Following Coastal Carolina’s first official practice in the August afternoon heat, the team gathered around a fit, trim and fired-up head coach Joe Moglia.
One year after he announced he was taking a timeout for health reasons, the 69-year-old CEO-turned-football coach was back in his element and doing what he does best — motivation.
“I’m in good shape,” said Moglia, who missed last season with a five-month hiatus to recover from an allergic reaction in his lungs. “I’ve been good for a while. I’ve been going full blast since January.”
Moglia’s enthusiasm was contagious for players and fellow coaches, including sophomore linebacker and Sun Belt Conference All-Preseason second-teamer Silas Kelly.
“It’s great to see him out here running around and getting everybody focused,” Kelly said. “We see how excited he is to be out here and it just motivates all of us to work even harder. You can feel the energy.”
The Chanticleers hope to capitalize on that energy following a program-worst 3-9 campaign that coincided with Coastal’s first foray into the Sun Belt Conference. The combination of Moglia’s absence, a brutal schedule and key injuries plagued the Chants during an eight-game losing streak until a late-season surge in November. Coastal suffered a heart-breaking 39-38 loss at Arkansas and went on to win its final two games to finish 2-6 in the Sun Belt and finish the season on an encouraging note.
“We lost to Arkansas by one point in a game that could have gone either way,” said senior quarterback Kilton Anderson, one of six Chants to take a snap in 2017. “I think we proved we can play with anybody.”
After coming off the bench to complete 6 of 7 passes for two touchdowns against the Razorbacks, Anderson started the final three games of the 2017 season and went 2-1 during that stretch. Despite playing in just six games at Coastal, Anderson ranks seventh on the school’s all-time list for passing touchdowns (7) and passing yards (743), and ranks eighth in completions (49).
“Kilton did a good job for us at the end of last season,” Moglia said. “He’s worked hard, he makes good decisions and he deserves the first look there, but every position’s always a competition.”
Following a 22-scholarship increase in the two-year transition from the FCS to FBS, lots of starting jobs are up for grabs this season, particularly at the skill positions. With the departure of leading rusher Osharmar Abercrombie, senior Marcus Outlow and sophomores Alex James and Jacqez Hairston are among a stable of running backs looking to increase their opportunities in 2017.
Leading receiver Malcolm Williams returns for his senior season and will draw the attention of opposing secondaries. Junior Ky’Jon Tyler, sophomore Chris Jones and freshman Omar Black are prime targets.
An experienced offensive line will be anchored by senior Adam Lawhorn and sophomores Trey Carter and Brock Hoffman. Depth on the OL should open the playbook for offensive coordinator Jamey Chadwell.
But defense will be the key to a turn-around season after allowing 34 points and 410 yards per game in 2017. Five of the Chants’ losses were by a touchdown or less. In those games, they allowed an averaged of 47 points per game.
It will be up to first-year defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders, who was on staff with Moglia at Nebraska and the USFL’s Omaha Nighthawks. Sanders has also been the defensive coordinator for North Carolina and the defensive backs coach at Southern California.
“He’s an excellent teacher. He’ll be great for our players as well as the rest of the staff, and he’s an excellent football coach and a real good coordinator,” Moglia said of Sanders. “There’s a brand new approach to how we kind of think of things and how we go after things.”
It will be up to Sanders and his staff to rebuild the defense, and it all starts up front. Look for him to go young with sophomores Tarron Jackson, Jalin Walker serving as key contributors. The strength of the defense is at linebacker, with Kelly, senior James Heft, junior Laqavious Paul and sophomore C.J. Brewer among the expected leaders in an otherwise unexpected defensive formation.
The secondary is equally loaded with senior Anthony Chesley and juniors Preston Carey and Chandler Kryst at cornerback, and senior Fitz Wattley and junior Jave Brown at safety.
The kicking game is in good hands (or feet) with ambipedal senior Evan Rabon. The All-Sun Belt selection punts left-footed and holds the school record with an average of over 40 yards per attempt. He can kick field goals with either foot and hit 12 of 19 tries last season.
Just as the Chants are rebuilding on the field, their home Brooks Stadium is also under reconstruction. Renovations will not be completed for their home opener against UAB on Sept. 8 and will continue through the season as Coastal must expand Brooks Stadium to meet the requirements to remain an FBS program.
“The stadium’s going to look good for opening day, but it’s not going to be done. But it will be done certainly going into next season, and they’re going to get the majority of the work that still needs to be done [completed] over the winter time,” Moglia said. “There’s still an awful lot of work to be done.”
The same is true of his football team, which kicks off the 2018 season with another big challenge at South Carolina on Sept. 1.
Moglia said his team will focus on getting ready for the season as a whole, not just the big game with the Gamecocks.
“For us, it’s not so much getting ready for them right now, but getting our job done today,” he said. “Our preseason consists of 15 days before school starts, and we have to make the most of that time. After that we’ll start preparations for the game, but for now that’s not a focus of ours.”