by Mike Potter
This weekend, they get a chance to start making up for it. It's well known that the Eagles want to be in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and when they visit Hampton on Saturday they get a chance to knock off one of the league's traditional powers.
But Rison (pictured) isn't considering this any kind of "measuring stick" game. He pointed out that against the one common opponent the teams played last season, the Eagles won and the Pirates didn't.
"Hampton is one of the top tier teams in the MEAC," Rison said. "But Hampton got beat by Winston-Salem (State). We beat Winston-Salem. We want to show people we can play with those people. Hampton is going to be on our schedule every year.
"It's the first game on our schedule, and you can't win them all unless you win the first one."
The Eagles have a lot of known quantities on their team, with nine starters back on each side of the ball. The biggest question marks will be pretty obvious out there, since they're sophomore quarterback Michael Johnson and true freshman kicker Frankie Cardelle. Each is replacing one of the major stars in NCCU history, as last season at this time Stadford Brown was the starting quarterback and Brandon Gilbert the placekicker.
"We won't be inhibited in terms of doing anything offensively," Rison said of Johnson's role. "The three games Mike played last year helped him grow. I don't think you can rattle him (now.) I saw some of that last year, but he has grown and you can really see that with his execution. The offensive playbook is unlimited. He is well beyond what I thought he would be at this point. That means we can go out and do what he wants to do without limitations."
"My expectations are for Hampton to be a big, physical team," Johnson said. "We heard a lot about their size. There are some big guys. It's going to be a tough game, physically and mentally draining. We have some warriors on this team. We have some tough guys, and they're going to bring it."
First-year Pirates head coach Donovan Rose was involved the last time the former CIAA rivals met, a 31-19 Hampton win in 1992.
"We're excited about the game, eager to get started," Rose said. "I can't wait for my first game as a head coach after being here for 18 years as an assistant. "Our players are getting really excited (too.) They can't wait, either."
N.C. Central (4-7 last season) vs. Hampton (6-5)
Saturday, 6 p.m., Armstrong Stadium in Hampton, Va.
Audio: WRJD-AM 1410, www.nccueaglepride.com
Key stats ...
NCCU: Team scoring 17.4 to opponents' 31.7 avg. Rushing 91.9 to 186.9. Passing 172.1 to 132.8. Returning individual leaders - (rush) Tony McCord 122-464 1 TD, (pass) Michael Johnson 38-66-4-517 6 TD, (receive) Will Scott 45-787 5 TD, (tackle) Jeffery Henderson 56, 3 forced fum.
Hampton: Team scoring 24.7 to 23.6. Rushing 106.4 to 161.9. Passing 246.6 to 170.8. Returning individual leaders - (rush) LaMarcus Coker 144-622 1 TD, (pass) Herbert Bynes 199-353-10-2713, (receive) LaMarcus Coker 20-265 2 TD, (defense) Michael Swett 74.
Best message board tidbit on the game: Bro. Askia Musa Afiba on www.onnidan.com: "I have the same feeling about NCCU defeating Hampton as I did a few years back when NCCU defeated Southern. I think that our athletes, coaching staff, students, alumni and fans have that same type of focused mindset, 'HYPE' and excitement, as we all did against Southern."
NCCU will win if: The Eagles can have a balanced offense, with Michael Johnson getting time to throw the football and the running attack steady enough to keep the Pirates honest. NCCU will also have to keep two-way running threat LaMarcus Coker under control.
Hampton will win if: The Pirates can consistently move the ball on the ground and keep the ball away from the NCCU offense. The defense needs to create some three-and-outs early in the game to keep Johnson from getting into a confident rhythm.
Can a group of Soaring Eagles take out those salty Pirates? Of course they're capable of doing just that. This is not necessarily a must-win game for the Eagles to break the .500 mark, but a road win over a decent MEAC team is what they would need to have the kind of big season in which they win twice as many as they lose. NCCU is a slight underdog, but there's no reason to expect a blowout in either direction.
Players to watch ...
NCCU: #11 LB Donald Laster, #15 QB Michael Johnson, #50 LB Teryl White, #83 WR Will Scott.
Hampton: #6 SS Ricardo Silva, #12 QB Herbert Bynes, #23 RB LaMarcus Coker, #50 Michael Swett.
Vegas line: None. Dunkel Index says Hampton by 18.
Score prediction: NCCU 21, Hampton 20