Benedict Set To Kick Off Season

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BC SID) — The day that Benedict College fans have been waiting for nearly nine months is finally here. Coach Mike White, who was hired in December to turn the Tiger football program around, will finally lead his team on the field Saturday in the 2015 season opener against the Livingstone Blue Bears in the annual Palmetto Capital City Classic. Kickoff is 5 p.m., with pregame festivities, honoring the military, starting at 4:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ASPiRE network. Benedict will stream its radio broadcast. From the first day on the job, White and his coaching staff focused on beefing up the offensive and defensive line. The Tigers now have 11 players on the roster who tip the scales at more than 300 pounds, including sophomore Damien Henson, who comes in at a gargantuan 6-foot-5, 380 pounds. It all goes to White’s philosophy of fielding a big, physical team in the trenches. Gameday Central Game time: 5 p.m. TV: ASPiRE (Columbia Time Warner Cable channel 185) Radio: Stretch Internet Live Stats: Sidearm Live Stats “It all starts up front with the big boys,” White said. “You’ve got to be able to run the ball when you want to and you’ve got to be able to stop people from running the ball at the same time. I think we’ve got to get our line and build from there. I thought we did a pretty good job recruiting some big boys in here, and now we’ve just got to get them in the right mindset so we can accomplish those things.” While the Tigers may be bigger, the 2015 version will also be extremely young. Benedict has 27 freshmen on the opening day roster, and another 22 sophomores. About 75 percent of Benedict’s roster this season are first or second-year players. White has been preaching patience this preseason. But he hopes if the team plays hard and fast, they can overcome any rookie mistakes. “We’re a young team. We want to play hard,” White said. “We want to line up and just let the guys not worry a whole lot about trying to think too much and just allow them to play and play fast.” The Tigers will likely open with a true freshman at quarterback in Kalu Onumah, who threw for more than 1,000 yards with 13 touchdowns at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, Ga., last year. But White said the coaching staff won’t be afraid to make a switch if Onumah struggles on Saturday. “We’ll probably see more than him on the field. He’s still, when he gets into a tight spot, not making good decisions or throwing the ball away,” White said. “He’ll still try to stick in there and do something as a young guy will do sometimes. I still think you’ll see quarterback by committee right now.” White said the Tigers like Onumah’s size at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, and his ability to deliver the ball. “Right off, he seems to be executing versus air, but when you put those 11 defenders over there and you take his first threat away is when we’re having some issues,” White said. Quarterback play and the protection from the offensive line will be key for the Tigers, as White wants to get the ball into the hands of sophomore wide receiver Okechi Ntiasagwe as much as possible. “No question about it, he’s our best receiver,” White said of Ntiasagwe, who had 286 yards receiving and four touchdowns last year as a freshman. White also sees George Myers Jr. and Jevric Blocker as more offensive threats. They will see time as running backs, slot receivers and on the kickoff and punt return teams. “Those guys are playmakers,” White said. “How we’re doing up front with our line is going to say a lot about how successful we are on Saturday.” Defensively, the Tigers will have to contend with a high-powered no-huddle offensive attack by the Blue Bears. Livingstone returns quarterback Drew Powell, the 2014 CIAA Offensive Player of the Year, and wide receiver Jalen Hendricks, a preseason All-American, from an offense that averaged 32 points per game last season. “They’re going to give our defense a fit,” White said. “Offensively, we’ve got to be able to protect the ball and not so much keep it away from them, but be efficient with it when we get it. I think the guys are excited about it being the first game, but being a Classic makes it more exciting. I like the attitude, I like the way we’re working and I see big things in the future.” Livingstone Coach Daryl Williams said it is no secret the Blue Bears will need to have a big game from Powell and Hendricks to be successful. “When we call play, we’re going to think of playmakers instead of plays. We’re going to try to get the ball to our playmakers early in the game,” Williams said. And while he has heard all about how young Benedict will be, Williams knows the Tigers will have a potent weapon on the sideline. “Coach White has a winning pedigree,” Williams said. “They’re going to play fast. I’m not buying that they’re a young football team. They’re going to be prepared and ready to play football. I think they’ve got a lot of transfers in. We’re going to be ready for whatever they come up with.”

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