Gilchrist's return skills a special asset to Hampton

When South Carolina State hosts Hampton on Saturday afternoon at Bulldog Stadium in a key MEAC matchup, it would be a good idea to kick the ball away from Jeremy Gilchrist, the Pirates' outstanding punt returner who is one of the most dangerous return specialists in the nation.

Last year, he set a school record with an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown against Florida A&M.

On Sept. 20, he had an 88-yard return for a score, setting a new mark in a win over North Carolina A&T.

Of course, he wasn't done with the Aggies. Gilchrist also scooted around their special teams for a 56-yard touchdown return in that game. He ended up with an impressive 195 return yards.

Last week, he returned a punt 60 yards for a TD in a victory over Norfolk State.

Gilchrist has returned 15 punts, including three touchdown returns. His average of 20.4 yards per return is fourth in the nation among FCS teams. Hampton head coach Jerry Holmes says Gilchrist uses a number of skills, which has made him a terrific returner.

"He doesn't have that blazing speed," said Holmes. "He doesn't have that 4.39. He may run a 4.5 or something like that. He does have great quickness. He has good instincts, too. He's a leader of that punt-return group. He talks to those guys. He tells them what they have to do. He has good leadership skills."

Gilchrist admits his teammates have enabled him to break long runs.
"It's not just me," Gilchrist said. "I've received some good blocks from my teammates. They've really done a good job of setting me up. It's everybody doing their assignment."

The 5-foot-10, 174-pound senior has plenty of experience returning punts. Last year, he led the nation, averaging 19 yards per return. He returned 20 punts for 380 yards while running three back for scores.

While Gilchrist has performed extremely well as a punt returner, he's been a sensational receiver for the Pirates, too. It doesn't look like he'll be able to match the numbers he had last year, when he amassed 69 receptions for 1,043 yards and seven touchdowns. This season, he has 21 receptions for 300 yards and one touchdown.

"He's done well at wide receiver," Holmes said. "We have Justin Brown, who has caught a lot of passes [25 receptions for 570 yards and 6 TDs]. Justin and Damon McDaniel have played some good football for us. Whenever they double-team Jeremy, they're going to be open."

The Pirates also have receiver Kevin Teel (24 receptions for 247 yards and 1 TD). He's been a big factor in the passing game, along with quarterback Herbert Bynes (100-of-166 for 1,471 yards and 11 TDs)

Gilchrist may have opened a few doors to the NFL after the season with his punt-return skills. Holmes compares his style of running to former New York Jets return man Bruce Harper. Holmes says Gilchrist is a good NFL prospect given his ability to return punts.

"It gives him an edge over the other players when the NFL scouts begin to evaluate players," Holmes said. "You have guys who can catch the football but may not be able to return punts. He can do that."

Hampton (5-1 overall, 4-0 MEAC) and South Carolina State (5-2 overall, 3-0 MEAC) will battle for sole possession of first in the conference. Gilchrist could use a big return against the Bulldogs.

"It's a big game," Gilchrist said. "It's going to be two really good teams battling out there. This game is going to set the table for how things go from here on out."

HBCU notes

• Florida A&M QB Curtis Pulley and Morgan State RB Devan James were named the MEAC Co-Offensive Players of the Week. Pulley completed 13-of-17 passes for 172 yards with three touchdowns. He also rushed 15 times or 118 yards. James led the Bears to a one-point win over Howard. He had 36 carries for a career-high 219 yards and two touchdowns.

• Howard DT James Carter was chosen the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Carter had 11 total tackles, five solo, in a 31-30 loss to Morgan State. He had a career highs in tackles for loss (3.5) and sacks (1.5 sacks).

• It was a huge week for Southern QB Bryant Lee, who completed 25-of-42 passes for 407 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, and rushed 16 times for 64 yards and three TDs, in the Jaguars' 52-49 loss to Florida A&M. Lee was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week and the National Offensive Player of the Week by the Sports Network.

• Jackson State DE Marcus Bernard was selected the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Bernard had seven tackles (3.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup in the Tigers' 30-14 win at Texas Southern.

• Delaware State OT Adrian Brown helped the Hornets produce 423 yards of total offense in a big win over North Carolina A&T. He graded out at 80 percent on his assignments and collected two pancake blocks and three knockdown blocks.

Donald Babers continues to be the most impressive running back in the SWAC. In fact, Babers, Prairie View A&M's quick-footed runner, is the leading ground gainer in the conference. He has 701 yards on 147 carries for a 4.8 yards-per-carry average and eight touchdowns. Last week, he ran for 202 yards on 26 carries in a win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

• Grambling State is one of the hottest teams in HBCU football. The Tigers (6-2 overall, 3-0 SWAC) have won five straight games and are coming off a 27-7 victory over Alabama State.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. You can reach him at dhunt37261@aol.com.