Tallahassee native and ex-college and arena league quarterback Willie Simmons has returned to his hometown to take over the Florida A&M program.
Simmons, 37, has three years of experience as a head coach, going 21-11 at Prairie View A&M. However, his win total declined each year, from eight to seven to six in 2017.
In an interesting move as it relates to recruiting, Simmons hired legendary Miami prep coach Billy Rolle as his assistant head coach. Rolle won four state titles with three Miami schools — Northwestern, Killian and Southridge.
Simmons and his staff inherit an FAMU Rattlers team that finished 3-8 last season — eighth place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference – and hasn’t beaten rival Bethune-Cookman since 2010.
In addition, the Rattlers — picked to finish fifth this season in the MEAC — did not place a single player on the league’s preseason first team.
Ten Rattlers made the second or third team, but that was seen as a lack of respect by FAMU players.
“Seeing that they put me on third-team just adds fuel to my fire,” FAMU quarterback Ryan Stanley told reporters at the recent MEAC Media Day event in Norfolk, Virginia. “It motivates me harder.”
Stanley, who led Flanagan High to its first-ever playoff berth a few years ago, is off to a promising start to his college career. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes last season while posting a 16-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Running back Devin Bowers, a second-team All-MEAC pick, returns after running for 652 yards, a 4.7 average and six touchdowns.
Sophomore Ricky Henrilus, who ran for 506 yards, two touchdowns and a 6.3 average, has switched to wide receiver. He caught five passes — including two for touchdowns last year.
Henrilus will team with sophomore Chad Hunter and junior Marcus Williams at receiver. Hunter caught 31 passes last year, leading the team in average (18.5) and touchdowns (six). Williams added 26 catches for 305 yards and two touchdowns.
FAMU’s offensive line is a team strength with three blockers who made either second- or third-team All-MEAC in this preseason: juniors Loubens Polinice and Khalil Harris and senior Obinna Nwankwo. FAMU allowed just 14 sacks last season, and the Rattlers averaged 4.3 per rush.
Defense was a problem, however, as the Rattlers averaged 28.1 points per game as opposed to their 22.0 norm on offense.
The Rattlers allowed 4.7 yards per rush and gave up 19 touchdowns on the ground and that same number in the air. FAMU’s defense allowed a 53-percent conversion rate on third down and 50 percent on fourth.
Returning defensive leaders include end Antonio Miller, linebacker Jibreel Hazly and secondary standouts Terry Jefferson and Orlando McKinley.
McKinley led the team with three interceptions and was third in tackles. Miller was second with 6.5 tackles for losses.
FAMU opens the season Sept. 1 against Fort Valley State. The annual Florida Classic against Bethune-Cookman, televised by ESPN Classic, will be played Nov. 17.
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