Football is officially back at St. Aug's and ShawMarch 28, 2002
By Bonitta Best
RALEIGH - The sky was gray and overcast with sporadic drizzles. The temperature was in the cool 50s, but for 60 hopefuls, the sun was shining bright at 3:20 p.m. March 19. That's the moment football returned to St. Augustine's campus after a 35-year hiatus.
And less than 10 minutes away, 50-plus wannabes were giving it their all for Shaw coach Gregory Ruffin. The Bears began their first spring practice in 23 years at Chavis Heights Park.
"The anticipation and expectation level is high," said St. Aug's coach Michael Costas, who was the secondary coach/defensive coordinator at Elizabeth City State. "I have the numbers, now if I can find some talent. Some haven't played in a long time, some never have, but I see the ability. Guys came here because of football."
Costas will have a short time to decipher the haves from the have nots. Spring training is only 15 days long, he said. Then there's a break until the fall. But Costas said he doesn't mind the hard work ahead, that's what spring training is for.
"Spring training is the opportunity to teach," he said. "It's a time to show the players what the real program is all about. We work on the same routines now that we will in the fall when we start game preparation." On a first day, there were the usual miscues: the constantly jumping offsides, the lack of concentration and an obvious lack of size, but those issues didn't stop the enthusiasm oozing from participants.
"I've been wanting to play since I got here," said senior Donte Lane, who was also a guard on the men's basketball team. Lane is one of two basketball players and five track and field athletes trying out.
"Although my basketball eligibility is up, I can play football. This is a new program, and I want to be a part of history. I might make the first tackle or the first interception."
But it is teammate Kevin Smith, who is a forward in basketball, that has caught the coach's eye early. Smith, a quarterback in high school before he broke his collarbone, is vying for the role again four years later.
"God has blessed me to be able to come out for it again," Smith said. "Right now, it's more of a learning experience, and I'm glad the coach is being patient with me."
Costas has completed his coaching staff:
• William Frizzell is a double Eagle alumni: a former player at N.C. Central and Philadelphia.
• Jamie Holland, a Raleigh native, is the wide receiver and special teams coach.
• Mister Askew (Mister is his first name), who played at ECSU, is the running backs coach.
• Matthew Montgomery, a former quarterback at Hampton, is the offensive coordinator.
• Salisbury State's Lamont Robinson is a defensive line coach.
• James Mackey and Larry Vann will assist with the OL duties.
"This is a dedicated group," Costas said. "They are not making a lot of money, they are doing it for love."
The team is practicing on the track and field grass courtesy of athletics director George Williams. The Falcons will play their inaugural season at Raleigh's Enloe High School.
"The kids will only have to walk four blocks to the game," Williams said.
Costas said he hopes to have a spring scrimmage April 13 at 1 p.m. "if I have anybody left." Right now he has a whole campus.
"Everywhere we go on campus, people ask 'Has practice started yet'?" Smith said. "Everybody wants to be a part of it."