Each week, I’ll do a Q&A with the beat writer who covers Oklahoma State’s opponent to get some perspective on the game from the other side.
Donald Heath covers Savannah State for the Savannah Morning News. Here’s our exchange:
Gina Mizell: We’ve seen the record. We’ve studied the numbers. We know Savannah State is not a good football team. But where has this team shown the most growth as Steve Davenport enters his second season?
Donald Heath: Savannah State has had five football coaches in the last eight years, but there’s a sense that if Davenport stays, he can make the team a winner in the mediocre Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The state of Georgia is a high school football hotbed, and Davenport and his staff have recruited well. Sixteen freshmen are on the team’s two-deep depth chart.
GM: Based on players and coaches you’ve talked to, what’s the mood like heading into the season? They get to play at defending Big 12 champ Oklahoma State and perennial power Florida State in back-to-back weeks. In a way, is that being viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime experience?
DH: Last year, I covered Georgia Southern’s game against Alabama. GSU ran for more than 300 yards and stayed within 10 points for 3 ½ quarters. Last year, Norfolk State (another MEAC school) led West Virginia (then ranked 19th) at halftime. Savannah State isn’t GSU or Norfolk for that matter but my point is, it’s hard to discourage any athlete that’s playing at this high level. Even players on Savannah State probably think they should’ve been recruited by I-A teams. You see upsets in the NCAA basketball tournament all the time when smaller schools get excited about playing bigger schools and the athletes of those bigger schools just can’t match the emotion. Of course, football is a little different.
GM: Give me the scouting report on 2-3 of SSU’s top players.
DH: Quarterback Antonio Bostick has good mobility, which he needed last season because Savannah State didn’t have a very good offensive line. The Tigers’ offensive tackle Chris Jones (6-5, 330) transferred in from Illinois and linebacker Randy McKinnon played at Syracuse for three years before suffering a season-ending injury in 2010. He was given a medical red-shirt by the NCAA and eventually found his way to SSU. The Tigers just wish Shannon Sharpe had one game left of eligibility.
GM: Of course, you play to win the game. But what would qualify as a successful trip to Stillwater for SSU?
DH: Having the check clear will have Savannah State officials doing cartwheels down Main Street. Having some early success and being able to look back at something done well against a high-caliber opponent would have a positive effect for the football team to build on and I’m sure that’s how Davenport will break down the film on Sunday for the players. You’ll also have a chance to see what players will accept the challenge of playing a talented team and what players fold when things start going bad. That’s good to know for the rest of the season.
GM: Realistically, how much will the funds SSU gets from these games against OSU and Florida State help this football program and athletic department?
DH: Savannah State has an enrollment of 4,300, and booster donations are at a minimum right now. The entire athletic budget is $5.1 million. SSU will get $385,000 from Oklahoma State and $475,000 from Florida State, so you should be able to buy a lot of footballs with that scratch. Then there’s the free publicity just playing OSU and FSU on ESPN and the rest of the national sports outlets. You can’t buy that advertising.