Top 10 Stories of 2016 — No. 4: ECSU's Earnest Wilson makes impact in first season
By Malcolm Shields
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
When Earnest Wilson was tabbed as the new football coach at Elizabeth City State back in February, there was some skepticism.
Wilson, who had spent the previous three season at FCS program Savannah State, was only able to produce a 2-32 record in his first head coaching job.
The coach was able to make his mark in his first season leading the Vikings as ECSU fell a game short of playing for a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title in November.
ECSU’s success on the gridiron led to Wilson to be named the CIAA Coach of the Year.
The process to hire Wilson took months following the dismissal of former football coach Waverly Tillar in November 2015.
After interest from Northeastern coach Antonio Moore and former ECSU offensive coordinator Alvin Parker in the head coaching position, ECSU athletic director Derrick Johnson went with Wilson.
The pair were familiar with each other due to their time at Benedict College (S.C.) in the early 2000s.
At his introductory press conference in March, Wilson set the bar for his expectations for ECSU football.
“I came here because I really did feel like we could make this into a Division II power,” Wilson said.
The coach did have experience with the program as he served as an assistant coach at ECSU in 1996.
Wilson inherited a roster that only returned a handful of starters on defense and lost key pieces at the skill positions on offense from the 2015 season.
The schedule was not forgiving for the Vikings at the start as they opened with former CIAA rival Norfolk State and FCS top 25 program Fordham in non-conference road meetings.
Before the season began in late August, Wilson lost running back Alfred “Petey” Boone along with defensive tackle, Elijah Washington and wide receivers Jason Fields and Timothy Marsh after their involvement in an assault.
Boone and Washington were expected to be starters.
As expected, the Vikings lost their first two games against NSU and Fordham, but surprisingly in the Norfolk State contest, ECSU had its chances to score the upset.
The Vikings won their first Down East Viking Football Classic since 2012 with a 35-30 win over Morehouse in September.
Along with Wilson dealing with disagreements between himself and some players on play calling, which led to some being benched and one leaving the team, Wilson steered ECSU to three straight victories in CIAA Northern Division play in October to set the Vikings up with the chance to play for the league title.
They had to beat Bowie State in the regular-season finale to go along with a Virginia State loss to Virginia Union on Nov. 5 to earn the spot in the championship.
Although ECSU fell to Bowie State 56-7, the Vikings clinched its first non-losing season since 2012 with a 5-5 record.
Along with Wilson earning coach of the year honors, the postseason accolades for Wilson’s players included all-CIAA selections for Victor Tabbs, Malcolm Cherry, Brian Wells, Daquan Neal, Jerrell Timmons and Miacah Cooper.