Edward Waters hopes experience pays off
By Clayton Freeman
Posted Aug 17, 2019 at 12:45 PM
A more experienced Edward Waters team enters the 2019 college football season under second-year head coach Greg Ruffin.
Sitting in his converted football field house, a punt’s distance from the field Edward Waters College aspires to someday call a permanent home, head football coach Greg Ruffin doesn’t need long to highlight his team’s most important change from last fall.
“We had freshmen all over the place,” Ruffin said. “They’re a year older. That’s the biggest thing you can say.”
A year older. Maybe a year better.
That’s the hope for the Tigers and Ruffin, entering his second year in charge of the Northwest Jacksonville school, the second year of a rebuild for a program in transition.
In all, EWC included 54 freshmen on its roster last season. Most of them are back in orange, purple and white.
That experience, Ruffin hopes, will continue to boost a team that improved dramatically last year. A 1-10 team in 2017 — winless entirely except for a homecoming success against the University of God’s Chosen — turned into a respectable squad in 2018.
Against their schedule in 2019, “us beating us” is the last thing the Tigers can afford. When EWC meets Division I opponents Southern and Prairie View, the margin for error shrinks to near zero.
“You come out of those money games and you’re really trying to see how much fight you’ve got in you,” Ruffin said. “You never know what happens. You catch them the right season when they’re down and you’re on, you can come out of there and win one.”
The opportunity is particularly sweet against Southern, a traditional power that finished as Southwestern Athletic Conference runner-up in 2018. The Baton Rouge school will be coming off games against McNeese State and Football Bowl Subdivision program Memphis to enter the Sept. 14 matchup.
“They’re going to be gunning for one,” Ruffin said, “but we won’t flinch. We’re going to put our uniforms on and we’re going to go out and represent Duval.”
Along with the Division I foes, EWC has also scheduled eight teams from NCAA Division II as the college continues taking steps toward a potential eventual move from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics into the NCAA.
The team is set to play its 2019 season at First Coast High School on the Northside. The college is still planning for the development of a new field to the north of its Adams-Jenkins Sports & Music Complex.
Quarterback shapes up as a contest of Roshard Branch, Jayshawn Francis and Lee High School graduate Derrick Jones, who took the majority of the snaps last year. Wideout David Beeks returns after catching 26 passes for 322 yards last year, and Ruffin sees a new weapon in Matthew Wilkerson, a 6-6, 260-pound athlete from ASA College who’s expected to play both tight end and defensive end for the Tigers.
“We’re not starting at zero right now,” Ruffin said. “We’re connecting the dots, and we’re moving on to the next dot.”Edward WatersCoach:
Greg Ruffin (4-7 at school, 11-19 overall).2018 record:
4-7 overall, 2-4 in Mid-South Conference.Top returnees:
WR David Beeks, QB Derrick Jones, DB Christian Hayes, CB Donte LeCorn, LB Mitch Nguyen, DB Jalen ThomasTop losses:
OL Fedner Petit-Homme, OL Justin Slaughter, DB Kennard Mahone, DB Alfredrick TysonSchedule:
With two Division I foes, EWC is taking on some of its stiffest opposition since resuming its football program. Instead of the usual opposition from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, Edward Waters faces 10 schools from NCAA institutions — the Oct. 12 homecoming against Allen is the lone exception — and two opponents, Southern and Prairie View A&M, from the Football Championship Subdivision. The Tigers must make the most of their games in October (Oct. 5 at Central State, Oct. 12 against Allen, Oct. 19 against Miles, Oct. 26 at Kentucky State and Oct. 31 against Tuskegee), where all of their foes were at or below .500 last year.Outlook:
Improving last year’s 4-7 record against this schedule will be no easy feat, but after lining up with more than 50 freshmen in 2018, Ruffin is optimistic that experience will make a difference. Defense returns much of its strength, particularly in the secondary, where Hayes and Thomas were key playmakers last season. But the Tigers must improve their efficiency in the passing game, where they completed only 45.2% of their attempts last season.