After finishing 7-4, fourth in the MEAC last season, the Florida A&M University football team hopes to capture their first conference title since 2001.
Disrespect seems to be looming in the air with the Rattlers being picked to finish fifth despite having six players selected to the preseason all-conference first team.
“To be placed fifth is like a slap in the face so we are ready to shock the world,” said Jason Beach, a junior defensive back from Pensacola..
The Rattlers have key returning players on both sides of the ball which should have the Rattlers poised to make a championship run.
On defense the Rattlers return impact players Vernon Wilder, Tyrone McGriff and Beach as they hope to improve upon finishing second to last in total defense in 2006.
After leading the MEAC in passing, offense seniors Albert Chester II and Willie Hayward hope to improve upon last years 49 receptions and five touchdowns as Hayward becomes the number one receiver after former Rattler Roosevelt Kiser moves on to the NFL.
“I want to be the best receiver in the conference and help my team compete week in and week out,” said Hayward. “We want to finish first in the MEAC.”
When it comes to competing for a championship many coaches talk about the importance of having experienced players who can make a difference and who the younger players can follow but Coach Carter stresses the small things such as conditioning.
“The team was in outstanding shape on the first day of camp even with the high temperatures they were able to overcome the heat and perform well in practice,” said Carter.
Chester was unable to participate in the Orange & Green scrimmage because of a minor shoulder injury.
This year the Orange & Green game concluded the fall camp and the team began preparations for the 2007 season opener against Southern University.
“Albert Chester will be back next week, and we are taking precautions because he needs that range of motion to throw to all ranges of the field,” said Carter.
Despite Chester missing the game simulated practice in preparation for Southern University senior quarterback Leon Camel was able to connect with Hayward for several long passes down field.
“We have a big game coming up so we need chemistry and it doesn’t matter which of the four quarterbacks is at the helm we’re just trying to get clicking as a team,” said Hayward.
The third unit also got their opportunity to showcase their skills during the simulated practice session.
“Most of the third unit consists of freshmen and it is important for them to get reps in especially during game situations,” said Carter.
Freshmen tail back Philip Sylvester has impressed his teammates and the coaching with a strong camp and will be counted on to compliment running back Anthony Edwards in the backfield.
The Rattlers are hoping to ride the momentum after finishing strong last season winning four of the last five games, outscoring opponents 140 to 89.
“As a team we want to focus on mental toughness which is an aspect of winning a championship,” said Carter.
Three time defending MEAC champion Hampton lost 20 seniors to graduation which should help the Rattlers avenge last years 59-7 thrashing courtesy of the Pirates.