There are a number of reasons why Hampton is regarded as one of the best teams in Division I-AA. You can point to Joe Taylor, Hampton's head coach, who is one of the top coaches in the nation. The Pirates also have two solid All-America candidates in linebacker Justin Durant and running back Alonzo Coleman.
However, the reasons go beyond that trio. Princeton Shepherd, Hampton's quarterback, has played a huge role in the team's success. The 6-foot-5, 203-pound senior has completed 52-of-77 passes for 631 yards. He has thrown seven touchdown passes and only one interception in four games.
Shepherd was a major player in leading Hampton to a 26-8 victory over Morgan State, giving the Pirates their 500th all-time victory. Shepherd completed 12-of-18 passes for 121 yards and three TDs while rushing for 47 yards. His performance earned him the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week.
He moved into fourth place all-time at Hampton with 3,997 passing yards, while climbing the ladder to fifth place all-time in the school's record books with 4,338 yards of total offense.
"He's very elusive," said Donald Hill-Eley, Morgan State head coach. "He has a lot of range and a strong arm. We got pressure on him, but he was able to get out of the pocket."
Shepherd's favorite targets are wide receivers Marquay McDaniel (23 receptions for 311 yards, 4 TDs) and Onrea Jones (20 catches for 223 yards, 4 TDs). The Pirates (4-0 overall, 3-0 league) ranked No. 12 nationally among I-AA teams and will need their passing game in high gear when they visit Delaware State (2-1 overall, 1-0 league) at Alumni Stadium in Dover on Saturday night.
Hampton has won 15 consecutive games in the MEAC. Delaware State was the last team to beat Hampton in the conference. Hornets head coach Al Lavan is well aware of Shepherd's talents.
"He's a guy who runs Joe's offense very well," Lavan said. "He's a player who throws the ball with accuracy. He's mobile. He has height and size. He can break tackles. He makes good decisions."
Taylor credits the Pirates offensive coordinator Chris Beatty with making a big impact on Shepherd's play.
"It starts in the classroom," Taylor said. "Coach Beatty had made it comprehensive. He's reading defenses. He's not looking into one receiver. He's been able to do that at a high level."
• Bethune-Cookman free safety Bobbie Williams was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Week for the second consecutive week. Williams picked off three passes, giving him 13 career interceptions. His 13 interceptions ties for sixth place in the school's record books with current Green Bay Packers defensive back Nick Collins.
• Alabama State junior RB Jay Peck was selected as the Southwestern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Peck had 31 carries for 196 yards and two TDs in a win over Alcorn State.
• Ronald Green, Mississippi Valley State defensive lineman, was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Green had 11 total tackles (seven solo) and finished with two tackles for loss and a sack.
• The MEAC and the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) are 1-1 in terms of non-league play this season. Two weeks ago, Morgan State defeated Bowie State, 28-20. But North Carolina Central topped Southern, 27-20 last week.
• Norfolk State sophomore Andrew Ramer has started 12 consecutive games on the offensive line, but made the first start of his career at left guard against VMI. He will remain there for the foreseeable future to allow senior transfer Nate Manning to remain at his natural tackle position. Manning cracked the starting lineup for the first time against VMI.
• Dereck Faulkner, Hampton's senior slot receiver, played with Iowa's star running back Albert Young at Moorestown High School in Moorestown, N.J. Faulkner and Young talk to each other at least twice a week.
• North Carolina A&T long snapper Lorenza Coffin was eager to show Aggie coaches what he could do, so he decided to come over to the coaches' offices and long snap a few footballs. When the coaches didn't seem interested, he went out into the parking lot and began long snapping anyway. He snapped about 10 before the coaches noticed him and saw how accurately the ball was being snapped. He earned a spot on the team.
• It looks like Alvin Wyatt, Bethune-Cookman head coach, may have another rising star on defense. Linebacker Brent Davis stepped in for the injured Ronnie McCollough and started at the rover spot for the Wildcats. Davis tied for second on the team with seven total tackles. He picked up seven tackles (two solo, five assisted), chipped in on 2½ tackles for a loss of 11 yards, and recorded one sack for a 10-yard loss during Norfolk State's final possession.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune.