Making an impact

Casey Therriault
Jackson State
Sr. | QB | 6-3 | 205

After racking up the SWAC Newcomer of the Year award and being named first team All-SWAC, Casey Therriault looks to continue to improve this season. He's already been tabbed SWAC Preseason Player of the Year and is on the Walter Payton Watch List. Last season he guided the Tigers to an 8-3 record, finished second in FCS with 3,436 yards passing and third in the nation averaging 312.0 yards per game. He threw for 31 touchdowns and rushed for another 10 scores.

Mike Mayhew
North Carolina A&T
Sr. | RB | 5-9 | 210

Key Notes:
• Named to the 2011 Walter Payton Watch List
• Rushed for 1,082 yards and 7 TDs last season

Natiel Curry
Sr. | C | 6-2 | 300

Key Notes:
• Anchored Wildcats' offensive line, nicknamed 'The Fist.'
• Named preseason HBCU All-American

Cliff Exama
Jr. | OLB | 6-0 | 230

Key Notes:
• 2011 HBCU Preseason All-American team
• Finished second in the SWAC in tackles last season

Charles Deas
Jr. | DL | 6-6 | 305

Key Notes:
•  Helped Shaw to CIAA title
• Recorded 62 tackles (24 solo), 12 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season

Moses Ellis
Prairie View A&M
Sr. | CB | 5-8 | 175

Key Notes:
• SWAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
• Led FCS in INTs (8) and passes defended (22)


Keep an Eye on These Programs
South Carolina State Bulldogs
Key Players: Antuanne Kerr (Sr., TE), Juavahr Nathane (Sr., OL), Pat Washington (Sr., DL), Dominique Ellis (Sr. DB).

Notes: Despite losing 15 seniors -- 11 of them starters -- the Bulldogs are picked to win the conference title again. There will be a three-man battle to replace quarterback Malcolm Long, with two-thirds of it coming from the same house in junior Derrick Wiley and redshirt freshman Tedarrius Wiley. SCSU will also be looking to junior running back Asheton Jordan to pick up the slack after losing Chris Massey, last year's leading rusher.

Grambling Tigers
Key Players: Key players: Jomarcus Savage (Jr., DL), Cliff Exama (Sr., LB), Sanford Banks (Jr., OL).

Notes: Doug Williams returns to his alma mater for a second coaching stint. He will have his hands full as his offense will need to replace running backs Frank Williams and Cornelius Walker. Williams will also need to replace his quarterback. There is a three-way battle there including D.J. Williams, his son.

Albany State Golden Rams
Key Players: Stanley Jennings (Sr., QB), Octavius Staton (Sr., WR), Justin Blash (Jr., DL), Antorio Wells (Sr., DL).

Notes: Close calls were a hallmark of the Golden Rams' 2010 campaign as they took the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. They are again going to be solid led by quarterback Stanley Jennings, SIAC Player of the Year. The strength of its defense is its line and Antorio Wells and Justin Blash make it a formidable one.

Tuskegee Golden Tigers
Key Players: Isaiah Person (Sr., LB), Wayne Williams (Sr., WR), Kenneth Baker (Sr., DB).

Notes: The Golden Tigers, who have won or shared the SIAC title the past four seasons, will be back in the hunt again. With the defense losing six starters, the offense will have to carry the team early. Wayne Williams is an outstanding receiver.

Bethune-Cookman Wildcats
Key Players: Ryan Davis (Jr., DL), Natiel Curry (Sr., C), Michael Williams (Sr., DB).

Notes: Head coach Brian Jenkins set the bar high in his first season, winning a share of the MEAC title and earning a postseason berth for the first time since 2003 on the way to a 10-2 record. Davis is a beast. Last season he led the Wildcats with 81 tackles and had five sacks and four interceptions. The defense will be stout again as will its offense, with Jackie Wilson slated to lead the way.

Hampton Pirates
Key Players: Antwon Chisholm (So., RB), Micah Pellerin (Sr., DB), Javaris Brown (Jr., WR).

Notes: Picked to finish fourth in the MEAC, the Pirates could be the surprise team of the conference. Sophomore RB Antwon Chisholm is a good one, and the offense will be helped by having  David Legree back under center. Hampton is also expecting another strong season from All-MEAC first team pick DB Micah Pellerin.

Jackson State Tigers
Key Players: Casey Therriault (Sr., QB), Marcellos Wilder (Jr., WR), Renty Rollins (Sr., TE), Donavan Robinson (Sr., DE).

Notes: All eyes will be on Therriault as he tries to back up his first-year with a season worthy his preseason SWAC Offensive Player of the Year honor. Marcellos Wilder leads a talented and deep receiver corps. Donavan Robinson is a force along JSU's defensive front.

Winston-Salam Rams
Key Players: Nicholas Cooper (Sr., RB), Tehvyn Brantley (So., WR), Alton Keaton (Sr., DB).

Notes: All eyes will be on the QB position. The team finished 8-2 last season but a competition under center may be brewing between returning starter Kameron Smith and Anthony Carrothers, a transfer from Grambling.

Morehouse Maroon Tigers
Key Players: David Carter (Jr., RB), Derrick Hector (Sr., WR), Darrius Williams (DB., Sr).

Notes: The Maroon Tigers went 8-3 last season and earned a Division II playoff berth. They return seven starters on offense and on defense.

Shaw Bears
Key Players: Darrell Evans (So., DB), Charles Deas (Sr., DL), Bobby Holiday (Sr., TE).

Notes: Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association champions for a third time in four seasons, the Bears (9-3 last year) are tabbed to repeat. Charles Deas, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound defensive lineman, is perhaps the best player in the conference.


Stories to watch this season

• The MEAC begins the season with two new members -- North Carolina Central and Savannah State -- and five new head coaches among its 11-team football playing members. First year coaches are: Gary Harrell (Howard), Kermit Blount (Delaware State), Henry Frazier III (North Carolina Central), Rod Broadway (North Carolina A&T) and Steve Davenport (Savannah State).

•  This year is the 100th anniversary of Jackson State football, a program that has produced NFL stars Willie Richardson, Walter Payton, Harold Carmichael and Lem Barney.

• Morehouse’s 8-3 finish last year represented the program's fourth consecutive winning season, the first time that’s happened since 1922-25.

• Tuskegee has averaged nearly 10 wins (9.7)  for 13 consecutive seasons.


HBCU Classics
@ Oct. 8 -- Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic -- The annual game between two of the most renowned HBCUs in the nation is among the fiercest rivalries in sports. The two teams will clash for 78th time.
@ Nov. 19 -- The Florida Classic -- Bethune-Cookman takes on Florida A&M in a MEAC showdown featuring the best halftime show and battle of the bands in the land.
@ Nov. 26 -- The Bayou Classic-- Grambling and Southern face off in on the best-known rivarly games in college football.

All photos courtesy of respective school athletic departments.