First-year Texas College head football coach George Cumby forecasts brighter days for a Steers program playing under a cloud of uncertainty the past few years.
The Steers start anew not expected to do much after five consecutive losing seasons. And the Steers start in limbo, with a number of student-athletes awaiting approval regarding their eligibility status, in part to new NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) clearinghouse guidelines.
Cumby comes into his new post needing just two wins to exceed the total from the previous two seasons, when the Steers went 1-20 combined under Rickey Carson. Nonetheless, Cumby carries high expectations for the Steers.
“People say ‘if you win two you’ve done better than last year,”said Cumby, an eight-year NFL veteran who spent the past six years coaching in Tyler — the previous five as linebackers coach at TJC after a one-year stint as head coach at T.K. Gorman. “We don’t think like that. We go into every game expecting to win, no matter how many kids we have on the team.”
The Steers kick off the 2011 season Saturday out-of-state versus Belhaven in Jackson, Miss. The Steers spend the first four weeks away, including road dates with Division I programs Lamar and Texas Southern, before playing their first of three home games.
“We’ve got a couple of heavyweights on there,” Cumby said of the schedule. “The type of level they’re on, they’ll let the kids know where we are.”
TC could play with close to 40 players, while hoping to add as many as 20 more before next week’s game at Lamar. One of the sticking points to the new compliance rules requires transcripts from previous schools attended by the student-athletes to be sent directly to the NAIA national office, a tedious, time-consuming process.
“I know we’re not the only school affected by it. It just makes it tougher when you’re waiting for transcripts to come in from different schools,” Cumby said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. A lot of our kids are going to have to play both ways. We’re in pretty good shape, but you’re talking college instead of high school. It’s hard playing both ways.”
The Steers solidified arguably the most important position on the field, quarterback, with transfer Vincent McNeil (6-1, 175, Jr., Dallas). McNeil played two seasons at TJC, earning second-team all-conference honors as a sophomore. The elusive McNeil, who showed his touch on three long touchdown passes during an intrasquad scrimmage last week, provides a dual-threat for a Steer offense which averaged 13.2 points per game a year ago.
One unit in particular received high praise from Cumby: the wideouts, a group highlighted by Johnny Thomas (6-4, 190, Sr., New Orleans), Joshua Isaac (5-10, 180, Jr., Baytown), Michael Sidberry (5-5, 150, Jr., Lewisville) and noted transfer Jamaal Johnson (6-3, 180, Jr., Houston), another TJC product. Thomas topped the Steers with five TD receptions in 2010, while Isaac and Sidberry combined for three scoring grabs.
In the backfield TC appears stronger with the likes of newcomer Charles Jackson (5-8, 185, Jr., Kilgore) and Devin Lee (6-0, 190, So., Lufkin), who also plays in the secondary.
The O-line returns Jacob Martin (6-2, 270, Jr., Chapel Hill), Gerilius Moore (6-3, 300, Dallas, Sr.) and Travis Tate (6-0, 280, Sr., Houston), with first-year player Quedaan Everett (6-3, 240, Fr., Tulsa, Okla.) raising eyebrows early. Moore made second-team all-conference as a sophomore and junior.
“We’ve been getting a lot of practices in, working on fundamentals,” said Cumby, whose team runs the one-back spread on offense, with the ability to present multiple looks. “We’ll throw it a lot. Our backs are decent, and our quarterback, Vincent McNeil, should be solid. The wide receivers and defensive backs are our best groups. We’re still putting together the line.”
Cumby calls the defense “the strongest right now,” in part to key players on all three units.
Joseph Cook (6-2, 235, So., Lewisville) spearheads a line that expects to get help in the coming week.
At linebacker returns two-time all-conference selection Dontay Livingston (6-1, 215, Jr., Dallas), and one of the team’s mainstays in Alex Poole (6-0, 200, Sr., Gainesville, Fla.), a converted safety.
The secondary, arguably the top group on the team, features the likes of Edrick Bronson (6-0, 185, Sr., Jasper), Maurice Peterson (5-11, 200, Sr., Carol City, Fla.) and Demarcus Rogers (5-10, 175, Jr., Dallas).
The Steers base out the 4-2-5, a look Cumby borrowed from TJC head coach Danny Palmer.
“It’s a speed-type defense,” Cumby said, comparing the Steers’ formation to the one implemented by TCU. “We should be a fast defense. Our corners can cover and play man.”
Houston Creighton (5-7, 160, So., Dickerson) gives the kicking game experience after playing last year.
Despite the question marks, Cumby likes what he sees on the field. Assuming all the I’s and T’s get dotted, he sees no reason the Steers shouldn’t be competitive in 2011.
“There’s more talent than there has been,” Cumby said. “Once we get everyone cleared. …we’re talented on both sides of the ball, at every position. It’s hard to go any lower than what it’s been. People have been saying ‘are you going to win a game?’ We’re expecting to win a lot of games.”