ROANOKE, Va. — The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) officially began its 2019 football season with its annual Football Media Day at the Holiday Inn-Valley View in Roanoke, Va., on July 18. The event brought together the conference’s 12 head coaches along with a returning player from each program to discuss their expectations for the upcoming season.
As expected, all eyes were on defending champion Bowie State University. The Bulldogs were predicted to finish first in the conference in the 2019 preseason polls after coming off of a historic run in 2018.
Former quarterback Amir Hall shattered numerous Bowie State and CIAA records to lead the Bulldogs to their first-ever conference title, an overall record of 10-3 and a berth in the NCAA Division II football tournament.
Bowie State was the last program to walk on the stage for a brief Q&A session led by CIAA Sports Network reporter Stan Lewter. Head Coach Damon Wilson, who is entering his 11th year as head of the program, and Gaston Cooper, who will start as the quarterback this year, spoke on behalf of the program at media day.
Wilson began by delivering opening remarks on one of his most accomplished seasons as BSU head coach.
“It was a big run last year. Our guys played well throughout the year, overcame some adversity, and we were finally able to cross that bridge,” Wilson said. “We got there a few times and fell short, but it felt real good to finally bring the championship home to Bowie State.”
Cooper, a 6-foot, 210-pound redshirt junior, is a 2013 graduate of Paint Branch High School (Burtonsville), where he led his team in both passing (3,190 yards) and rushing (609 yards) to score 63 total touchdowns as he led the program to the Maryland 4-A state semifinals.
The local product said he surpassed the opportunity to play at Bowie straight out of high school and decided to play Division I ball at Duquesne (Pittsburgh). Instead of playing consistently at quarterback, a position he was comfortable playing, he was forced to play various positions that “didn’t work in my favor,” he said.
Cooper transferred to Bowie in 2017 and watched Hall lead the program in historic ways over the last few seasons. He is seizing the opportunity to finally step into such a formidable leadership role. Because the program will return most of its starting offensive linemen from last season in addition to the talented newcomers on the roster, Cooper said he feels that he is not under a great deal of pressure as some might speculate.
“I don’t take it as any pressure, honestly. We really have the same offense, so there really hasn’t been much of a change,” he said.
“To Amir’s credit, he really set a standard so having that opportunity to sit behind him and watch how he prepared and played, I get to see how things should be executed and everything should be run.
“So everything is pretty much set for me to kind of just take over. I understand that there is a lot of expectations and big shoes to fill – quote, unquote – but I really don’t take it as any pressure. It’s really just kind of filling in to keep this train rolling.”
Wilson said Bowie will play under the same system it has been since he took over in 2009, regardless of the slight changes that have taken place in the offseason. Wilson also acknowledged a key component of the Bulldogs’ coaching staff, first-year offensive coordinator Tyrae Reid.
Reid will serve instead of former offensive coordinator Moses Ware (2018), who left Bowie in January to join North Carolina Central’s coaching staff. Reid, also a Bowie State alum and four-year quarterback for Wilson from 2009-2012, was the quarterbacks coach in 2016 and 2017.
“Tyrae Reid is very energetic. He spends a lot of time with the quarterbacks in the meeting room. He’s a great young coach that believes in developing talent,” Wilson said.
“So he’s a guy that has a few wrinkles that he’s going to implement, but all-in-all were going to (have) the same style of offense.”
Furthermore, Wilson discussed some areas where Bowie can improve defensively and offensively. “We have to eliminate the penalties. If you look at the number of defensive offside penalties we had last year, that’s the thing that hinders you when you’re talking about playing in the playoffs,” he said.
When asked by Lewter what he will define as a successful season, Cooper responded, “A national championship. Point, blank, period.”
The media day was also highlighted by the release of the CIAA Preseason Team, which includes three Bowie Bulldogs: redshirt junior wide receiver Montez Clay and defensive linemen redshirt senior Oluwaleke Ajenifuja and redshirt sophomore Joshua Pryor.
Bowie State will begin preseason practice on Friday, Aug. 16 at 3:30 p.m. on campus in Bulldogs Stadium, according to a release from the athletics department. The Bulldogs kick off the regular season Sept. 7 on the road at American International College (Springfield, Mass.) at noon.