No miracles expected

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 11, 2004

If first impressions are the most lasting ones, then Chowan College may have indeed found themselves &uot;a keeper.&uot;

On Wednesday afternoon, Chowan President Dr. Chris White introduced Lorick Atkinson as the college’s new head football coach.

I attended the press conference announcing the new hire. I fully expected the normal, run-of-the-mill gibberish. Over the years, I’ve attended plenty of these type events, basically pomp and circumstance routines – ala, the proverbial &uot;dog-and-pony&uot; shows where everything is scripted. About the only thing missing at these types of events is an applause sign, prompting the audience to wake up just in time to act like they are concerned.

Wednesday’s event was far from that scenario.

Being the good reporter (yea, I know that may be debatable) I am, it was my job to hang on every word spoken by those taking part in the press conference. But, in this particular case, action spoke louder than words.

It wasn’t what coach Atkinson said, but rather how he said it. His body english combined with a strong voice impressed this veteran reporter. He tackled each and every question with the same gusto that a linebacker uses crack a quarterback’s head.

With the current state of Chowan football, it’s going to take strong words, strong action and a booming voice to turn the once proud program back into a winner. That’s not a slap on the noggins of those, players and coaches, who have attempted to breath life back into Braves football. But with only eight wins to show for their efforts since the 2000 season, Chowan football has not shown any consistent improvement during that period of time.

Now the school is seriously looking at moving up to the NCAA Division II level (currently they are D-III members). When that was made public earlier this year, I was the first to raise issue to that planned move. My logic was how could Chowan survive at D-II when they struggled mightily at D-III.

If Chowan is to survive, Atkinson will be the one responsible for making sure no one unplugs the life support unit. He can do that by bringing in blue-chip athletes to Chowan’s campus and having those holdovers from former coach Steve Gill’s club to buy into a new way of doing things.

D-II means athletic scholarships. It also means Chowan can hold spring practice in the sport of football. Both are critical elements if Atkinson and the Braves are to enjoy success on the gridiron.

In my opinion, part of Chowan’s problem on the football field is that, year-in and year-out, the freshman hopefuls arrive by the hundreds on campus in August, but only a handful will stick around to see their senior year. In a nutshell, Chowan has pinned its hopes on a group of 17-to-18 year-olds going into battle against men (juniors and seniors at other colleges).

Chowan has basically been playing a senior college schedule with junior college age athletes. Some of those young players are blessed with athletic talent, but experience and gameday savvy will win out over youth each and every time.

Coach Atkinson firmly believes that offering scholarships, both to returning players and newcomers, will help address the retention problem. He is also adamant that winning will help heal old wounds.

Another key that will perhaps help open the door to success is how much effort will coach Atkinson and his staff put into recruiting local athletes. I’m not alone in saying that we here in eastern ‘Carolina are blessed with an abundance of athletic talent, but Chowan’s football coaches in recent memory have failed to first take a look in their own backyard before embarking on recruiting trips to other states.

Atkinson promised he would not overlook local high school talent. That’s a wise move on more than one front. Eastern ‘Carolina kids are not going to become homesick at Chowan and the local support they receive should provide a financial boost to the program.

Lorick Atkinson, his staff and his players have plenty of work ahead of them. Turning around a program that is 26-81-1 since 1994 is no easy task, but the new coach does have a new fan – me.

I truly feel he will be a good fit for Chowan College – a young, family man with strong moral values. I’m not asking the new coach to walk on water or feed the multitudes with two fish and a loaf of bread. I expect no miracles in 2005, but I would like to see a competitive spirit on the sideline and a gameplan that at least has a smidgen of a chance to succeed.