Senior defensive tackle Johnny Hartsfield said he’s had more people come up and talk to him about the Coastal Carolina football team in the last few months than he did in his first two years with the program, and it certainly didn’t hurt that the Chanticleers submitted an encouraging first effort under new head coach Joe Moglia while winning their season opener last weekend.
“A lot of people have been telling me the score – I didn’t remember what the score was. So that’s different,” Hartsfield said of the reaction he’s received this week.
University president David DeCenzo had hoped his polarizing decision to change football coaches after nine seasons would rejuvenate interest in the program, and there has no doubt been ample curiosity – if not a legitimate buzz – leading into this season. Now, though, it’s up to the Chants to sustain it, and the challenge only gets tougher.
After opening with a 29-13 win over North Carolina A&T, Coastal goes on the road to play Furman on Saturday night at Paladin Stadium in one of the tougher road environments the vaunted Southern Conference has to offer. The Paladins have won 12 straight home openers and 21 straight non-conference regular-season home games overall, so a test like this should reveal plenty about these new-look Chants.
“I recognize one win is just one step in a long journey,” Moglia acknowledged. “I very much recognize that. I believe our team recognizes that. There were a lot of things we can improve on.”
But also a lot of things the Chants can build on, as well.
If the passing attack can produce like it did a week ago – with senior quarterback Aramis Hillary throwing for a career-high 274 yards – and the running game can match its 163-yard effort in a formidable road challenge, there will be plenty of weight behind all that preseason talk of the offensive’s potential.
If the defense can play clutch in the red zone again, make plays behind the line of scrimmage and force turnovers – as it did with three interceptions and a safety against the Aggies – there will be plenty of reason for optimism in general for this team.
Those are ifs to be answered Saturday, though.
“We’ve got to take care of business,” Moglia said. “Furman is a good football team. Furman is a better team than A&T. You know, we’ve got to play well.”
The Paladins lost their opener on the road in a tightly-contested game at Samford, falling 24-21, and fell to the Chants 30-23 a year ago when the teams met in Conway. But now in their second season under head coach Bruce Fowler – a longtime Furman assistant who returned to his alma mater after serving as the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt – the Paladins are hoping to take another step this year back toward national relevance and toward adding to their Southern Conference-record 12 league championships.
On the field, the Paladins are led by a proficient running back in senior Jerodis Williams, who has more than 2,000 career rushing yards; a preseason All-American tight end in senior Colin Anderson, who was their leading receiver a year ago with 696 yards and seven scores; a senior quarterback in Conway High School product Dakota Derrick, who is in his fifth season in the program but first as a full-time starter; and a handful of key returning starters on defense.
It’s the running game – and the Paladins’ blocking scheme – that especially has Moglia’s attention.
“Their running back is really good. He was certainly very effective last year,” Moglia said. “… He could hurt us. We need to do a good job with our run fits, and the run fits are going to be a challenge because of all the crossing and pulling that takes place up front.”
As for Moglia and the Chants, it seems clear that the players have at least bought in to the new coaching staff and look to be on the same page even if some of the program’s fans still remain skeptical.
“I think some people wanted to see coach Moglia fall on his face and some people wanted to see him succeed,” Hillary said. “Personally, as a team we want to win ballgames and we want to see coach succeed. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. He’s made it feel like a family environment. We love him here, and we’re going to do as much as we can. We want to get as many wins as we can for him.”
And Hillary and his teammates know another victory over the Southern Conference’s all-time-winningest program, this time on the road, would do a lot for the Chants in more ways than one. Because, of course, more than just re-engaging the fan base, the Coastal Carolina administration is hoping this new era of Chanticleer football has the program on the path toward bigger things on the field as well.
“They have a winning tradition, and we want to bring that winning tradition to Coastal Carolina,” Hillary said of Furman. “So it’s going to be huge for us looking forward down the road in the future if we can start to progress as the 1-AA powerhouse in the state. So I think it’s a pretty big rival. They want us and we want them, and I think it’s going to be a pretty good game Saturday.”
Or at least one that should tell plenty about where this season is heading.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.