Fort Valley State lost some quality talent on both sides of the ball after the 2013 season, including some players who will get at least a look from the NFL.
Former BCS-conference player DeRon Furr is gone at linebacker, as are veterans JaBioas Glenn, Calvin Jackson and Thomas Wolfe III in the secondary, Cody Nash on the defensive line and Marquise Franklin on the offensive line.
And Eugene Smith, who started most of the season at quarterback, is done, as well.
The Wildcats lost a fair number of quality starters, but they also return a lot, maybe more than in any season under head coach Donald Pittman.
Were trying to get as much done as we can, Pittman said. Im glad we have a number of student-athletes returning. We just need to recruit for our needs.
There was plenty of talent on last years team, but it never translated into a talented or consistent team. A propensity for penalties -- usually of the 15-yard variety that often erased a decent play -- helped the Wildcats self-destruct regularly and stumble to a 4-6 season with only two losses by double figures.
One key returnee is rover LeRon Furr, listed all year as a senior. But Pittman said he has another year of eligibility, thanks to a medical redshirt season.
Furr will anchor a defense that looks to be quite good. The Wildcats are fairly loaded up front and linebacker, minus DeRon Furr.
The secondary is a question mark, so thats one of the areas Pittman is looking to bolster.
A key returnee on offense is at a position Pittman is used to refilling seemingly every year: quarterback. Freshman Malcolm Eady took the job from Smith late in the season and was a bright spot. He moved from running back and will have a full spring and preseason at quarterback. His targets? Thats on the list of question marks.
DeAngelo Smith, Stephen Stroman and Donte Warren are gone at wideout and tight end.
Running back Seth Hill was lost for the season in the opener against Valdosta State and is slated to be back, bolstering a strong backfield that should include returnees Michael Bellamy, Jonquez Sanders and Nikilous McDaniels.
The Wildcats have a decent number of offensive linemen back, led by Brandon Baker and Brian Cornish.
We have more (back than usual), Pittman said. But our plan is to upgrade at that position. Its early, but were feeling pretty good about it.
Penalties and mistakes plagued the Wildcats, who were shorthanded on the sidelines as far as players and full-time coaches.
Fans and spectators, they see the talent, and they wonder why we lost as many games, said Pittman, who also operates with about a dozen or so fewer scholarships than the 36 allowed in Division II. We have a positive attitude, but the reality is its pretty difficult to win with three coaches.
Campus-wide budget cuts a year ago basically halved the FVSU staff, and Pittman tried to make do with some qualified volunteers. Is there help on the horizon?
No additional ones, Pittman said. Were thinking positive about it, that itll happen soon.
So Pittman and the staff small enough to have a meeting in a car will try to scour the state and region.
Im just fortunate we have a number of quality people returning so we can go out and just recruit for needs, he said. Because of Fort Valley States tradition, there are a number of people that know weve been a winner in the past. That overrides the losing season last year.
Thats what we tell them, that were going to rebound from last season, that were going to have a better team.