Donald Hill-Eley said it wasn’t a sophomore slump that caused his Alabama State football team to dip from his first season in Montgomery to his second.
No, he says the team caught a bug – the injury bug.
And a touch of youth-itis.
“Last year, we had some young guys in key places, mainly the quarterback position,” he said. “I think up front and in our secondary, we had some injuries and we ended up having to play a lot of freshmen, which gave us poor output on offense and gave us a very weak secondary.”
ASU looks to begin its rebound from the 4-7 campaign of 2018 when it kicks off 2019 at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 29, at Birmingham’s Legion Field against UAB.
Alabama NewsCenter: What is the outlook for this season?
Donald Hill-Eley: Now a year removed and now those young guys are second-year guys. I think the experience will add to some of those games that we lost and now we can close out with some better quarterback play and we can close them out with some better defensive play.
ANC: What is the strength of this year’s team?
Hill-Eley: It would have to be our offensive line play. We return four of the five starters. The secondary, we were able to beef that up with some transfers. I think we have one of the largest secondaries that’s in the conference. I think collectively you’ll see a good, well-coached and well-talented team in all three phases.
ANC: Who are your team’s standouts?
Hill-Eley: Those kids like Darron Johnson and Carl Thompson. These guys have started for the past couple of years. Quite naturally, the expectation is for them to really be the leaders for that young group of guys that are coming. Those would be the guys mainly anchoring both sides of the ball, Carl and Darron. (At quarterback), it will still be the same two young men who were true freshmen last year – Chris Scott and you had a redshirt freshman, KHA’Darris Davis. Those guys are still competing for the starting position. Having Jeffrey Hill … was probably an all-conference corner, but we lost him in the fourth game of the season. We’re looking forward to him helping us. And Ismail Saleem, a speedy wide receiver who we lost going down the stretch. We’re looking forward to him helping us. And Trevonte Howard, the tackle who we lost in the fourth game of the season. We’re looking forward to him getting back and hopefully replacing Tytus Howard.
ANC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?
Hill-Eley: Tuskegee (University) and Magic City Classic (vs. Alabama A&M). The rest of the games have no circle. They’ve got those carved in, those two games. As a coach, we’ve got to win the East (Division of the Southwest Athletic Conference). Alcorn (State University) has dominated the East for the last couple of years and we have to be able to beat Alcorn. They come to our place, and if you want to win the championship, you’ve got to win the East. We have to beat Alcorn, but not just Alcorn; we did that last year. We have to be able to win (against) Alcorn, Jackson (State), (Alabama) A&M and (Mississippi) Valley (State). We’ve got to win them all in the East.
ANC: What is your lingering question?
Hill-Eley: We have four starting (offensive) linemen back, but we don’t have Tytus Howard. I want to see who’s going to step up and take that position. And, more importantly, the quarterback play. It’s not just so much throwing the football. We need a leader, a charismatic leader, a person to take charge. I need to see which one of these young guys is going to have the authoritativeness to come out and be able to take over.
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