by Mike Potter
N.C. Central's football season has been over for nearly a week now, and for the second straight season Mose Rison's club finished with a 4-7 record.
After a tough start in which the Eagles went 0-6 with road defeats to heavily favored Liberty, Appalachian State and Duke, the third-year head coach had set a goal of winning the last five games to finish 5-6. And because of a road defeat at Old Dominion in the ninth game of the season, it didn't happen.
But what kind of shape is the NCCU program in right now? Reality says it's pretty good.
Sure the Eagles lost a couple of games folks think they "should have" won, including one double-overtime defeat to Morehead State at home and another to archrival North Carolina A&T on the road. But there are "woulda-coulda-shoulda" games on the slate of almost every program that doesn't finish undefeated.
This season was NCCU's third of a five-year stretch in which it transitions from Division II to a full-fledged member of Division I (Championship Subdivision) that will compete for both MEAC conference and NCAA championships. And at this point a three-year record of 14-18 - which has included losses at such places as Western Kentucky, James Madison, Cal Poly along with Liberty, ASU and Duke where the Eagles would not have dared set foot on the field 10 years ago - doesn't look too bad.
The Eagles will be missing five senior players from the 2009 squad heading into next season. Not five starters, five players. And how many coaches from Top 25 national programs wouldn't envy that?
Yes, the losses are important ones. Offensive tackle Gabriel Manns, wide receiver Will Scott, fullback Saeed Abdul-Azeez, linebacker Alex Winters and defensive back Derek Harvey will be doing different things next season. And for Manns, that may even mean a shot at the NFL.
But the cupboard is hardly bare.
Top returnees will include some top offensive weapons in quarterback Michael Johnson, wideouts Geo Irvine and Andrew Johnson, running backs Tim Shankle and Tony McCord, a couple of defensive stalwarts in tackle Teryl White and linebacker Calvin Hillie, and kicker Frankie Cardelle.
The Eagles will be in very good shape heading into spring practice. And next year's schedule is likely to be more "manageable" as Rison calls it. NCCU should have at least six and maybe more home games. And let's face it, the more home games a team plays the more it's going to win.
The future is bright. And if the program keeps moving in the direction it has been going the past couple of seasons it won't be too long before the Eagles start surprising a nationally-ranked team or two on the road.
But patience from the alumni, administration and fan base will continue to be very, very important.