By Shaw Athletics Communications
RALEIGH, N.C. – The 2023 Shaw University football schedule may be the most competitive in Adrian Jones’ eight seasons as head coach, but Jones is certain the Bears are up for the challenge.
On paper, it shapes as one of the most anticipated schedules in recent years. The Bears will play three teams that reached the NCAA Division II playoffs a year ago and several teams who are expected to challenge for the CIAA conference crown this season.
“We may have the toughest schedule in Division II,” Jones said. “I don’t know of any team that has three playoff opponents from last year on its schedule. We have our work cut out, but this is a veteran team that knows how to compete.”
Benedict, Virginia Union and Fayetteville State each qualified for the NCAA DII Super Region 2 playoffs last year. Benedict, who will host the Bears in the season opening Carolinas Classic on Sept. 2, posted an 11-1 record and reached the region semifinals after entering the playoffs as a region top seed.
Bowie State captured the previous three CIAA crowns before Fayetteville State’s title run last year. Virginia State and Winston-Salem State have each claimed two conference titles since 2014.
Five games on the 10-game schedule will be at the friendly confines of Durham County Stadium in Durham, N.C., the Bears’ home site. The other five contests are on the road.
Home games are against Virginia Union on Sept. 9, Virginia State on Sept. 30, Johnson C. Smith on Oct. 7, Winston-Salem State on Oct. 14 and defending CIAA champion Fayetteville State on Oct. 28. The Bears will host Johnson C. Smith on Homecoming Day and Fayetteville State on Senior Day.
The away slate includes contests against Benedict on Sept. 2, Bowie State on Sept. 16, Elizabeth City State on Sept. 23, Livingstone on Oct. 21 and Saint Augustine’s in the Raleigh Classic on Nov. 4.
The away game against Benedict and the home contest against Virginia Union will be non-conference games for Shaw.
The schedule appears daunting, but Jones believes his team has the talent and experience to not only contend for the CIAA crown but qualify for the NCAA playoffs. Twenty-six lettermen are back, including running back Sidney Gibbs, defensive backs Jay Boyd and Elijah Wilson, and punter/kicker Devin Versteegen. All four players garnered All-CIAA honors in 2022.
Offensively, the Bears also return running back Andre Brandon, Jr., offensive linemen Queonte Hilliard and K’Shun Lancaster, wide receivers Ah’shaan Belcher and Jon Barnes, and quarterback-wide receiver Christian Peters.
In 2022, Gibbs ranked third in the CIAA in rushing (714 yards), averaged 5.6 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns in nine games. Brandon set the school single game rushing mark (306 yards vs. Livingstone) and Hilliard is a three-year starter.
Defensively, Shaw also brings back linebacker James Simon, defensive ends Miquel Roderiquez and Brian Patterson, defensive backs Jaden Clark and Akeythio Carson, and defensive tackle Sevion Gibbs.
A year ago, Patterson led the team in sacks and Simon was a terror at defensive end. Both Boyd and Clark were among the league leaders in interceptions.
A slew of newcomers will join the team this season to bolster the Bears, who were 4-1 in front of the home fans last year.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Durham County Memorial Stadium. Ticket prices will be released at a later date.
Below is the 2023 Bears schedule including kickoff times (Home games in bold):
Sept. 2 – at Benedict, 6 p.m.
Sept. 9 – Virginia Union, 1 p.m.
Sept. 16 – at Bowie State, 1 p.m.
Sept. 23 – at Elizabeth City State, 1 p.m.
Sept. 30 – Virginia State, 1 p.m.
Oct. 7 – Johnson C. Smith (Homecoming), 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 – Winston-Salem State, 1 p.m.
Oct. 21 – at Livingstone, TBA
Oct. 28 – Fayetteville State (Senior Day), 1 p.m.
Nov. 4 – Saint Augustine’s (Raleigh Classic), 1 p.m.