By Kris Ferguson
Team of the Decade – Winston-Salem State (WSSU)
The CIAA has always been a basketball conference in spite of the great achievements in football. This continues to hold true, especially when women’s and men’s basketball have won or competed in multiple Division II championship games in the last 20 years. The 2010s, however, put the conference in a spotlight that it had never reached before in football, and WSSU had quite a bit to do with attaining that spotlight.
WSSU began the decade back in Division II after an aborted move to Division I and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). The school watched rival North Carolina Central successfully complete the move a year later and larger rival North Carolina A&T continuing to work out of its own penalty-infested mess. The Rams turned to a new head coach, Connell Maynor, who was publicly questioned when making known his intentions to win a Division II National Championship known. The Rams were able to put the conference on notice in 2010 despite losing two games to CIAA Southern Division rivals St. Augustine’s and eventual conference champion Shaw. The next two seasons saw successes in Black College football not seen since Central State’s 1983 National Title game appearance, as WSSU went 13-1 and 14-1 in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Those seasons saw the Rams lose in the national semifinal at home in 2011, and in the national championship game in 2012.
The Rams would go on to make two more playoff appearances in 2013 and 2016, but never really recaptured the magic of the 2011 and 2012 runs. By the decade’s end, WSSU would become a victim of their own success. Kienus Boulware, Maynor’s Defensive Coordinator, took over as Head Coach when Maynor left to go to FCS Hampton, but just didn’t have the same recruiting wins and that translated into a slow decline in performance over the back half of the decade. Still, Boulware coached the school to three conference title game appearances, and won two of them before being unceremoniously dismissed before the 2019 season. While the 2019 season ended with the school’s only losing record during the decade, there’s still the ominous threat that WSSU is only down for so long. How could I be so sure? Even during its down years, WSSU still seems to be the team that most CIAA schools really love to beat outside of a well-established rivalry.
WSSU’s run seems to have spurred the conference’s standing as a whole. The CIAA hadn’t had much luck in the Division II playoffs prior to this decade, and the arms race that took place to catch up to the Rams netted several Division II playoff wins by other schools (namely Virginia State and Bowie State). WSSU’s QB Kameron Smith became the CIAA’s all-time leader in scoring and passing yards in 2012, only to be eclipsed by Bowie State’s QB Amir Hall in 2019. Fellow QB Rod Tinsley played four years and became the school’s second leading passer in 2018. Fayetteville State and Shaw have caught up and passed the Rams in the Southern division, but not before the Rams won the divisional title for six straight years. That’s how dominant the Rams were in the 2010s.
WSSU by the numbers from 2010-2019
Number of Conference Championships: 4 (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016)
Number of Southern Division Championships: 5 (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Number of weeks ranked in the AFCA top 25:
Season (Year) Weeks in Top 25 Highest Ranking
2010 4 18
2011 10 3 – 2 1st place votes
2012 12 2 – 6 1st place votes
2013 12 14 – 5th in preseason voting
2014 12 10 – finished 24th
2015 1 20
Conference Players of the Year:
2010 – WR Tehvyn Brantley (Offense – Rookie)
2011 – S Alton Keaton (Defense), WR/PR/KR Dominique Fitzgerald (Special Teams)
2012 – QB Kameron Smith (Offense), LB Carlos Fields (Defense)
2013 – LB Carlos Fields (Co-Defense), WR Chase Powell (Offense – Rookie)
2014 – DL Duvontae Covington (Defense), WR/KR/PR Brendan Felder (Special Teams)
2016 – P/K Will Johnson (Special Teams)
2018 – QB Dominique Graves (Offense – Rookie)
Notable Players of the Decade:
QB Kameron Smith, QB Rudy Johnson, QB Phil Smith, QB Rod Tinsley, RB Nic Cooper, RB Maurice Lewis, RB Kerrion Moore, WR Jahuann Butler, WR Jameze Massey, WR Tehvyn Brantley, OL Nate Hartung, OL Jac’Que Polite, OL Markus Lawrence, DL Duvontae Covington, DL Amyl Smith, DL Barry Tripp, DL Michael Bloomfield, DL Donnie Owens, LB Carlos Fields, LB Terry Ross, CB Cameron Sullivan, CB De’Andre Blevins, CB Malcolm Rowe, CB Kailan Chavis, S Alton Keaton, S Daryus Skinner, P/K Will Johnson, P Landon Thayer
Kris Ferguson is a 2008 Graduate of Winston-Salem State and is the D2football.com CIAA Columnist. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram via @d2kferg.