Hampton hopes to stay on top in 2007

It's Tuesday morning around 8:45 and the phone rings in the Hampton football office. The person who answers the phone isn't the secretary. It's Joe Taylor who picks up the line. Taylor, the Pirates head coach, is still getting over his team's 41-38 loss to New Hampshire in the first round of the Division I-AA playoffs.

"We really wanted to get past the first round," Taylor said. "It was a tough loss for our team. But New Hampshire has a great ballclub. You have to give them a lot of credit. It was a real close game and they made some big plays. I'm really proud of our team and all the things we've done over the past two years. We've had a lot of success."

Taylor, the third winningest active coach, has built not only one of the best black college football teams, but one of the nation's finest I-AA programs. The loss to New Hampshire ended the careers for 20 seniors on Hampton's team who were a part of the second winningest class in school history with a four-year 38-9 record.

Now, Taylor faces the challenge of keeping Hampton on top in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with teams such as Delaware State, South Carolina State and Florida A&M ready to climb the ladder. In addition, the Pirates are used to playing in the postseason.

"The expectations are certainly there," Taylor said. "We set the standard. I know the fans want to see us win. I feel real good about some of our players coming back like [running back] Kevin Beverly who did a terrific job this season. Our defensive line should be all right."

Taylor will lose three key players -- running back Alonzo Coleman, linebacker Justin Durant and quarterback Princeton Shepherd -- who led the Pirates to back-to-back MEAC championships.

"We have eight commitments," Taylor said. "We'll get ready for the recruiting period. Recruiting is a big part of this thing. We're going to miss Justin, Alonzo and Princeton. We really appreciate what they did for us. They set the bar for us. Now, we have to go out and replace them among others. That's going to be our job."

HBCU notes
• Pirates running back Alonzo Coleman became just the sixth player in I-AA history to rush for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons, gaining 143 yards against New Hampshire.

• Hampton wide receiver/return specialist Marquay McDaniel became the all-time leader in I-AA in career punt returns with 144. He holds the record for career punt return yards with 1,897.

• Hampton linebacker Justin Durant earned his third consecutive MEAC Defensive Player of the Year honors.

• Hampton head coach Joe Taylor was named the MEAC Coach of the Year. Taylor led his Pirates to an impressive 10-1 regular-season record and a 7-1 league mark, claiming the school's fifth MEAC crown.

• South Carolina State running back Deshawn Baker was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Year. Baker led the MEAC in rushing with 1,289 yards.

• South Carolina State running back William Ford was named the MEAC Rookie of the Year. Ford had 752 rushing yards and 10 TDs.

• Arkansas-Pine Bluf (8-3 overall, 7-2 in the league) comes into the SWAC championship game on Dec. 16 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. with a seven-game winning streak. This will be the Golden Lions' first trip to the title game. UAPB will face Alabama A&M.

• Alabama A&M (8-3 overall, 6-3 league) will make its second consecutive trip to the SWAC championship game. This is the Bulldogs fourth overall appearance in the game's eight-year history.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune.