we were so young. Any time you start a season with a bunch of unknowns it's hard to predict where your football team is going to go. There was one starter back on defense."
The Eagles are out of that situation now, with nine starters back on each side of the ball.
The most obvious changes are in a couple of guys who will touch the ball the most. Michael Johnson (pictured) won the all-sophomore battle for the starting quarterback spot with Keon Williams, while true freshman kicking specialist Frankie Cardelle of Salisbury will try to step into the shoes of all-time NCCU scoring leader Brandon Gilbert.
"Mike has had a great spring and a great summer," Rison said. "It's been a great pleasure for me to coach him and watch him grow. I see a growth of confidence in terms of the way he's carried on.
"We had great energy last night at practice. I don't know why, but we get excited about practicing at night. We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, and the energy was just outstanding. I liked the way (Johnson) practiced last night. He acted like a quarterback that's been there."
The coach also said he has confidence in the young kicker.
"Based on what Frankie has done in practice, he should be very comfortable," Rison said.
"Kicking the ball off the ground has not been a problem for him. This young man has played soccer all his life and he's taken plenty of balls off the ground. He's got a real strong leg. I'm just hoping his first kick is an extra point and not a field goal. That will go a long way in determining how successful we'll be on Saturday night."
Johnson started last season on the bench as the third quarterback after transferring from Tulsa. But after senior incumbent Stadford Brown was out for the season with a broken collarbone following the win over North Carolina in the fifth game of the season and then Williams exited the next game against Presbyterian with a concussion, Johnson was suddenly driving the proverbial bus.
"Last year was kind of unexpected," Johnson said. "In a blink of an eye I was in there. I was playing off natural ability. I was trying to learn it on the fly. Really you know the main one (receiver's) route, and if he's not open you just hope somebody comes across your face. A quarterback knows the offense when he can tell his (individual) linemen their responsibilities. I'm so much more comfortable now. It's a big turnaround."
Junior tackle Teryl White is the team's most decorated player in preseason, as a consensus preseason defensive player of the year among Division I (Football Championship Subdivision) independents.
"Football is a year round sport - you've got to love to hate it and hate to love it," White said. "Camp was like an extension of the summer workouts with pads. Practice is a necessary evil. I'm just looking forward to Saturday.
"(Preseason accolades) are just a guide to let me know I'm going the right way. It's only preseason. I could be a total flop, and I don't want that to happen."