Head coaching changes are usually hard on football teams. However, the transition from Bill Hayes to Pete Richardson at Winston-Salem State is an exception to that rule.
When Hayes left to become head coach at North Carolina A&T in 1988, Richardson took over and guided the Rams to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) championship in his first year.``When you have a good organization coming in,' said Richardson, ``and the full support of the administration, it makes the transition a whole lot easier.'
Richardson relied on the veteran players who knew Hayes' system to help the newcomers along.
``The upperclassmen were players with positive attitudes who knew how to win,' Richardson said. ``Their attitudes were contagious, and they brought the freshmen along slowly.
``The key to our success is that the kids believe in the system. If we stay positive, we'll stay successful.'
The Rams will attempt to repeat their performance from 1989, when they finished 8-2 and won their seventh consecutive CIAA Southern Division title.
Quarterback Kenny Jones, the conference's offensive player of the year last season, and All-American tailback Broderick Graves are both gone, but the offense should be strong, with senior fullback Rodney McKoy and juniors Ronald Beverly, Willie Latta and Everette Norwood returning in the Ram backfield. Mitchell Nicholson, a sophomore transfer from Lees-McRae, is expected to get the starting nod at quarterback.
All-CIAA split end Yancey Thigpen anchors the receiving corps. Thigpen caught six touchdown passes last season.
All-American placekicker Dino Beligrinis also returns for the Rams. He contributed 63 points to the offense last season, hitting 39 of 42 PATs and missing just two of his 10 field goal tries.
``Offensively, we're in decent shape,' said Richardson. ``Our nucleus is mostly intact. Kenny Jones' shoes at quarterback will be hard to fill, but I feel good about the offense.'
The Rams had the top defense in all of Division II football last season, but seven starters, including four All-CIAA performers, are gone off the defensive unit. Tackle John Brown and nose guard Ryan Marshburn lead the line, while seniors Greg Waller and Petey Whitfield head the team's defensive perimeter.
``We are just as good or better than anyone in the conference,' said Richardson. ``We've just got to go out there and play our game. We can't slack off, because every game is a big one.'