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2011 Season Preview:
Prairie View A&M Panthers

Aug. 7, 2011

Courtesy Prairie View A&M Sports Information -

For the first time in seven seasons, the Prairie View A&M football program will have a new leader in charge as former defensive coordinator Heishma Northern was elevated to the head coaching post in December of 2010 following the departure of Henry Frazier III to North Carolina Central. Northern, who spent six years on the staff as the team’s defensive coordinator, becomes the 31st head coach in university history.

A veteran of the Southwestern Athletic Conference as a player and coach at Southern, Grambling State and Prairie View A&M, Northern has been preparing for this day since his collegiate playing career came to an end in 1995. However, transitioning to the CEO of the entire program as opposed to worrying about one side of the ball was his biggest task upon assuming control of the program.

With six years at Prairie View A&M, Northern has the advantage of knowing the university system inside and out. As a result, Northern plans on building a solid bridge between athletics and the university as a whole.

As soon as Northern took control of the program, his phone began to ring off the hook from individuals all over seeking positions on the coaching staff as four coaches departed Prairie View A&M with former head coach Henry Frazier III. However, Northern took his time and assembled a staff which has a wide variety of experience from the professional, collegiate and high school ranks. Offensively, Northern lured offensive coordinator Mark Orlando back to the SWAC after a one-year stint at Bethune-Cookman University which saw them win a MEAC Championship. A 30-year veteran of the game, Orlando is best known for his high-energy and high-scoring offensive units at Southern University.

Assistant head coach and offensive line coach Prince Pearson was the only offensive coach to remain on staff. As a result, Northern elevated former Tuskegee and NFL player Harry Williams to wide receivers coach after two years of volunteering along with hiring Brian Morgan, a former Grambling State standout, native Texan and SWAC record holder who played under Northern at Grambling, as running backs coach and special teams coordinator.

Defensively, Northern elevated linebackers coach John Pearce to defensive coordinator and added a dose of NFL and major college playing experience in Gabe Northern (defensive line/strength & conditioning) and Bubba McDowell (safeties). The younger brother of Northern, Gabe was a standout at LSU with several years of NFL experience with the Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings in addition to a coaching stint at Grambling State. McDowell played collegiately at the University of Miami and was an All-Pro with the Houston Oilers. He also brings Prairie View A&M several years of collegiate coaching experience after serving as the defensive backs coach at the University of Houston and Texas Southern. Raasaan Haralson and Miles Brandon also remained on board and will coach cornerbacks and defensive line, respectively.

For the fourth straight year, the Panthers could potentially open with a different starter at quarterback as school record holder K.J. Black completed his eligibility. However, the cupboard isn’t bare as several quarterbacks on the roster do have game experience.

Senior Jonathan Troast took the majority of snaps in the spring and has the inside edge as he started the first two games of the 2010 season after arriving from junior college late last summer. Troast, who quarterbacked the Panthers to a 1-1 mark before suffering a season-ending injury, will face competition from senior Andrew McGlory and redshirt sophomore Amir Smith as the trio battled during the spring.

Panther fans will have to break out their game programs this fall as the team will feature a new crop of runners. Donald Babers, a 3,000-yard career rusher, graduated along with backup Devin Brown, a converted fullback who found success as the number two rusher on the team. Despite the loss of the duo, Northern remains confident as the Panthers do return a number of prospects at the position. At the conclusion of spring drills, newcomer Ladarraye Groover shined with an impressive spring game but will face competition from veteran Jeremy Waddy and several other newcomers who didn’t suit up for the Panthers last season.

With the new offensive scheme, Northern stated the responsibilities of the running backs will change as pass protection is a must for the scheme to be successful.

Despite the shift to a pass-based offense, Northern also reiterated that the fullback position will remain viable.

Similar to the running back spot, the wide receiver position took a huge hit with the loss of three seniors. However, the Panthers are pretty used to the situation as they encountered the same type of scenario last season.

As a result, junior Spencer Nelson assumes the responsibility of elder statesmen and should have a career season similar to what Gabe Osaze-Ediae and Shaun Stephens did in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Nelson finished as the third-leading receiver on the team last season with 25 receptions for 323 yards and one touchdown.

Another candidate the staff is looking forward to working with is junior Deandre Cooper. Cooper originally came to Prairie View as a defensive back but saw his career halt due to an injury as a freshman. He missed a season-and-a-half before returning to action in 2010 primarily playing special teams. This past spring, Cooper caught two touchdowns in the annual spring game and has the physical tools needed to thrive in the new scheme. After Cooper, several redshirt freshmen and true freshmen will have an opportunity to show what they can do to solidify the rotation.
The Panthers lost a veteran blocker in tight end Darrick Myles last season but return several candidates who each bring something different to the table. Donald Law III is the biggest tight end on the roster and will be counted on for his blocking while Alonzo Revuelta provides the team with another pass-catching option. Both players will be counted on heavily in the new scheme.

With so many new faces offensively at the skill positions, Northern does have the luxury of returning a veteran offensive line. All-American and All-SWAC guard James Dekle returns for his senior year and will be joined by former All-SWAC tackle Tim Tusey. Langston Patterson and Jomar Cauley are also experienced veterans and will battle it out at guard while offensive line coach Prince Pearson auditions several candidates for the role of center and tackle.

DEFENSE While the offense remains a work in progress, the Panthers feature an experienced defense that may have to carry the team until the offense comes around. While it may sound like pressure to some, this has been the norm for the Panthers as the defense has been in this position since Northern took over the coordinator reigns in 2005.

The defensive line opens the 2011 campaign minus All-American defensive end Quinton Spears and defensive tackle Dalvin Nettle as both have graduated. Even though both players were three-year starters, the line should be in good hands with an abundance of players possessing game experience. Adrian Hamilton and Jarvis Wilson are the projected starters at defensive end and will be counted on to rush the quarterback. Nose tackle Ryan Love received a lot of playing time last season and should excel this season followed by fellow tackles Dwayne Chappell and Deon Jones. Redshirt sophomore Liki Porotesano will be an asset for the line as he’ll play both inside and outside.

Three of the top five tacklers from 2010 were linebackers with two of the three returning to action in 2011 in redshirt sophomores Raheem Cardwell and Marcus White. Two of the smartest players on the team, both athletes should come into their own this season with another year in the defensive scheme. Last season, White and Cardwell combined for 111 tackles, nine tackles for loss and two interceptions.

In the middle, even though linebacker Max Sencherey hung up his cleats for medical school, Northern is confident someone will step up to fill his position. Elton Holmes has been in the system for several years and should compete along with redshirt freshman Danny Brownell.

The defensive backfield once again features an All-American as cornerback Moses Ellis returns for his senior season. The Fort Worth, Texas native led the nation with eight interceptions in 2010 while tallying 14 pass breakups and 41 tackles. One of the fastest players on the team, Ellis has the ability to change a game in an instant.

Joining Ellis in the secondary is fellow senior Lester Butler. Butler had 31 tackles last year with seven tackles for loss and six pass breakups. JohnMark Henderson also returns and gives the Panthers three seasoned cornerbacks to open the season as Henderson had 25 tackles and two pass breakups last season.

While the corners are solidified, Northern will have a tall task at safety as the defense has to replace All-SWAC safety Chris Adingupu along with fellow senior Eric Moore. Fortunately, a pair of redshirt sophomores with game experience will be able to step in as Breon Johnson and Adrian Grant started the first two games of the 2010 season.

Similar to the offense, fans will have to learn a new set of names as the Panthers lost a trio of four-year lettermen in the kicking department in punter Pedro Ventura and placekickers Brady Faggard and Kyle Mathews. As a result, redshirt freshman Chris Barrick will man the placekicking duties while the team auditions a punter during camp.

Whoever assumes the kicking duties will have to work with a new deep snapper as the Panthers signed one in February.

In the return game, several candidates will vie for the role of kick and punt returner. Spencer Nelson has the most experience with 14 combined kickoff and punt returns.

With so many new faces offensively, this could be the year the Panthers rely on a true freshman in some areas as they loaded up at the skill positions during the past recruiting period. Northern prefers to redshirt freshmen for developmental purposes but won’t hesitate to play one if they prove they’re ready.

This year’s schedule ranks as one of the toughest in recent memory for the Panthers as they prepare to face the defending MEAC Champion Bethune-Cookman University in the season opener during the annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Orlando, Fla. on ESPN. Texas State, who’s in its last year as a Football Championship Subdivision member, is also on the schedule as the Panthers travel to San Marcos in November. In SWAC play, six of Prairie View’s nine conference games are on the road.

Northern is excited to start the season out with the opportunity to represent the university on a national scale.

“I want to start off good on national TV as you want to represent the university and conference well,” stated Northern. “I cut my teeth playing and coaching in the SWAC and we’re known as a football conference but we’ve lost a few games to the MEAC schools so I want to reverse that.”

The remainder of the season from that point will be full of storylines as Northern will face two teams that feature coaches he worked for in Grambling State (Doug Williams) and Alcorn State (Melvin Spears) plus the return to his alma mater and hometown for a matchup versus Southern.

“I look at the games the same way because I’m not playing against Coach Williams, Spears or Mitchell,” said Northern. “All of that talk doesn’t bother me and I won’t coach any differently because I know the coach on the other sideline. I want to win every game regardless of who’s coaching.”

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