Success Could Make Tigers Even Hungrier Next Season
By Simon Habtemariam
Everybody loves an underdog. Everybody loves an underdog success story even more.
Towson's miraculous football season in 2011 surprised a lot of fans, critics and other teams, after it was picked to finish in last place in the 11-team Colonial Athletic Association.
Instead, the Tigers won the CAA championship outright and became the first NCAA football program ever to participate in the Division I, II and III playoffs. Towson's storybook season ended Dec. 3 as it fell to Lehigh, 40-38, during the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
"I'm proud of my staff for fighting an uphill battle," coach Rob Ambrose said. "I'm proud of my team for fighting even harder."
The Tigers' turnaround was no fluke. Ambrose has played and served for a number of coaches that have reputations as program builders. As a player and assistant at Towson University, Ambrose saw the likes of Phil Albert and Gordy Combs raise a team from Division III, to II to I-AA (now FCS), even though the program was in danger of being canceled at one point. As an offensive assistant at Connecticut, Ambrose witnessed former Huskies coach Randy Edsall's success as the team was promoted from an FCS team to the FBS ranks -- first as an independent team and then as a member of the Big East.
During his first year at Towson, Ambrose installed his program and he did it his way. Practices and camps were far and above anything remaining players had known. This helped weed out anybody who didn't fit into Ambrose's vision for the future.
During his second year, the coach began to install the pieces he would use to build a winning product. He experimented with a few transfers and installed his first recruiting class into the system that would become Tiger football as it is today.
Though the results were not favorable during his first two years, Ambrose came out swinging in 2011. His talented offensive line of four sophomores and one senior carved out holes for the CAA's best rushing offense, which averaged 229 yards per game.
Freshman running back Terrance West scored 29 touchdowns and ended his first campaign with CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He also sits as a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, given for the most impressive performance by an FCS freshman. West finished sixth in votes for the Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding performer in the FCS.
As for Ambrose, the CAA Coach of the Year will be making a trip to Frisco, Texas, site of the FCS championship game, in the running for the Eddie Robinson Award for National Coach of the Year.
In 2012, Towson will be in a favorable position to repeat as a strong contender for CAA honors and another run in the FCS playoffs. But there will be fewer surprises this time around, because the Tigers return all but four starters from the past season's amazing reversal.
Issue 168: December 2011