NORFOLK, Va. (NSUSpartans.com) - The Spartan football team embarks on its first football season since 2019 this week at the University of Toledo in the season-opener for both teams. Kickoff is 7 p.m. Saturday at the Glass Bowl. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3, and NSU's radio broadcast is available on Blazin' Hot 91.1 FM WNSB and via the TuneIn app by searching for WNSB.
NSU opted out of competing in the spring FCS season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NSU's last game was the 2019 season finale against South Carolina State on Nov. 23, 2019.
• The game marks the NSU debut for head coach Dawson Odums, who was hired in April 2021 after a 10-year stint at Southern University.
• NSU returns 16 starters from the 2019 team which finished 5-7, winning three of its last four games.
• 2021 is NSU's 80th season of collegiate football.
• This marks the first series meeting between NSU and Toledo.
• The Spartans are 0-13 all-time against Division I FBS teams.
• NSU has faced one MAC team previously, losing to Ohio 44-10 in 2012.
NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN
• Dawson Odums was named the 18th head coach in NSU history on April 21. He replaced Latrell Scott, who resigned after five seasons to pursue another opportunity.
• Odums spent 10 seasons at Southern, one as a defensive line coach and nine as head coach (2012-21).
• He compiled a 63-35 record on the field with the Jaguars, including 53-17 in the SWAC, with one conference title.
• Odums also has served stints as an assistant coach at Bethune-Cookman, N.C. A&T, Georgia Southern, Gardner-Webb and Clark Atlanta. He also served as interim head coach at Clark Atlanta in 2004.
• Odums is a native of Shelby, N.C. who played collegiately at North Carolina Central.
• NSU was picked to finish second in the new-look, six-team MEAC this season. South Carolina State was the preseason favorite according to the poll of head coaches and sports information directors.
• QB Juwan Carter was voted the preseason MEAC Offensive Player of the Year and was one 14 Spartans named to the preseason All-MEAC teams, most in the conference.
ALL EYES ON THE SPARTANS
Several Spartans were named to preseason national watch lists. They include:
• QB Juwan Carter - Walton Payton Award (FCS Offensive POTY), College Football Performance Awards FCS POTY, Black College Football POTY
• DL De'Shaan Dixon - Reese's Senior Bowl watch list, NFLPA Collegiate Bowl big board.
• P Ryan Richter - FCS Punter of the Year watch list.
SCOUTING THE ROCKETS
• Toledo went 4-2 in the 2020 COVID season, its 11th straight season without a losing record.
• The Rockets were picked to finish second in the SWAC West Division this year behind reigning conference champ Ball State.
• The Rockets return nine players who have won All-MAC honors during their careers.
• Defensive lineman Desjuan Johnson was named to the preseason Bednarik Award, which is given to the top defensive player in the country.
NSU returns 16 starters from the 2019 season, including nine on offense and a total of eight of the school-record 13 All-MEAC performers from that year. Here's a look at NSU's returning production:
• Rushing Yards: 63 percent
• Passing Yards: 95 percent
• Receiving Yards: 81 percent
• Tackles: 38 percent
• Sacks: 56 percent
• Interceptions: 54 percent
NSU set a new Division I era school record by averaging 28.9 points per game in 2019 and 31.8 in conference-only games.
• NSU also ran for 144.7 yards per game, its most since 2011.
• The Spartans posted three games scoring at least 40 points in 2019.
• Juwan Carter's 23 touchdowns passes were the most by a Spartan in the Division I era. Carter's passing (2,631) and total offensive (2,856) yardage marks are both the fourth-most in a season in NSU history.
• Ryan Richter's 39.7-yard punt average was also the fourth-best in school history.
SPARTAN IN THE PROS
Norfolk State is represented in the NFL by undrafted defensive back Bobby Price of the Detroit Lions. Price was a two-time All-MEAC safety for NSU who started 37 games between 2016 and 2019 for NSU. Price spent much of the 2020 NFL season on the Lions practice squad, but was activated for two games late in the year and made one tackle.
Toledo is one of four first-time opponents for NSU this year. The Spartans have also never faced Wake Forest, Virginia-Lynchburg and St. Francis (Pa.) previously.
NSU ON THE WORLDWIDE LEADER
Ten of NSU's 11 games this year will be broadcast on one of the ESPN family of networks. The opener at Toledo and the contest at Howard will air on ESPN3 and the Wake Forest game be carried by the ACC Network Extra. The Hampton game will be seen on ESPN+. NSU's home game with Elizabeth City State and five MEAC games will be broadcast on either ESPN+ or ESPN3. In addition, games with Howard, NCCU and South Carolina State may be chosen for re-broadcast on ESPNU later as part of the MEAC's yearly TV agreement with ESPN.
The MEAC will have a new look and feel in 2021 as three schools have departed the conference since the last full conference season – North Carolina A&T to the Big South and both Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman to the SWAC. That leaves just six schools – NSU, N.C. Central, South Carolina State, Howard, Delaware State and Morgan State. The Spartans went 4-1 against the other five schools in 2019, with the lone loss being a 20-17 OT decision to S.C. State. The change means a school-record six non-conference games this year. NSU's MEAC opener, with Howard, isn't until Oct. 23.
TRANSFERS JOIN THE FOLD
NSU has a number of transfers who are expected to contribute this year. They include:
• DB Tyree Rodgers spent five years at Virginia Tech and played in a total of 32 games for the Hokies. The Camden, N.J. native made 18 tackles in 12 games in 2018.
• OL Jeff Woods: Woods redshirted at UConn in 2019 before transferring to NSU in the spring of 2020. Originally recruited as a defensive lineman, Woods was moved to offensive tackle for NSU last year.
• RB J.J. Davis: Davis redshirted at Cincinnati in 2019 before, like Woods, transferring to NSU in the spring of 2020. He is expected to contribute at running back and on special teams.
• DL Amadeu Vital: Vital spent three years at Division II Glenville State with NSU defensive coordinator Steve Adams. He made 21 tackles in seven games in 2018, and nine stops in four games this past spring. He has two years remaining and will add depth to the interior of NSU's defensive line.
• LB Tyler Long: Long transferred to NSU in the spring of 2020 after a stellar campaign at Lackawanna (Pa.) College. He was named to the 2019 All-Northeast Conference second team after posting 53 tackles, 10 for loss and six sacks.
• DB Tayvion Land: A former four-star recruit according to ESPN, Land played in 11 games as a true freshman at Liberty in 2019 before transferring. The Virginia Beach native made 23 tackles that year.
BATTLE OF THE BAY RETURNS
This year marks the return of the Battle of the Bay, the rivalry game between old CIAA and MEAC rivals Norfolk State and Hampton. The teams, who are separated by roughly 15 miles and the Chesapeake Bay, last met in 2017, Hampton's last year in the MEAC before leaving for the Big South. The teams will now meet as non-conference foes this year at HU before the Pirates visit NSU in 2022.
Once again this year, several Spartans have familial ties to NSU athletics:
• Redshirt freshman WR Da'Quan Felton is the son of former NSU WR/TE Ronald Boone, who was a two-time All-CIAA tight end during his four-year career from 1993-96.
• Junior LB Mark Brown's father of the same name also played football at NSU.
• Senior LB Matt Hodges' mother, Shelita, ran track at NSU from 1987-91.
• DB Brandon Savage's brother Aaron was a running back at NSU from 2015-19.