The Coastal Carolina football program officially began its defense of the 2010 Big South Championship won last fall with the first of its 15 spring practices Wednesday night.
The Chanticleers will have seven practices before the University’s Spring Break (Mar. 13-19) and eight sessions the following two weeks. The 15th and final practice will be April 2 when the team hosts its annual Spring Game. Kickoff for this year’s Spring Game will be Noon at Brooks Stadium. (Later in the day, the Coastal baseball program will host Big South rival Liberty at 4 pm for a national ESPNU telecast).
“We are excited about the start of practice, but we need people to start getting excited and ready for the Spring Game on April 2,” said head coach David Bennett.
“We have been anxiously waiting for this spring,” Bennett said. “We finished the season playing our best ball and we even played well in the playoff loss for the most part. We hope to carry that excitement into this spring, into the summer, into the preseason and finally into the fall. We really like this group of young men.
“Obviously, a focus this spring will be on getting better fundamentally, just as everyone else will look to do. We have to make big strides in the quarterback position and will need one of those guys to step up in a lot of ways.”
Leading the list of candidates to replace three-year starter Zach MacDowall at quarterback is Aramis Hillary. The junior played in five games last season, completing 13-of-25 passes for 132 yards with a touchdown. He also rushed seven times for 24 yards with two scores.
Coastal Carolina returns five starters on offense, including All-American and two-time, first team All-Big South pick David Duran. Also back is All-Big South left tackle Jamey Cheatwood and returning starting offensive linemen Pat Williams (C), Tim Franklin (RG) and Bryan Brooks (RT).
“It is always good to have experience along the offensive line and we are blessed to have four returning starters,” Bennett said. “Even though, as of now, it looks as if a redshirt freshman may fill the hole left by All-Big South guard Seth Smalls, we are very excited about youngsters Mo Ashley and Chad Hamilton and their potential over the next four years. We are also blessed to have four senior leaders at tight end. Matt Hazel has had a good off-season in the weight room and the addition of DeMario Bryant to the receivers we have back will give us perhaps our best depth at wideout than we have had over the past couple years.”
In addition to quarterback, Coastal has a huge hole to fill at running back, replacing All-Big South back Eric O’Neal.
“We will have a great running back competition this spring with Jeremy Height, Marcus Whitener, Travis Small and Bucky Kennedy,” Bennett said. “It will be neat to watch those guys. Those four, and CCU fans, better watch out for Aaron Jones too. He has a year under his belt and is versatile.”
On the defensive side, Coastal returns eighth starters, not including Quinton Davis and Derrick Frasier. (Davis was a 2009 All-Big South pick and suffered a season-ending injury in game three last season. He will only practice in a limited fashion this spring while he is still recovering from the injury. Frasier ranked second on the team in tackles in 2009 before sitting out 2010 due to NCAA regulations.)
As for those back from last year, the defense is highlighted by 2010 Big South Defensive Player of the Year Andrae Jacobs at linebacker and All-American and two-time first team All-Big South pick Josh Norman at corner. Even with a limited Davis at defensive end, Coastal has a lot of depth and experience along the defensive front as each of the following started and played extended minutes in 2010: Jamel Davis, Chris Thomas, Johnny Hartsfield, Chad McField and Dexter Holman. In addition to Jacobs and Frasier at linebacker, two-year starter Desmond Steward is back. The senior led the Chants in tackles in 2009 and ranked second behind Jacobs last season.
The secondary will be in good shape with Norman back along with starter Trae Henderson and backup Dontavious Johnson but will need to develop depth. At safety, Marcus Lott returns but Coastal will have a monumental task of replacing Dominique Davenport at the other safety spot. The Chants do have two players with playing time, but Johnnie Houston and Philip George will have to take on added responsibility.
The Chants lost All-American long snapper Danny Bonifas and four-year starters Justin Durham (PK) and Ben Erdman (P), but do return All-Big South returner Niccolo Mastromatteo.
“I feel good about our new long snapper Shane Ballard,” Bennett said. “We also feel good about Austin Cain taking over at holder, but we need to see how well he can punt. We will also have to walkons kicking this spring, trying to make the team, as Grant Clayton will miss the spring due to injury.”