Bucs salvage feel-good 6-5 season

At East Tennessee State, 6-5 football seasons seem to bring more satisfaction than a Snickers candy bar.
   The Bucs clinched their third-straight 6-5 campaign last Thursday with a 34-23 win over 1-10 VMI.
   Of course, 6-5 is a winning season, but it's barely a winning season.
   However, three straight is quite an accomplishment because that hasn't happened in 46 years.
   The Bucs do have a lot to be proud of. They turned what looked like an all-but-lost season around down the stretch.
   ETSU was sitting at 2-4 with No. 1 Georgia Southern heading into Memorial Center. It looked like the Bucs were going to take a severe beating.
   During that same week, four newspapers came out with columns about the quarterback controversy between Matt Wilhjelm and Jatavis Sanders. It seemed like this was a team divided.
   But give the Bucs credit, they didn't let that bother them. All ETSU did that week was defeat Georgia Southern 19-16.
   Despite that, ETSU still had its problems this year.
   The offense struggled throughout the season. The offensive line was a veteran group, but they allowed Matt Wilhjelm to get sacked too many times.
   The running game was nonexistent throughout the year. Things were a little better at VMI, but the Bucs lacked a player who had breakaway speed.
   As far as the quarterback position goes, Wilhjelm probably did the best he could. His numbers weren't the best, but he didn't have a very good offensive line. However, you could always count on him to play hard every snap.
   The Bucs did have some bright spots. One was wide receiver Cecil Moore, who had 57 catches for 908 yards in 2001. He is definitely an All-American candidate.
   The ETSU defense played very well in the second half of the year, and will have almost everybody back. That includes defensive backs Montreal Harkley, Tony Tiller and Gerald Sensabaugh, linebacker Mike Cornegay, and defensive lineman Travis Williams, who all had stellar seasons for the Bucs.
   The Bucs were decimated by injures this season, but you have to credit the young players for stepping it up.
   The Bucs can be happy about the season, especially after fighting all the adversity. But hopefully for the Bucs, 6-5 seasons will not become the norm.
   Next year will be a make-or-break year for ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton. It was a big accomplishment to get to 6-5 this season, but there's no excuse for ETSU to have that same record in 2002.
   The Bucs will have almost everybody returning, plus Georgia Southern and Furman will be facing tough graduation losses.
   ETSU will lose Wilhjelm, but that shouldn't be a huge loss with Dashannon Gamble coming back into the program. Gamble had an exceptional spring at quarterback, but was ruled academically ineligible this summer.
   Gamble was probably going to be the team's quarterback, and running back Adonis Johnson was supposed to get in the mix this season before he was ruled academically ineligible as well. Hamilton is very high on both of them, and they could play a big part in putting a halt to ETSU's offensive woes.
   The talent is there for an exceptional season in 2002. With a young team all coming back, there's no way the Bucs could be happy with 6-5 next year.
   I believe the program is satisfied with that. But if for some reason they're not, this week would be a good time to hit the weight room and show that the program can do better.
   And I personally believe that they can.
   Former ETSU head football coach Mike Cavan was fired last week at SMU.
   After going 6-5 his first year, the Mustangs are currently suffering through their fourth-straight losing season. He will coach his final game this Saturday at North Carolina.
   Cavan guided the Bucs to one of their best seasons ever in 1996. ETSU finished 10-3 that year, and made the second round of the NCAA playoffs.