“I remember calling around, trying to find a fifth offensive lineman.”
Most fans of major college football were probably introduced to Savannah State for all the wrong reasons. A September 1st, 2012 loss at Oklahoma State 84-0 resulted in a +69.5 point spread the following week at Florida State. 2013 wasn’t much nicer with Savannah State on the losing end of 77-9, 66-3, and 77-7 scores.
As the losses mounted up, the media began to wonder if FCS squads should continue to play FBS opponents, despite the fact that schools like Savannah State fund its non-revenue generating sports in part from large paydays the football team receives from playing at FBS schools.
But there is so much more to the Savannah State story that final scores and marks in the win column simply can’t convey. One man who can tell that story is Tigers’ head coach Earnest Wilson III.
“Things happened so fast.”
Wilson took over the Tigers’ program in late June of 2013, essentially giving him just two months to assemble a staff and attempt to persuade any recruits he could find to join the team. He only had four offensive lineman, so naturally he hit the phones to locate a fifth. Everything was new, including many of the players and most of the coaching staff.
“The coaches got hired right before the first day of camp,” Wilson said from campus in an interview with HERO Sports this week. “We didn’t know the players or the recruits. We were trying to get things done, but things happened so fast. I had some coaches arrive on the first day the players did. We didn’t have spring ball that year.”
Due to issues with its Academic Progress Rate, Wilson found himself once again without spring practice in his third full season with the club.
“There’s good and bad about it. We wanted to take those freshman and get them going for this fall. But they showed some leadership and organized like 12 practices and did it themselves.
The first two weeks of our camp, I told the guys ‘This is our spring football.’ It didn’t hurt us too bad, but we do have around 50 freshman in this program and only 9 seniors.”
“Grin and bear it”
It becomes very apparent within minutes of speaking with coach Wilson that he is not a man to make excuses or wallow after tough losses.
“Grin and bear it, and train our players to be the best they can be,” is what the coach thinks about the lack of spring ball in 2015.
Considering the incredibly difficult non-conference slate his young team has faced the past three seasons, does he fear for his player’s mental and physical health, or does he believe they should grin and bear those defeats as well?
“I’m confident in my players, and this year I got to choose my own games,” Wilson said in regards to this year’s slightly more manageable non-conference slate against Colorado State and Akron. “My athletic director said one thing when I got here. We got 140 people total in our football program from players to staff members. Playing these games is an opportunity. Some of these kids on the team are from small towns in Georgia, and they get to see other parts of the country.”
Imagine that: Turning 84-point losses into a recruiting tool, but Savannah State’s non-conference schedule since 2012 has enabled Wilson’s young players to visit Stillwater, Oklahoma, both Tallahassee and Coral Gables Florida, Provo, Utah, and in 2015, both Fort Collins, Colorado and Akron, Ohio. Playing in jam-packed stadiums rich in college football tradition is something Wilson’s players will have with them for the rest of their lives, and it’s a reason to come play for the university.
“This year we have 19 offensive lineman”
As the team prepares for its opening contest at Colorado State, Earnest Wilson III is feeling confident about the future of the program.
“I was able to hire some coaches, which frees me up to do things like fundraising.”
Perhaps just as importantly, he no longer has to spend valuable time looking for that fifth offensive lineman.
“This year we have 110 players, and 19 offensive lineman.”