Tigers Get Help

Transfers Fuel Towson’s Ascent

Posted: October 4, 2012

HARRISONBURG — Rob Ambrose has what could be considered an unpopular recruiting philosophy. Towson’s fourth-year football coach said he often continues to recruit players after they’ve committed elsewhere, especially to Division I-A schools.

But it’s not because Ambrose wants those prospects to change their minds and pick the I-AA Tigers; it’s for the future. He’s just planting seeds in case anyone transfers.

“That is an eventuality at this level that I’ve known all along,” Ambrose said. “And what we have done in recruiting is, basically, we’ve had to work harder. We go ahead and recruit guys that go off to I-A schools. Just because they commit doesn’t mean we stop recruiting them — not that we’re trying to flip them; we just keep the relationships.

“So should anything happen to these guys when they go away that doesn’t work out for them, their immediate look is to where their relationships are. And, if we have a good relationship in the recruiting process, then we’re the answer.”

Transfers have certainly been the answer for Towson, which went from worst to first in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, winning the league championship and reaching the I-AA playoffs, both for the first time in school history, thanks to two particularly serendipitous transfers: senior quarterback Grant Enders and sophomore tailback Terrance West.

“Those two guys changed their life up there,” said James Madison coach Mickey Matthews, whose fifth-ranked Dukes face No. 12 Towson on Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium in a sold-out matchup of two of the CAA’s best teams.

West — who won the Jerry Rice Award in 2011, given to I-AA’s best freshman — rushed for 1,294 yards and 29 touchdowns in 11 games last season. The 5-foot-11, 223-pounder averaged 117.6 yards a game and 6.7 yards per carry while the Tigers went 9-3 overall and 7-1 in the CAA to shake off an unattractive football history.

Towson’s glory days previously had been defined by three Division II playoffs appearances during a four-season stretch from 1983-86 and a run to the D-III national title game in 1976. The Tigers jumped to I-AA in 1987.

In 2011, the 6-3, 215-pound Enders completed 67.3 percent of 245 passes for 2,081 yards and 16 touchdowns with eight interceptions in his first season as a starter after winning the job during preseason practice.

This season, the Enders-West duo has led Towson to a 2-2 record overall (1-0 in the CAA) and combined to average 301 yards of total offense a game while scoring 12 touchdowns. Both of the Tigers’ losses have been to I-A teams (Kent State and LSU).

Overall, Towson has made use of 12 transfers, including All-CAA free safety Jordan Dangerfield, a refugee from Hofstra after the Pride eliminated their football program following the 2009 season.

“It’s kind of like being the head coach,” Ambrose said. “When you’re the quarterback or you’re the running back and you win, you get way too much credit. And when you’re the quarterback and you’re the running back and you’re losing, you get way too much criticism. … But they’re both extremely talented and we’re lucky to have them.”

Towson was neither Enders’ nor West’s first choice coming out of high school, although the Tigers recruited both of them. Enders was on the recruiting list Ambrose inherited from his predecessor, Gordy Combs, and West, being from Baltimore, was a local kid.

Enders went to I-AA Holy Cross, a Patriot League school in Worcester, Mass., for a season, but it didn’t work out for the Millersville, Md., native. He said it was too far from home and that he didn’t get the “right feel.”

So he went to Lackawanna, a junior college in Scranton, Pa., where he spent one season and reopened his recruitment, hoping to go to either a I-A school or to a CAA school because of the strength of the conference. (Matthews said Lackawanna contacted him about Enders, but the Dukes weren’t shopping for a JUCO quarterback.)

Ambrose, a 42-year-old Towson alum, said he took Enders as an “insurance policy,” but it turned out he was more than that — and very quickly, thanks to his deceptive speed, accurate arm and ability to maestro an offense.

“He wasn’t supposed to be the guy,” Ambrose said. “And when he got here, he just took it.”

But Enders wasn’t done with Holy Cross.

Enders found out after last season that his stint with the Crusaders cost him a year of eligibility. Because he played JV games for Holy Cross, it negated what Enders thought was a redshirt year. Enders entered 2012 expecting to be a junior. Now, he’s a senior.

“I feel cheated,” Enders said.

Ambrose said Towson is appealing the decision, but they won’t know if Enders will get the year back until after the 2012 season.

West — who was not made available to the media — had a similar odyssey. He originally committed to Clemson out of high school, but Ambrose said Clemson pulled its scholarship offer after signing too many recruits. West then spent a year in Fork Union’s post-grad program before, Ambrose said, spending the fall of 2010 out of school and showing up at Towson for the 2011 spring semester, hoping for a chance to walk on.

“He just wanted an opportunity,” Ambrose said. “We’re like, ‘OK, sure.’ We didn’t have a scholarship for him.”

Like Enders, West entered the 2011 season languishing on the depth chart, but after a few injuries to other players, he got an opportunity early in the year and never gave it back, helping turn the Tigers into a major surprise.

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