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College football: Woodie Jr. starts 1st year as Bethune

Aug 17, 2023

DAYTONA BEACH — Raymond Woodie Jr. gave the Bethune-Cookman football program a clean slate.

A new staff. More than 50 new players, with transfers and the incoming freshmen class, since the spring game. And new rules.

Not even uniform numbers were set in stone.

At the start of fall camp, Woodie declared the single-digit jersey numbers up for grabs. Players had to earn them in practice.

“Those single-digit numbers stand for something,” he said. “You’ve got to do something to get a jersey, but those guys are bad dudes. They do a lot of things right.”

It led to quarterbacks wearing numbers like 32 or 38 in practice. It’s all about unity and hard work. That’s what Woodie, a B-CU alum, has preached since being hired in February.

“And I tell them, ‘What’s given can be taken away,’” he said. “It’s a standard. The standard is the standard.”

There’s a story behind each number. Redshirt sophomore Eddie Walls III dominated during fall camp. The defensive lineman wore 48 last year but earned No. 9 this year. Running back Jimmie Robinson III, who donned No. 6 the last three seasons, solidified his old number.

“Coach was like, ‘I’m not giving y’all anything because nobody did nothing. Y’all gotta show me what you can do,’” Robinson said. "The guys who are in the single-digit numbers, they work hard. They show up every day, and they make plays. So that’s who he felt deserved to wear those single-digit numbers. He always says the dudes that are wearing the single-digit numbers, those are the guys.”

Now, they have to prove it.

After back-to-back 2-9 seasons, the Wildcats kick off their 2023 campaign on the road against Memphis Saturday. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m.

“The team, the team,” Woodie said. “They’re coming together as a team. We’re excited about that. Their test is against Memphis.”

Speaking of clean slate…

Bethune-Cookman lost its leading passer, top two rushers and top four pass-catchers from a year ago.

2022 starting quarterback Jalon Jones bolted to Charlotte during the offseason, leading to a battle to replace him. Half a dozen QBs have competed for that job, but transfers Tylik Bethea and Luke Sprague clutched the top two spots on the team’s initial depth chart.

Bethea comes to the Wildcats after 14 games and 286 passes in four years at Delaware State. Sprague paced the National Junior College Athletic Association in completions and yards at Nassau Community College last fall.

Woodie said the competition is still ongoing. Multiple QBs, including Walter Simmons III, a holdover from the 2022 roster, could see the field against Memphis.

“We grade every day,” Woodie said. “It’s all about production … We’ll get a better idea later on in the week — probably Thursday.”

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Running backs Robinson, Terry Lindsey and Jaiden Bivens will be tasked with filling the void left by the graduated Que’shaun Byrd. Byrd and Jones combined for 87% of the Wildcats’ rushing output.

At receiver, seniors Daveno Ellington and Dacarri Allen-Johnson totaled 26 catches last season. This year, they take over as the top two targets after leading receiver Marcus Riley (563 yards) transferred to Florida A&M and tight end Kemari Averett (445 yards) graduated.

Most of Woodie’s background is on the defensive side of the ball. He played linebacker and safety at Bethune-Cookman in the 1990s.

Luckily for him, the unit brings back its best player from 2022, senior Omari Hill-Robinson.

Hill-Robinson serves as a lockdown No. 1 corner with elite speed. He picked off a team-high four passes last season on his way to an All-SWAC First-Team nod. He was named a preseason All-SWAC player in July, too.

Redshirt junior defensive back Darnell Deas was the Wildcats’ only other preseason All-SWAC player. He’ll play some defense, but he does most of his damage on special teams. He was an all-conference kick returner, with two touchdowns, last year.

Walls flashed potential throughout the summer and month of August. Following a three-sack season, he added 15 pounds of muscle in the weight room since the spring.

“And he’s still learning,” Woodie said. “He’s been consistent.”

Bethune-Cookman takes on Memphis on Saturday and then hosts Savannah State in its home opener on Sept.. It wraps up non-conference play Thursday, Sept. 14 at Miami.

The SWAC schedule begins Sept. 23 against Jackson State.

The Wildcats will play Southern at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville on Oct. 21. The 2023 Florida Classic against Florida A&M is set for Nov. 18 in Orlando. Bethune-Cookman will attempt to snap a two-game losing streak to the Rattlers.

“We have to take one game at a time,” Woodie said. “Memphis is the most important game because it’s the (next) game on our schedule.”

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Four of the Wildcats’ first five contests happen away from Daytona Stadium. They were picked to finish sixth — last — in the SWAC East.

“I feel like we’re going to shock a lot of people, man,” Robinson said. “We’re young, but I expect these guys to go out and ball. We aren’t making any excuses. New coach, new everything. We’re just going to go get the job done.”

Bethune-Cookman’s offense features a lot of new facesHIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL:Omari Hill-Robinson, Eddie Walls III anchor the Wildcats’ defenseUCF SEASON PREVIEWS: