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Norfolk State was picked second in the MEAC preseason football poll. That’s not good enough for new coach Dawson Odums and his players.

Virginian-Pilot
Virginian-Pilot
 2021-07-30
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Norfolk State quarterback Juwan Carter, shown during a 2019 game, is 1,998 passing yards away from becoming the school’s all-time leader. Jason Hirschfeld / The/Virginian-Pilot

A new coach, new regime and now new expectations.

Norfolk State was picked to finish second in the six-team MEAC in a poll of coaches and sports information directors at the conference’s media day on Friday in Norfolk.

But while the preseason prediction is flattering, it’s hardly the goal.

“I don’t think anybody in the world wants to be No. 2 in the world at anything,” said Justin Smith, a redshirt senior wide receiver named to the preseason second-team offense. “So us as a team, we’re gonna fight and push so we can be No. 1, MEAC champs and have a chance at the Celebration Bowl.”

Senior quarterback Juwan Carter was named the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and overall, 12 Spartans made the first team.

The Celebration Bowl pits the MEAC champion against the SWAC champion, and that crossover is already Dawson Odums’ reality.

The new Norfolk State coach moved from Southern University of the SWAC, and his message of discipline and physicality has resonated. Norfolk State did not play during the 2020 season because of the pandemic.

“A lot of us are focused more on doing the little things right going into camp,” redshirt junior safety Stuart Anderson said. “He’s a real discipline-focused guy.”

For Odums, discipline begins in the classroom. He picked Smith and Anderson as NSU’s two representatives because they already received their college degree.

Smith is the Spartans’ top receiver, known for making flashy grabs and stuffing the highlight reel. Anderson is a nose-to-the-grindstone special-teams standout who has served as a holder and transitioned to safety from wide receiver in 2019.

“I’ve been a wide receiver here and it didn’t seem like it was clicking,” Anderson said. “I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t think I was ready, so I went back to what I knew. I played (defensive back) in high school.”

Norfolk State’s secondary owns a stock of talented underclassmen, and the defensive line returns several veterans, including De’Shaan Dixon, a former Western Branch High star.

“It’s gonna be about effort and a will and desire to hunt that football,” Odums said. “People know me. People know my background. We’re gonna play defense. If we don’t do nothing else, we’re gonna play defense and we’re gonna play a certain style of defense. It’s gonna be a physical style of defense.”

Dixon, linemen Tavien Blackwell and Chris Myers and defensive back Devyn Coles made the preseason first-team defense, along with punter Ryan Richter and kicker Josh Nardone.

The high-flying offense will create an appealing dichotomy. Odums retained offensive coordinator B.T. Sherman and offensive line coach Brandon Torrey from the previous staff to maintain continuity for an offense that set school records in 2019.

Carter, running back Kevin Johnson, receiver Da’Kendall James, tight end Shawn McFarland and linemen Jalen Powell and Justin Redd made the preseason first-team offense.

Carter is 1,998 passing yards away from becoming the school’s all-time leader.

“I believe we have one of the best offenses in FCS,” Smith said, “so we have to put the pieces together and continue to put the pieces together to showcase that week in and week out.”

Carter has impressed Odums with his leadership, and having a quarterback with that type of confidence is vital for spreading the coach’s message, Odums said.

“I call it hashtag 101,” Odums said. “We try to stay 1-0 every day. Zero negativity and 1% better (every day).”

Ray Nimmo, 757-446-2364, ray.nimmo@pilotonline.com

MEAC preseason poll

School (first-place votes);Points

1. South Carolina State (5);118

2. Norfolk State (2);96

3. North Carolina Central (2);78

4. Delaware State (1);56

5. Morgan State (1);48

6. Howard (1);36

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