A Look at Tiger Football
Courtesy: Simon Habtemariam, TowsonTigers.com  
Release: 09/11/2012
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Never in my life as a Baltimore sports fan did I think I would ever be able to say the following:  the Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore Orioles and Towson Tigers all have hopes in 2012-13 for national title contention.

As remarkable as this summer was in Charm City, with the pro baseball team contending and high hopes for their beloved NFL franchise - imagine how much sweeter the feeling is to have a competitive Division I college football program within your metropolitan. For many decades, the ACC school down I-95 has dominated the media market in Baltimore, but following the 2011 Towson Tigers football campaign, all of a sudden there are a lot more Towson grads & fans popping up around our fair city. (Thank you Gerry Sandusky, Towson Alum, for that quote)

After opening at Kent State on August 30, they have less than a month until they head down to Baton Rouge and come face-to-face with the national runner-ups to the BCS title LSU Tigers.

Not only do the Tigers play their toughest non-conference schedule of all time with these two games, not only do they play in the most difficult league of all FCS football, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), but they carry a giant target on their back as the defending CAA champs. You've heard many times this off-season -- the hunters have become the hunted -- and imagine this considering how dangerous the hunters are in this league.

The CAA is undoubtedly the most elite group of FCS football programs in the nation. There's a reason five CAA teams made the 2011 playoffs, and at one time boasted nine teams in the national Top 25. Towson had the benefit of being a surprise team last year. It was much easier to play in this league before anybody knew about Terrance West as an elite RB and not just a freshman getting his reps in a committee of running backs. It was much easier when nobody knew Grant Enders as a dual-threat QB with ice water in his veins on fourth-and-ridiculous distances. It was much easier when nobody knew about Jordan Dangerfield, Frank Beltre and the Tigers' defense who shut down everything and anything thrown at them in the red zone.

Towson can no longer walk into a game and COMPLETELY surprise anyone.  They'll have to storm into every game and impose themselves on their opponents. But that's not to say Rob Ambrose doesn't have anything up his sleeves. When it comes to piecing together a roster, Ambrose is a chess player -- he thinks five moves ahead when it comes to every roster spot on his team. On national signing day, the first thing I thought when seeing Ambrose's recruiting class were "Ok, this is nice; now let's see who shows up mid-summer."

Ambrose builds a roster similar to a mid-major basketball program. He brings in strategic transfers from major colleges, and he keeps tabs on almost every local prep product, whether out of high school or one that signed with BCS schools and want to go home to play.

You have to remember, he grew up with Maryland High School Hall of Fame Coach Tim Ambrose for a father. Ambrose has always scouted Maryland well, both as the offensive coordinator building UConn's football program and as the award-winning head coach who rebuilt Tiger Football. He has been recognized by high school coaches around the state for his commitment to keeping Maryland prep stars in state. (Ironic considering he spent a few years shipping them up to Hartford.)

Either way, take a look at some of the Maryland stars that Ambrose has either signed out of high school or brought in as one of his patented "player-to-be-named-later" transfers.

West, a dynamic running back from Northwestern High School in Baltimore. He was an athletic freak on the prep level, also playing hoops, baseball and track. After high school, West went on to Fork Union Military Academy before arriving on Ambrose's doorstep in the spring of 2011, ready to drop jaws. He is a back with great vision, exceptional acceleration, and an array of moves in the open field. Whether the shimmy, the shake, the spin or the stiff arm, West can make you miss or just plain lower his helmet and make you not want to tackle him.

Enders, a tough quarterback from Old Mill, came back to Maryland after stops at Holy Cross and Lackawanna Junior College. After coming in and taking over this offense last summer, he made such an impact in his first year at Towson, he was voted as a team captain by his teammates after his first full offseason with the Tigers. Now imagine what a quarterback of his talent can do with more time spent getting to know his receiver corps. He can already thread the needle on throws almost anywhere on the field. He can already break the pocket and rush when he sees the first down sticks or end zone pylons. He can already come back into the game on fourth and 29, after being bloodied and sidelined on a first down sack, and throw 63-yard touchdown passes to win the game. Get the picture?

Leon Kinnard and Gerrard Sheppard are two UConn transfers who grew up in my backyard. Living in Reisterstown and playing for the Franklin Indians, I knew firsthand some of the best players in my community would go to one of Baltimore County's private schools like McDonough and Loyola-Blakefield. I may be biased, but these two athletes should be two of this offense's best weapons in 2012. Sheppard and Kinnard were great players last year who showed flashes of brilliance at different points of the season, but with a full offseason under their belts, I fully believe these two can be elite football players in the CAA. Each with their own sets of skills, Kinnard can attack defenses in a multitude of ways with his athleticism while Sheppard could embarrass a lot of defensive backs in the CAA and beyond.

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