Alvin Wyatt had for years openly joked about the poor facilities at Bethune-Cookman. He would laugh about the challenges of wooing recruits sitting in the football offices housed in a trailer.
At a media day last month in Tampa, Wyatt broke character. He spoke with pride about upgrades, including new offices smack dab in the middle of campus. He spoke of the school's plans to invest $7-million in a new field house and other improvements.
Another question followed: Would Wyatt be around to see the completed projects?
Wyatt stuck a Band-Aid on consecutive 5-6 seasons with a 34-7 win against FAMU in last season's Florida Classic that capped a 3-1 finish. But some fans have faded memories of the success of Wyatt, who in 1996 inherited a program with 12 consecutive losing seasons.
"I feel like I have returned the football team to glory even though the last three years we have struggled," he said. "I don't feel the pressure at all, period. I enjoy what I'm doing. If we stay on pace long enough, eventually someone's going to step in. I look forward to that day, but I don't look for it too soon."
If fellow coaches are a good barometer, the woes will continue. The Wildcats were picked by MEAC coaches to finish seventh among nine teams in the conference. That's understandable with so many questions on both sides of the ball. But Wyatt sees a team with promise.
The Wildcats lost quarterback Jimmie Russell, who rushed for 816 yards and 13 touchdowns and threw for 775 and two touchdowns.
He'll be replaced by senior McKinson Souverain, who had limited playing time in 10 games last season but threw for 402 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 99 and a score.
Souverain is mobile and quick. He is elusive, but some wonder if he can throw on the run.
"We have a quarterback that can really get us over the hump; that will get us back to our winning ways," Wyatt said. "With this kid, if he stays healthy, then I think our team will have a lot of success. We're back in the position to do what we need to do."
Defensively, the Wildcats held teams to an average of 295.5 yards, ninth among I-AA teams. But the unit lost some key leaders, including former USF transfer and MEAC defensive player of the year Ronnie McCullough, who led the Wildcats with 149 tackles.
Wyatt picked up what has been heralded as his best recruiting class in recent memory, which includes former Plant receiver Kevin James. He also added USF transfer Josh Smiley, who will start at inside linebacker.
"We finished strong at the end of the season," Wyatt said. "I thought we finally turned the corner and got things going offensively in the right direction. We were able to put some back-breaking losses behind us, gather our team and get the character back that we needed to have some success at the end of the season."
Izzy Gould can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 580-5315.