|Sean Bowman has emerged as one of the nation's leading rushers, while remaining humble and deferring credit to his linemen.
David Conner II/For Averett University
By Andrew Lovell
The unique spheroidal shape of a football enables it to bounce in seemingly endless variations.
Some of those random bounces went Averett's way last season, but plenty of others didn't. It prevented a breakthrough season from becoming a special season.
There was the 30-28 September home loss to Guilford, the 31-26 October road loss to Maryville, and the 14-3 November home loss to Ferrum. Three games decided by a total of 18 points. Three losses that kept a 5-5 season, the Cougars' first non-losing season since 2010, from being an 8-2 season with a USA South Conference title.
Fortunately, fourth-year head coach Cleive Adams isn't big on looking back. His eyes are firmly fixated on the future.
"In terms of moral victories in this program, they don't exist anymore," Adams said. "The expectation is to win."
When Adams accepted Averett's head coaching position prior to the 2014 season, that was not the expectation. Adams inherited a team that went a combined 5-25 over the three-year stretch between 2011-2013. Turning around a college football program isn't an overnight proposition. It takes time and dedication, and a few of those lucky bounces never hurt either.
|Adams is determined to lead Averett to its first winning season since 2009.
David Conner II/For Averett University
The results weren't immediately evident in the win-loss column as the Cougars went a combined 4-15 in Adams's first two seasons. It was during those seasons, however, that Averett's program began to take shape in Adams's image. In addition to the school-wide "One Team" mantra that all of Averett's athletics programs share, Adams has adopted and applied the acronym BAM (Be A Man) as a program hallmark, in association with the Bible scripture 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, which reads: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Responsibility, faith, selflessness, mentorship, competition, and graduating from Averett form the philosophical pillars with which Adams has built the program. Now in Year Four, with Adams's first full recruiting class in its senior season, the Cougars no longer hope to win; they expect to win.
"Success for us is living up to those principles off the field," Adams said. "We're also at a point in this program that we want to win the USA South Conference. That's our goal. We're bold enough to say it."
When Averett dropped consecutive games to Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon, a pair of traditionally upper-tier ODAC teams, by a total of seven points, no one was willing to accept some bad bounces or moral victories.
"It was a tough two weeks, but again, the character of our football team showed up," Adams said. "They showed up to work each Sunday ready to go again, knowing that we were close."
Averett responded with a grind-it-out 19-7 win over Ferrum, Adams's alma mater, and a comfortable 35-6 win against Methodist in its next two games. In the Cougars' most recent win against the Monarchs, junior running back Sean Bowman rushed for 227 yards and five touchdowns on a school-record 36 carries.
Few players exemplify Averett's philosophy better than Bowman, who enters this weekend ranked ninth nationally with 562 rushing yards. Adams and his coaching staff had a commemorative game ball made to celebrate Bowman's 1,293 all-purpose yards last season as a sophomore, a mark few players in Averett's history have ever reached.
"When I handed it to him, he turned and handed it to one of the offensive linemen," Adams said. "Didn't even think about it. That's who he is."
The line is anchored by senior captain and program cornerstone Wilson Gregory, a four-year starter and all-USA South standout, as well as junior Tyler Gray, who is in his fourth year but retains a final year of eligibility due to a previous injury. Senior wide receiver Myles Bennett has performed admirably on the field in his four years, but has made an even larger impact as a leader in the locker room. A deep and talented defensive line features a number of four-year seniors, including Kenneth Covington, Don Warren, Victor Miller, and Nicholas Brown.
"I'm excited about this group," Adams said. "I just appreciate them and enjoy coming to work every day. To me, as a head coach, that's a victory in itself."
Since Adams's arrival, Averett's home stadium has been reconstructed with new field turf, and also had lights, a three-story press box and a LED video screen installed. It's helped create a growing sense of excitement and optimism around a program that, until recently, hadn't had much.
"Right now, we're just trying to do our part and put a good product on the field," Adams said. "Something that the community, the university, and our alumni family can be proud of, and I think we're on the right track."
Ursinus continues best start since 2014
Thomas Garlick threw a 31-yard touchdown to Jacob Clifford and rushed for seven-yard touchdown, and Jacob McCain returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown as Ursinus defeated Moravian 35-17 to remain unbeaten.
The Bears' 4-0 start is its best since 2014, when they started 5-0 before losing three of their last five to finish 7-3. Over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Ursinus went a combined 5-15. The Bears have a chance to match that two-year win total this Saturday, but it won't be easy: Johns Hopkins and its streak of 40 consecutive Centennial Conference wins awaits.
If nothing else, Ursinus has shown remarkable consistency this season, scoring exactly 35 points in each of its four games. That's an anomaly, of course, but for a team allowing only 21.5 points per game on defense, Ursinus will get a difficult test with back-to-back games against Johns Hopkins and Muhlenberg.
N.C. Wesleyan picks up first win of season
Nate Gardner passed for two TDs and ran for another, but it was Eddie Graham's 99-yard pick-six that thwarted Maryville's comeback effort in N.C. Wesleyan's 35-25 victory this past Saturday.
The win was the first of the season for the Battling Bishops (1-3, 1-1), after lopsided defeats against Mount Union and Shenandoah, and a shootout loss to Huntingdon. Those three teams went a combined 27-8 last season, so few teams in the country can claim a more difficult three-game opening slate.
N.C. Wesleyan has won five games in each of the last three seasons, but to get over that hump, it will need to go 5-1 down the stretch to finish 6-4. The Battling Bishops host Ferrum (2-2, 0-2) on Saturday.
Michael Hnatkowsky passed for 227 yards and accounted for five total touchdowns, and Nick Savant rushed for 160 yards and scored three total TDs in Muhlenberg's 56-40 win over Juniata. Austin Montgomery tossed four touchdowns in the shootout loss. ... Chip Taylor threw touchdowns to three different players and also added a rushing touchdown as Huntingdon defeated Ferrum 31-28. Brian Mann rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown in the defeat. ... Nick Leongas rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries as Johns Hopkins ran past Dickinson 41-10. ... Connor Blair passed for 432 yards and four touchdowns, while Marcus Campbell caught seven passes for 210 yards and one of those four TDs in LaGrange's 38-28 victory against Brevard. ... Will Koester connected with Andre Henry Jr., on the go-ahead 25-yard touchdown pass on the second play in overtime to help McDaniel knock off Gettysburg 27-20. ... Tanner Erisman accounted for three touchdowns, including a 66-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter, as Franklin and Marshall remained unbeaten with a 27-24 win over Susquehanna. ... All seven ODAC teams have byes this past weekend.
Top 25: Johns Hopkins moves up
Johns Hopkins jumped one spot to No. 13 in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll following its win against Dickinson. Bridgewater received five votes in this week's poll.
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