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SC STATE FOOTBALL

SC STATE FOOTBALL: Returning group should produce potent offense

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Fields passes for Bulldogs

South Carolina State quarterback Corey Fields (2) delivers a pass against Howard during a 62-21 win for the Bulldogs on Nov. 9, 2019.

An abbreviated spring football schedule was a shot in the arm of sorts for the South Carolina State defense with the emergence of a young and talented defensive front.

Well, it appears that the Bulldog offense also benefited from the team’s four-game spring slate.

The Bulldogs return a solid nucleus on offense from 2019, the team’s final full season prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the standouts back from that 8-3, 6-2 MEAC co-championship squad are sophomore quarterback Corey Fields (6-0, 190 QB, So., Hollywood); wide receiver Shaquan Davis (6-5, 185 WR, So., Summerville), offensive linemen Jalen Page (6-2, 285 OL, Sr., Florence), Tison Gray (6-4, 300 OL, Jr., Columbia) and Chris Simon (6-4, 270 OL, So., Dalzell); running back Alex James (5-11, 200 RB, Sr., Florence); and tight end Yancey Washington (6-2, 230 TE, So., North Charleston).

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Coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough, who is beginning his 20th season as S.C. State head coach, and his offensive staff are hopeful this experienced group will be the key to a successful campaign and a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.

Head coaches and sports information directors around the league signaled that they believe S.C. State is the team to beat in the MEAC as they picked the Bulldogs to finish No. 1 in a preseason poll.

“Polls don’t mean a lot this time of the year -- in the preseason -- but they let you know what others around the conference think of your team,” Pough said. “Overall, I’m hopeful that we will have a good idea of what we want to do as a staff and what we want from our players.

“We have a lot of talent returning on offense, but we were looking for some help on the offensive line. During our spring schedule, we had two young offensive linemen immerse themselves into the lineup and perform well and more than met our expectations.”

Pough was referring to freshmen Nick Taiste (6-1, 295 OL, Fr., West Columbia) and Eric Brown (6-3, 330 OL, Fr., Hartsville), who on the strength of their play in the spring are expected to fill the holes at left guard and center, respectively, according to Bulldog O-line coach Na’Shan Goddard.

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“The play of Taiste and Eric Brown, who we call our COVID-19 freshmen, was a big lift for the O-line,” Goddard said. “Taiste has settled in as left guard and Brown at center. Our starting five can battle with the best of them, but establishing quality depth is our goal this fall.”

The freshmen duo joins versatile Tison Gray (6-4, 300 OL, Jr., Columbia) at left tackle, Jalen Page (6-2, 285 OL, Sr., Florence) at right guard and Chris Simon (6-4, 270 OL, So., Dalzell) at right tackle to give the Bulldogs a solid starting group on the O-line. Simon, a 2021 preseason second-team All-MEAC selection, has been the real surprise.

Depth will be provided by 2019 reserves Jon Guthrie (6-3, 300 OL, Jr., Duncan), Dallas Foard (6-4, 270 OL, So., Concord, N.C.), along with freshmen Cam Johnson (6-2, 285 OL, Fr., Irmo), Alfred Williams (6-5, 300 OL, Fr., Rock Hill), Wheslen McLeod (6-3, 310 OL, Fr., Columbia) and 2021 signee Ian Shark.

Everything, however, starts with Fields, who as a true freshman took over the starting duties at quarterback midway of the season and had a solid 2019 campaign. Appearing in 10 games, with three starts, he put up good numbers (102-202-5, 1652 yds, 15 TDs) on his way to earning MEAC Rookie of the Year honors. He tied a conference record with seven TD passes in the Bulldogs’ 62-21 win over Howard. He was not quite as impressive during the COVID-19-affected spring season, however, he is a great competitor, according to Bulldog offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Bennett Swygert, and is expected to return to the form he showed as a freshman.

“Corey is the key to our offense and will play a major role in the overall success of our team this season,” Swygert said. “Technically, he’s a sophomore but I hope the spring schedule we had was the equivalent of what we call the sophomore jinx when his performance dropped off some. But, he’s not comfortable with being average, so I expect him to go out this season and show the form he exhibited in 2019 when he was the freshman of the year in the conference.”

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One-time starter Tyrece Nick (6-0, 175 QB, Sr., Johnston -- who split the starting duties with Fields in 2019 and showed his versatility in the spring when he saw duties at quarterback, wide receiver and running back -- will be sidelined for the 2021 season as he rehabs from an Achilles injury, opening the door for freshmen Quincy Hill (6-2, 170 Fr., QB, Columbia) and Taurean Singletary (6-2, 170 r-Fr., QB, Dorchester) to battle for backup duties behind Fields, a 2021 preseason second-team All-MEAC pick.

Hill earned some game experience during the spring as he played in three of four games. He guided the team to a 14-7 victory over Alabama State in his only collegiate start, and was also at the helm at the end of a 31-28 overtime win over Delaware State.

Singletary, a redshirt freshman, is very talented and perhaps the most gifted athletically of the three, according to Swygert. He notes that both Hill and Singletary are fast learners and have a good grasp of the Bulldog offense.

Davis put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses as a freshman wide receiver in 2019, dazzling fans along the way. He was second on the team in receptions with 31 for 632 yards and six touchdowns. He is a 2021 All-MEAC first-team preseason pick and has been named to the Black College Football Hall of Fame Player of the Year watch list.

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S.C. State will be with the services of wide receiver Thomas Rodrigues, who was fourth on the team in receptions in 2019 with 11 and one TD, as well as promising backup Camryn Johnson of Orangeburg, but welcomes the return of a healthy Will Vereen (5-11, 200 WR, Jr., Little River), who was having an outstanding 2019 season before sustaining an injury that forced him to miss the team’s final four contests. In seven contests, he had 20 catches for 319 yards and two scores. He is expected to join Davis as a starter as wide receiver coach Steve Bird looks to identify a third receiver to round out the starting lineup.

A tense battle is shaping up between former reserve Richard Bailey (5-10, 150 WR, Fr., Hollywood), promising freshman Rakim White (6-4, 180 WR, Fr., Bluffton) and Coastal Carolina transfer T’Quele Holmes (5-10, 180 WR, Charleston). Also in the picture are sophomore Juwan Moody (5-10, 160 WR, So., Conway), and freshmen Jaelyn Perry (6-0, 195 WR, Fr., Summerville) and Justin Smith-Brown (5-11, 190 WR. Fr., Cocoa, Fla.).

The Bulldog rushing attack should be potent behind the running of two talented transfers -- Kendrell Flowers (5-11, 215 RB, Fr., Columbia) of Wake Forest and Alex James (5-11, 200 RB, Sr., Florence), of Albany, N.Y.). The duo was impressive during the spring schedule, finishing one-two in rushing for the Bulldogs. Flowers is a 2021 preseason All-MEAC second team selection. Jacory Benson (5-9, 190 RB, Jr., Seneca) and Donte Anthony (5-11, 200 RB, So., Fountain Inn) both saw reserve duty in 2019 and will bolster the backfield.

Veteran Yancy Washington (6-2, 230 TE, So., North Charleston) and freshman Khalil Ellis (6-2, 260 TE, Fr., York) are in a tight battle for the starting duties at tight end, a position that should receive more attention from the Bulldog staff.

Next week, we will take a look at the Bulldog special teams and the 2021 challenging schedule.

Bill Hamilton retired as sports information director at S.C. State after nearly four decades in the post. He is a member of the MEAC Hall of Fame and the recipient of numerous other honors for his service to the university and journalism. He reports on S.C. State as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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