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‘Experts’ predict tough year for UWA Tigers

Voted by Gulf South Conference coaches to finish eighth in 2009, the University of West Alabama Tigers’ roster boasts more talent than their prognostication seems to indicate.

Perhaps the most notable talent spike on the Tigers’ roster exists among the skill players. After playing the majority of the 2008 campaign with a true freshman quarterback, UWA sees redshirt junior starter Deon Williams return for the new season.

“Huge boost,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Will Hall said of Williams’ return. “Deon wasn’t just our quarterback, he was our heartbeat. Deon Williams is a leader. He is some kind of talented.”

When the dual-threat signal-caller went down to a season-ending injury last season, the Tigers were forced to rely on an inexperienced passer in his stead. That experiment, and a host of other issues, led UWA to a 4-7 season.

“Because we had only had one recruiting class, we didn’t have a lot of depth at that position,” Hall said.

The outlook for the UWA passers is considerably different in 2009 as Williams headlines a group that also features redshirt freshman Gary Johnston of Gulf Shores, who has been getting the bulk of the reps with the second team offense.

“They’re both winners,” West Alabama head coach Bobby Wallace said of Williams and Johnston. “They’re both very athletic football players that have a lot of talent. We’ve got more depth at quarterback than I’ve had since I have been here.”

In addition to the improved depth at quarterback, the UWA offense also brings with it a slew of capable runners.

“We’ve got three really good runners,” Wallace said.

The trio is headed by senior Dameon Baylor, who led the team with 783 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground while averaging 4.6 yards per carry in 2008.

Baylor projects to share the rushing load with Roosevelt Ross and former Selma High standout T-Ray Mitchell.

“Dameon Baylor is back. Roosevelt Ross is a big, strong back who we redshirted last year,” Wallace said. “And we’ve got a waiver on T-Ray, who transferred from Jacksonville State. That’s three about as good as I’ve had at this level.”

The West Alabama offense is also helped by the return of its entire 2008 receiving corps.

“We’ve got them all back,” Hall said. “Right now (Michael) Townsend and (Gerald) Worsham are starting.”

Townsend is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior from Forest, Miss. who previously transferred in from East Central Community College. Worsham is a 5-foot-6, 164-pound sophomore from Minor High School. Worsham hauled in five touchdown passes in 2008 while Townsend averaged 14.1 yards per catch.

The position group will also be helped by 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore Terry Levy and 6-foot-2, 195-pound redshirt junior Randy Lowry, a Red Bay, Ala. native and Northeast Mississippi Community College transfer. Levy, who had 419 yards and a team high six touchdown catches a year ago, is currently competing with Lowry for the final starting spot.

Tuscalossa County’s Ken May and Mobile Christian’s Eric McDonald figure to provide depth at the position.

The multi-talented Terry Allen, a 5-foot-7, 154-pound target from J.O. Johnson in Huntsville, could provide big play ability in this season.

“We’ve use him in a Percy Harvin type role,” Hall said of Allen, who rushed for 540 yards and four touchdowns, racked up 419 yards receiving with four touchdowns and threw for two scores in his sophomore season.

While he has plenty of talent at his disposal at the receiver position, Hall is most excited about his tight end spot.

“Our tight end, I think, will be the best one in the conference,” Hall said of Ole Miss transfer Jason Hawkins, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior from Fontana, Calif. “He started for us last year and now he is back.”

That collection of players accounts for more than 3,000 yards of total offense for UWA in 2008.

“Everybody that touched the football for us last year is back except for (graduated fullback) Cole Mason,” Hall said of the offensive group. That level of experience should help the Tigers to quickly achieve one of Wallace’s primary goals.

“The only thing that will keep us from winning is turning the ball over,” Wallace said.

The skill positions return a notable amount of talent and experience. The same many not be as true for the rest of the team.

“Inexperience is a better word to use for the offensive line,” Wallace said of a group that returns All-GSC performer Jon Weinrich and 6-foot-4-inch, 344-pound senior Tim Truss. “We’ve got four guys vying for time on the offensive line.”

On the other side of the ball, UWA returns only four starters, including linemen Jeremy May and Curtis Dawson. J.D. Douglas is the lone returning starter in the secondary while DeAntuan Matthews highlights the linebacking corps.

“Defensively, we’ve got some returning players back that are very good,” Wallace said. “We feel good about who we have. We’re just going to have to learn on the run.”

The Tigers will open their season Thursday, Aug. 27 at Belhaven. Wallace said the team’s objectives over the next two weeks are clear.

“The main thing is getting in the best condition we can get in and executing on offense and defense and not turning the ball over,” he said.