Terry Bowden made no promises and guaranteed no starting positions.
And when the University of Akron football team runs onto Summa Field at InfoCision Stadium for its season opener tonight, three fifth-year senior transfers will fill starting positions.
Quarterback Dalton Williams, a transfer from Stephen F. Austin, will lead the offense. Cornerback Avis Commack, a former Florida State University Seminole, and linebacker Kurt Mangum, who came from Howard University, will be expected to help to begin the process of turning Zips football around with their respective skills and another attribute, according to Bowden.
“Just to be unselfish leaders,” Bowden said when asked about expectations for them.
Considering they’ve exhibited leadership — especially Williams and Mangum — it shouldn’t be too difficult to carry that over. Williams, who might have had the most difficult position to earn, said that he just came in and wanted to help the team win.
“Everyone here is just tired of losing and I’m no different and we’ll just go out there as a team,” said Williams, who planned to play for Bowden at North Alabama before the coach accepted the UA job. “They want a team and they want everyone to put in the work, clock in every day and get better. If you’re willing to do that, you’re part of the team.”
For Mangum, who arrived at UA after learning who Bowden and assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Chuck Amato were through Internet research, and Commack, who came because of defensive backs coach Terrell Buckley, it’s a case of wanting to lead by example. Mangum said teammates responded to how he worked in the weight room and on the field.
“Being a young team, we need some older guys who can definitely help lead,” Mangum said. “I was groomed to be the head and not the tail.”
For Commack it’s a case of his teammates knowing that he has had the benefit of playing in a nationally known Division I program.
“They just see me out here working hard, so they don’t shy away from me when I tell them something. Everyone wants to learn and get better,” he said. “I feel like coming from Florida State, people want to know what I am thinking about and how I do some stuff.”
Watching them in practice, it’s difficult to not picture these guys in the roles they have assumed. They work hard and are constantly encouraging other players. Bowden said that choosing which fifth-year players to allow on a team can be a delicate process and he challenged them to show that they belonged on his first Zips team.
“I have challenged them because the negative of any fifth-year guy who makes a transfer [is that] maybe he feels like he can play in the NFL and he just wants to start,” Bowden said. “Well, I want a guy who just wants us to have a winning season. I want them to be totally Akron and make every personal goal secondary to Akron. I’m always pushing and making sure that is the primary thing in their minds.”
Thoughts of continuing their playing careers have probably crossed their minds, but all three are focused on competing and winning.
“I knew the history of the [program],” Commack said. “I know the coaching staff and that they weren’t going to let it happen again with the kind of team we have.”
It’s an opportunity, they all agree, to restore some integrity to a moribund program, something they relish.
“It’s a chance to be part of something special,” Williams said.
Mangum, who wants to fill the void left by departed linebacker Brian Wagner, agreed.
“Some people travel roads,” he said. “I want to help build them.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.