|Joe Moultrie got some extra
running room this year after Birmingham-Southern's starting
tailback was injured. Moultrie said he's happy to contribute as
often as he can.
Courtesy of Cari Dean
Many are familiar with the Birmingham-Southern's move from NAIA to NCAA Division I-AA to NCAA Division III in a span of just seven years. The Panthers were successful within the NAIA for decades before deciding to make the jump to the NCAA Division I ranks in 2000.
However, by the time they had passed their requirements in the D-I probationary period, BSC president G. David Pollick made the decision that the program would better fit the Division III model. Coupled with that decision was the addition of football in 2007 to boost enrollment and tuition dollars. Putting the pigskin back on campus would be the first time the school sponsored football since 1939.
For fifth-year head coach Eddie Garfinkle, it didn't take long to make the Panthers into a winning program.
"They actually hired Joey Jones initially, and I came with him. I had been coaching in high school at the time with him. We recruited and played in the SCAC that first year with all freshmen," said Garfinkle.
Jones, an Alabama native and who had even played for "Bear" Bryant and the Crimson Tide, was lured away to start the football program at Southern Alabama.
That prompted the promotion of Garfinkle, who has immediately built the Panthers into a formidable South Region program.
Birmingham-Southern was ranked No. 15 in Sunday's poll with a 5-0 start and a 1-0 record in its new conference, the Southern Athletic Association. Garfinkle has slowly progressed the Panthers, improving their win total each season since taking over for Jones in 2008. Last year, the Panthers posted a 7-2 overall record and left the SCAC with a 4-2 record.
Garfinkle said the key to steady improvement has been the Division III model of recruiting and retention.
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"The school and the administration is very supportive of us, and we are in a great geographical location. The campus sells itself," he said. "We can dip into Florida and Tennessee, and we've really been able to do a good job of keeping guys here, and that's been a major key for us."
Among the players that he's kept is senior running back Shawn Morris. Morris rushed for 1,449 yards and 17 touchdowns last season on the way to first-team All-America honors while helping the Panthers earn a national ranking for the first time since reinstating the program.
Morris suffered an injury during BSC's Sept. 22 game with Rhodes, but it didn't deter the Panthers' backup tailback Joe Moultrie from filling in the void. Moultrie finished the game for Morris with eight carries and 37 yards in a 16-2 win over Rhodes, but excelled to new heights in his first start of the season Saturday with 96 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns in a 49-21 win over Austin College.
Morris is a four-year letterman for the Panthers in his senior year while the junior Moultrie has had the task of backing up one of the best rushers in the country the past couple of seasons. However, last year as a sophomore, Moultrie made the most of his chances with six touchdowns and 421 yards on 76 carries.
This season, he continued to prove a valuable spell back, scoring three touchdowns in his reserve role in the first three contests.
"Last year Joe did a really good job, and we rotated him in some. But when Shawn went down, we had all the confidence in the world him, and he did a heck of a job," said Garfinkle.
While a talented back may struggle with second on the depth chart, Moultrie said he has embraced it.
"I see it as an opportunity. Our running back core as a whole wants to be a group that doesn't miss a beat when one goes down," Moultrie said. "That's what we strive for, we want to have a work ethic that is just as great as the man in front of us. When Shawn went down, I knew we wouldn't miss a beat."
That experience as a sophomore also played a role in his success filling Morris' void the last game-and-a-half.
"I not only got the experience on the field that I needed last year, but in the film room. I knew what I needed to do, and being behind a player like Shawn, getting to shadow him and following his work ethic prepared me," Moultrie said.
Morris is 5-foot-6 and nearly 200 pounds, with his head coach describing him as a "mini Trent Richardson." Moultrie is a taller, but lighter back at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds.
Garfinkle said the size gives them different styles of running, but their speed is comparable. Moultrie said the two are very similar to each other.
"We both have that X factor," he said. "At any time we could break for a long run, or we can get the hard two or three-yard runs."
The Panthers turn their attention to one of the perennial powers on Saturday as No. 6-ranked Wesley College will play host to BSC in Dover, Del., at 1 p.m.
Moultrie said that the Panthers have a chance to be noticed nationally after the program has had steady improvement the past few years.
"At the beginning of the season we approached every game like we're going to take care of this one, and not overlook anybody," he said. "Well this week, it's the same, but we know that we have to prove ourselves all over again. We've had to prove that we could compete with the SCAC teams like Trinity; we did, and now we have to go to the national level and prove we can compete with teams that have been around a while and have had consistent teams year in an year out."
Morris has been cleared to play Saturday against the high-powered Wolverines calling for Moultrie's return to back up. But, Moultrie is not shaken.
"My mindset has not changed at all. Eventually [Shawn's] going to come out and need a break, and then I'm going to go in and take the reins," he said. "Our mentality is that no man is higher than the team; he's going to do what he's going to do, and then I'm going to do everything I can to make sure we don't miss a beat when I fill in."
These types of life lessons that Moultrie is learning along with discipline and responsibility are ones that he said he attributes to his education at BSC and participation with the Panthers' football program. Moultrie is an elementary education major and wants to join the coaching ranks when he graduates.
"I know what I've learned will help me professionally, but even now it's helped me with my job. I worked at a country club this summer and I found myself showing up to work meetings five minutes early or getting to work five or 10 minutes early," he said. "That repetition and discipline was taught to me by being a member of the football program, and my education here has taught me to perform my best at whatever I do and to be accountable for myself."
Garfinkle said that he knows he has a special player in his program.
"Well that's the thing that immediately stands out is how great a person he is. The success that he's had, he's worked hard for and he deserves it," he said. "Joe had to overcome a lot to get here; he's one of only two in our program that came from the inner city Birmingham school systems. So when he came in, he may have not had the academic training that our other students have had, so he worked harder, and he works hard in the weight room and in the practice field."
If Pollick, the school's president who departed in 2010, said that the move to Division III was more fitting for Birmingham-Southern, then it is student-athletes like Joe Moultrie who reinforced his efforts.
LiDarral Bailey has been the model of efficiency for the No. 2-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders this season, but especially the last two weeks. The senior signal-caller completed 29 of 33 passes for 516 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, and added 88 rushing yards and two scores on the ground for good measure. Bailey earned a plethora of weekly awards by setting a school record with 333 passing yards and four touchdowns in a rout of Sul Ross.
Millsaps' defensive front has averaged six sacks per game through four contests, which equals 24 for you math majors (no pun intended). And interestingly enough, those 24 sacks stack up third in all of NCAA football behind only DI-FBS Tulsa (26) and D-II East Central Okla. (25). Joiner Stewart and Zach Bell lead the charge with 5.5 and five sacks respectively.
UMHB, Louisiana College, Texas Lutheran and Hardin-Simmons all opened up with wins Saturday in the league's opening week of intra-competition. The game of the week could be how Sul Ross rebounds from a two-week roller coaster ride that saw them defeat nationally-ranked Trinity followed by a 48-point loss to UMHB. Mississippi College will play host to the Lobos in Clinton, Miss., at 2 p.m.
If you read the feature you know that No. 16 Birmingham-Southern (5-0) will have its hands full with No. 6 Wesley College (3-1) Saturday in Dover, Del. But, Sewanee (2-3) debuts with its first-ever SAA contest against Centre (3-2, 0-1) Saturday at home at 2 p.m.
Trinity was back on the board with a 30-22 win over Rhodes heading into its bye week while Rhodes of the SAA will take on independent Austin College (1-4). However, the game of the week is between undefeated Millsaps (4-0) playing host to No. 24 Huntingdon (4-1).
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