At this rate, Benedict College might get a Chick-Fil-A Bowl invitation before long. The Tigers in their breakthrough season of 2009 went 8-3, the best record since the school took up football again in 1995.
Led by versatile quarterback Pat Riley, head coach Stanley Conner's team won eight of its last nine games and finished 6-3 in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. It was an exciting leap for a program that went 7-15 the previous two years.
Riley returns for his senior season as the SIAC's 2009 leader in total offense. The
6-0, 180-pound native of Attapulgus, Ga., rushed for 1,088 yards and threw for 887 in Benedict's option style offense.
Benedict in the official SIAC preseason poll of league coaches was picked to finish fourth, behind defending champion Tuskegee, Albany State and Fort Valley State.
The Tigers open early, playing host to Morehouse College in the Palmetto Capital City Classic on Sunday (4 p.m.) at Charlie W. Johnson Stadium. The 2009 turnaround began with the last Palmetto Capital City Classic, with Benedict 0-2 entering a game against West Virginia State.
But Riley rushed for 168 yards on 9 carries and threw for 99 yards and a touchdown in a 49-21 victory. Benedict eventually completed its season ranked No. 9 in the NCAA Division II South Regional poll.
Riley has help on offense, including senior wide receivers Kareem Dunlap and Corey Gardhigh. Senior tackle Jamaal Henry, 6-2, 350, provides ample security.
Benedict finished fourth in the SIAC in total offense last season but is not as established on defense (seventh in the league at 331 yards per game). Senior free safety Marquez Gibson joined Riley on the preseason All-SIAC first team and linebackers Tyrone Davis and Eric Campen return.
Conner hopes for a better push on the defensive line from a pair of transfers looking for second chances, Darryl Gresham from Florida and Quinton Wesley from Mississippi State.
Benedict gets its first stern test on Sept. 4 with a road game at Tuskegee.