James Reilly ’21

Sports Writer

The Davidson football team springs forth on the field, tackling a new season with high energy.  Photo courtesy of  Tim Cowie/DavidsonPhotos.com

When Scott Abell accepted the head coaching job of Davidson football over a year ago, he took over a program that had accumulated nine wins over six seasons. Facing the tall task of righting a sinking ship, Abell had one main focus: to establish a winning culture that had been missing for over a decade. 

The 2018 season was the first step in forging the new identity Coach Abell  envisioned. The Wildcats clawed their way to a 6-5 record, a tall feat for a team that had not finished a season above .500 since 2007. This showed the players they had the tools to compete in the Pioneer League, and it brought a new confidence moving into 2019. 

Quarterback Tyler Phelps ‘21 feels the culture change was palpable: “Getting a winning season gave us a glimpse of our potential and a lot of motivation in the offseason that has propelled us so far this year,” Phelps said. 

That potential has been evident on the field so far this season as well. Football began the year 3-0 before losing a hard-fought battle against a talented Campbell team on Saturday. Still, at 3-1, the Wildcats have proven they are ready to compete for a Pioneer League title. 

The 31-29 loss to Campbell was tough to swallow for the players after they overcame a late 14-point deficit before allowing a game-winning field goal in the waning seconds. However, with their first conference matchup approaching this Saturday versus Morehead State, Phelps feels that a character-building loss could not have come at a better time. “We’re going to let that heartbreak [against Campbell] fuel us the rest of the year. We’ll take it one week at a time and for now, all of our focus is on our first conference game versus Morehead State,” he explained. 

That one-step-at-a-time mentality is how Coach Abell has been able to re-energize this program from the ground up. He installed an entirely new offensive approach, relying heavily on a triple option that has caused opposing defenses fits this season. The formidable ground attack has led the offense to score 35.5 points per game so far this year, outscoring their opponents by 84 points. Perhaps even more impressively, the ‘Cats are out-rushing opponents by an astonishing 1,118 yards, racking up over 320 yards per game on the ground.

Already, five players have rushed for over 100 yards on the season, including Phelps and skill players Jorell Story ‘20, Wesley Dugger ‘21, Eli Turner ‘22, and Khaleel Shaw ‘20. And while the rushing attack is the focal point of Davidson’s offense, Abell is not afraid to let the quarterbacks air it out when he sees fit. Phelps and second-string quarterback Louis Colosimo ‘21 have combined for four touchdown passes to just two interceptions. With so many weapons to defend, opposing teams have struggled to stop the Wildcats in crucial moments. 

On the defensive end, one of the team’s largest contributors has been cornerback Rayshawn McCall ‘20, who’s picked off two passes and brought one back for a touchdown in Week 2 versus Virginia Lynchburg. The team has shown significant defensive improvement from the 2018 campaign, allowing just 58 points and forcing four turnovers in the first four matchups; last season they allowed 144 points through four games.

With the offense rolling and the defense following suit, Davidson football is finally on a clear upward trajectory, and nobody is more excited about this progress than the players.

 Defensive back Sean Holton ‘21 summed it up best: “We did a good job of creating a new culture last season,” Holton said. “But now, we’re focused on establishing a program.” Coach Abell and company appear primed to do just that.