SPARTANBURG — Among Citadel football players and coaches, only two have been at the military school longer than running back Rickey Anderson — head coach Kevin Higgins and assistant coach Aashon Larkins.
Preparing for his sixth season (he earned an extra year due to medical hardship), Anderson has seen the Bulldogs evolve from a pass-happy squad that won seven games his freshman year to a triple-option team that won just three and four games the last two seasons.
“A lot of ups and downs,” Anderson said Thursday at the Southern Conference media day. “Mostly downs, at least in the public eye.”
But as the Bulldogs ready for their third season in the triple option, Anderson and his teammates believe The Citadel is ready for a breakthrough — maybe even their first winning season since they went 7-4 in 2007, Anderson’s freshman year.
“It is time for that breakthrough,” said Anderson, who rushed for 498 yards and two touchdowns last year as The Citadel went 4-7 overall and 2-6 in the SoCon. “This is our third year in the triple option and it’s going to be a big turnaround. I think a lot of people are going to be impressed with what we are doing.”
SoCon media and coaches are not quite as convinced, each picking The Citadel to finish eighth in the nine-team league this season. Defending league champion Georgia Southern finished atop both polls, with Wofford second by the media and Appalachian State second according to the coaches.
Higgins, 31-47 in eight seasons at The Citadel, said the key to a breakthrough will be in improving a passing game that averaged just 32.2 yards per game and produced only one touchdown pass all last season — thrown by Anderson. Quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller combined to hit just 45.7 percent of their passes with six interceptions and no TDs.
“We’ve got to be more consistent on offense and be able to throw the football better,” Higgins said.
“And that will allow us to run the ball better, as well.”
Both Dupree, a rising junior, and the sophomore Miller spent the summer working on their passing skills in 7-on-7 drills.
“We gave them numbers and routes and things they needed to do,” Higgins said. “They are both gym rats and worked hard with our receivers, so hopefully they will be that much further ahead in understanding what we are trying to do.”
Defensive tackle Derek Douglas, coming back from a knee injury suffered in the spring, predicted that The Citadel would finish higher than the predicted eighth.
“They are in for a real shock this season,” Douglas said. “Some guys will take it as motivation, and some won’t think too much of it. Predictions don’t mean anything until the season goes on.”
— Citadel center Mike Sellers, punter Cass Couey and defensive end Chris Billingslea were named to the first-team all-SoCon preseason squad by the coaches. Douglas and fullback Darien Robinson made the second team.
— Wofford running back Eric Breitenstein was named preseason offensive player of the year, and Georgia Southern lineman Brent Russell the defensive player of the year.
— The Citadel’s Oct. 27 game at Wofford is set for broadcast on ESPN3.com, one of eight SoCon games that will be shown. The telecast schedule: Sept 8, Montana at App State; Sept. 29, Samford at Georgia Southern; Oct. 13, Chattanooga at Furman; Oct. 20, Western Carolina at Elon; Nov. 3, App State at Georgia Southern; Nov. 10, TBA; Nov. 17, TBA.