Alabama A&M aims to make noise in the SWAC in 2016

Alabama A&M aims to make noise in the SWAC in 2016
Wide receiver Tevin McKenzie is a standout for the Alabama A&M Bulldogs. (Alabama A&M Athletics)

James Spady says it has been and continues to be a process to make Alabama A&M a consistent contender in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

“Last year was obviously one of the early steps in the process,” the Bulldogs coach said. “We were in our second year and some of the expectations had been met. Obviously the big one is the won-loss record. That was a kind of disappointing record.”

The Bulldogs were 3-8 in 2015 after going 4-7 in Spady’s first season.

“I thought we’d be farther along than we were,” he said. “But then you have to make every preparation to move on to the next rung on the ladder, and that’s what we think we’ve done this summer.”

Alabama NewsCenter is posing five questions to state college coaches as the 2016 football season draws near. Next up are Spady and his Bulldogs, who open their season at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3, at Middle Tennessee State.

NC: What is the outlook for this season?

JS: I feel really good for where we’re at. You’ve got a lot of question marks that won’t ever be answered until you actually take the field for competition. I’d love to have more depth all across the board, but that’s a recruiting thing. We were forced to play some young kids the past two years just out of necessity. Now, those young kids are in Year 2 and Year 3. We’re hoping that’s going to translate to us being a more competitive football team. Hopefully we can get more leadership out of that group and that can lead to us being more successful, more competitive.

NC: What is your team’s strength?

JS: Our wide receiver corps. I can compare them to anybody in the conference. It’s my opinion that that’s the strongest group that we have. I also like our running back group, which will be running back by committee. But for the most part, that’s a pretty strong unit. We’ve got a lot of experience in our secondary. We’ve got a lot of juniors and sophomores who have had multiple years in competition.

NC: Who are your standouts this season?

JS: I’ve got to start every defensive discussion at Alabama A&M with No. 32. He’s a special football player. Our inside linebacker Byran Brower is a pretty special football player. I’m just really disappointed he hasn’t had more personal accolades to this point, but that’s a whole other story. Our surprise of training camp is true freshman running back Jordan Bentley. Others are quarterback De’Angelo Ballard – we call him Tootie – wide receiver Tevin McKenzie and tight end Jonathan Dorsey.

NC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?

JS: You know the answer to that. Obviously the first game of the season is always one everyone looks forward to and we’re going to open with Middle Tennessee State, which is an FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) team, and a very solid FBS team. Then the first home game, people want to see how we’re going to perform at home against Prairie View. I’m going to be looking forward to the second  game of the season probably the most early on, because it’s a conference game at Mississippi Valley. Those three games are very important to give us an early season outlook, if you will. And, obviously, the Magic City Classic. Everybody is focused on that, and I don’t ever want to diminish the importance of that game. That is a football game for us, (but) we’ve got a lot of football to play before the last Saturday in October.

NC: What is your lingering question?

JS: People want to know whether or not we can be competitive for a SWAC Championship. They hired me to come in and kind of repair things, if you will, for lack of a better term. I don’t want to be unkind to any of my predecessors but when you make a change in the head coaching position, it’s because you want a difference in philosophy. I feel like we’ve brought that, a change in culture. Now it’s got to translate to on-the-field success. That’s what folks expect and that’s what this year’s about.

Also in this series: Read Alabama NewsCenter’s interviews with head coaches Reginald Ruffin of Miles College, Bobby Wallace of the University of North Alabama, Brett Gilliland of the University of West Alabama, Eddie Garfinkle of Birmingham-Southern College, Willie Slater of Tuskegee University, Chris Hatcher of Samford University and Joey Jones of the University of South Alabama.

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