Former Mitchell County star WR and ASU rising sophomore Jaquan Williams, left, is currently academically ineligible, while Camilla native Yancey Burns has joined the Rams’ roster.
ALBANY — The long list of former Mitchell County stars to join the Albany State football team got even longer this spring with the addition of Yancey Burns, the Eagles’ leading receiver as a senior in 2011.
But just as Burns, who was a member of The Herald’s 2011 All-Area team and spent the last two seasons at Division II Newberry (S.C.) College, is stepping on the ASU football field, fellow former Mitchell County star receiver Jaquan Williams is on his way off.
Williams, who had the second most receiving touchdowns (3) at ASU as a freshman last season, is academically ineligible this spring and did not play in last week’s scrimmage. The rising sophomore will be left off the 2014 roster this fall if his grades don’t improve by the end of the spring.
“As a student-athlete that’s part of the deal, and nobody knew that more than him,” ASU coach Mike White said. “He is a young kid, and a lot of times when you get to college you don’t focus on what’s important. Now he’s got some catching up to do.”
Last year, Williams caught 10 passes for 143 yards and three scores and was a key member of a WR unit that was headed by Jessie Atkins — yet another former Mitchell County star receiver.
Atkins led ASU in receiving the last two seasons and finished with 51 catches for 661 yards and eight touchdowns last year as a junior. Counting Williams, the Rams now have five Camilla natives, including defensive linemen Grover Stewart and Anthony Brown.
“That’s nice to have those guys from the same school,” White said. “They are very familiar with each other. We probably have more players from Mitchell County than any other school.”
Burns, ASU’s newest Camilla native, did not have a catch in last week’s scrimmage, and White said the Eagles’ former go-to receiver still needs to prove himself on the field for the Rams. As a senior at Mitchell County, Burns led the Eagles with 44 catches for 817 yards and 14 touchdowns and signed a scholarship with Newberry College, where he was redshirted in 2012 and barely saw the field in 2013.
“The jury is still out to see how much Yancey will contribute on the field, but I do know he has very good hands and catches the ball well,” White said. “He has the whole offseason to get up to speed on the offense and see how he can contribute.”
Other key returning receivers are Tevin Isom (12 catches, 211 yards, 2 TDs), Devonta Osborne (19-200-0) and Lenard Walker (10-156-2).
EVALUATING FILM: After viewing film from Thursday’s Blue and Gold spring game, White said he and his coaching staff were disappointed in several areas, including pass rushing, pass protection and making reads on both sides of the ball.
“We thought we were further along at correcting some of our mistakes from the season,” White said.
The biggest positive White took from the scrimmage was the play of Rams who will likely be stepping into starting roles next season for the first time, including offensive lineman Danny Bunch and defensive backs Cedric Ashe and Ryan Selby.
“It was great to see some of those guys stepping up, and it was great to see Danny get back in there,” White said about Bunch, a 6-foot-5, 380-pound left tackle who played for the Rams in 2011 but had been academically ineligible the last two seasons. “Some of those guys who stepped in for those seniors we lost did a good job. That probably was the bright spot.”
REPLACING TOTTEN: Rams quarterback coach Willie Totten left for Division I Alabama A&M in January, and White is waiting to hear final budget numbers before replacing the legendary coach.
“That’s not what we are actively doing right now. It’s something that will probably be addressed later this summer,” White said.
Between 20 and 30 coaches have expressed interest in the position, which was held by Totten for one season. Before joining the ASU staff, Totten had been away from football after stepping down as head coach at Mississippi Valley State in 2009. His legacy at MVSU spanned three decades and started with his playing days in the 1980s when he set more than 50 Division 1-AA passing records with the help of Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice.
“We were really lucky to get Willie, and he really, really helped us,” White said. “I hated that he had to go, but that’s the way it is. The good thing is that we can take our time and make a good decision (for his replacement). We just hope we can get a guy that can fill the void that Willie left.”