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Monday, January 23, 2012
Looking back at the MEAC and SWAC

By Donald Hunt
Special to ESPN.com

When you think about the 2011 football season in the MEAC and SWAC, there were a number of great moments and individual achievements.

Adrian
Pete Adrian was named the MEAC Coach of the Year after leading Norfolk State to the league title.

Both conferences saw some spectacular performances by some outstanding players. The MEAC and SWAC have players who could play on Sundays and rising stars who will continue to make names for themselves in these conferences.

Each league had a new team emerge as champion. Norfolk State (9-3 overall, 7-1 in league) won the MEAC title, defeating Morgan State 47-14 to claim the conference crown. The Spartans received an automatic berth to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, losing to Old Dominion 35-18 in the first round. Grambling State won the SWAC championship, edging Alabama A&M 16-15 before 23,476 fans at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The Tigers (8-4 overall, 6-3 league) finished the season riding a six-game win streak.

Norfolk State coach Pete Adrian and Grambling State coach Doug Williams did a great job of catapulting their teams to the top of the MEAC and SWAC, respectively. Here is a snapshot of the players and coaches who made the 2011 season one for the books:

MEAC

Top coaches
Pete Adrian, Norfolk State
Adrian was named the MEAC Coach of the Year and has consistently been one of the league's best coaches. He had 10 players on All-MEAC teams and launched the Spartans' program onto the national map.

Gary Harrell, Howard
Harrell did a great job of rebuilding Howard's fledgling football program. The Bison finished with a 1-10 record in 2010. Harrell -- better known as The Flea from his playing career at Howard -- led the team to a 4-4 mark in the MEAC and 5-6 record overall.

Top offensive players
Chris Walley, QB, Norfolk State
Walley had a tremendous season, completing 239 of 348 passes for 2,672 yards and 19 touchdowns with just six interceptions. A 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior, he was a major player on the Spartans' MEAC championship team.

Mike Mayhew, RB, North Carolina A&T
Mayhew led the MEAC in rushing with 1,120 yards and scored nine touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. The 5-10, 210-pound senior was one of the MEAC's most explosive players.

Top defensive players
Keith Pough, LB, Howard
Pough is a player who continues to get better each season. The 6-3, 225-pound junior had 120 total tackles, including 71 solo, in 2011. He also displayed some pass-rushing skills with three sacks.

Donovan Richard, LB, South Carolina State
Richard is a linebacker who plays the run extremely well. The 6-1, 215-pound senior had 119 total tackles, including 60 solo tackles. He's a great open-field tackler.

Davis
Bethune-Cookman DE Ryan Davis led the MEAC with 12 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss.

Top pro prospects
Ryan Davis, DE, Bethune-Cookman
Davis led the MEAC with 12 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss.

Blake Matthews, OL, Norfolk State
Blake has tremendous blocking skills. He helped the Spartans offense produce 4,319 total yards, including 1,843 on the ground. Norfolk State was second in the league in total offense and passing offense.

Best individual performance
Mike Mayhew, RB, North Carolina A&T
He had 26 carries for 233 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown run, in a 24-3 victory over Morgan State. In that game, Mayhew had seven runs of 10 yards or more.

Breakout player of the year
Isidore Jackson, RB, Bethune-Cookman
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound sophomore had 146 carries for 866 yards and seven touchdowns.

Player under the radar
Xavier Boyce, WR, Norfolk State
Boyce (68 catches for 750 yards, four TDs) was a big part of the Spartans' passing offense. At 6-foot-4, he went up high to make the big catches and had the speed to stretch the field.

Team to watch
Howard University
Why? They have QB Greg McGhee, who had a solid freshman year with 13 touchdown passes last season. He was the top freshman in the MEAC. … Pough provides Howard with sensational play and good leadership at linebacker … And, of course, Harrell is committed to turning his alma mater around.

Player to watch in 2012
Asheton Jordan, RB, South Carolina State
Jordan has the power to run inside and the speed to get to the edge. He led the Bulldogs' ground attack and earned second-team All-MEAC honors. He should have a big season in 2012.

SWAC

Top coaches
Doug Williams, Grambling State
In his second stint as coach at Grambling State, Williams won a conference championship in his first season. He took a team that started the season 1-4 and guided it to the league title last season. Before that, he was the general manager of the UFL's Virginia franchise.

Heishma Northern, Prairie View A&M
Northern was the Panthers' defensive coordinator before taking over for Henry Frazier, who left to become the head coach at North Carolina Central. He had Prairie View A&M in contention for the SWAC Western Division title. The Panthers finished 5-4 in the league, regrouping nicely after a 63-14 loss in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge on Labor Day weekend. He also developed outstanding players in defensive end Adrian Hamilton and cornerback Moses Ellis.

Therriault
Jackson State QB Casey Therriault was one of the top offensive players in the SWAC in 2011.
Top Offensive Players
Casey Therriault, QB, Jackson State
Therriault completed 272 of 435 passes for 3,808 yards, 27 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He made Jackson State's offense one of the most exciting in the SWAC.

Nick Andrews, WR, Alabama State
Andrews can get open and catch the football as well as any receiver in the country. He led the SWAC with 72 receptions for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns, as the 5-9, 170-pound senior averaged 14.5 yards a catch.

Top defensive players
Adrian Hamilton, DE, Prairie View A&M
Hamilton led the SWAC in tackles for loss with 26.5. The 6-3, 255-pound senior is a pass-rushing specialist. He had a league-leading 19.5 sacks as well as 81 total and 59 solo tackles.

Cliff Exama, LB, Grambling State
Exama led the SWAC with 122 total tackles and 73 solo tackles. It's hard to get a running play past him. He can make plays all over the field and has been one of the best defensive players in the SWAC over the past two seasons.

Top pro prospects
Adrian Hamilton, DE, Prairie View A&M
Hamilton should get an NFL look. He has great quickness off the ball and was fourth in the conference with 81 total tackles.

Mario Louis, WR, Grambling State
Louis has great speed and runs good pass routes. He finished with 51 receptions for 1,129 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Best individual performance
Casey Therriault, QB, Jackson State
He threw for 428 yards and four touchdowns, completing 23 of 41 passes in Jackson State's 34-6 win over Alabama A&M. In that game, Therriault finished with the highest passing total in the SWAC in the 2011 season.

Breakout player of the year
Kaderius Lacey, RB, Alabama A&M
The 6-1, 218-pound junior led Alabama A&M to the SWAC championship game after rushing 285 times for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns. He earned All-SWAC honors.

Player under the radar
Spencer Nelson, WR, Prairie View A&M
Nelson isn't big -- 5-8, 175 pounds -- yet his size hasn't stopped him from being a great receiver. He had 52 receptions for 654 yards and five touchdowns.

Team to watch

Arkansas-Pine Bluff has become a team you can't take lightly in the SWAC. The Golden Lions finished with a 6-5 record. Coach Monte Coleman has the SWAC Freshman of the Year in quarterback Benjamin Anderson, who threw for 1,876 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Player to Watch in 2012
Kejuan Riley, S, Alabama State
Riley, a great playmaker, is already one of the best defensive players in the country. He led the SWAC with nine interceptions this season and will continue to be a key player on the Hornets' defense.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. You can reach him at dhunt37261@aol.com.