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Daryus Skinner (center) was the lone WSSU player selected on the preseason All-CIAA team as selected by the conference coaches and sports information directors.

Winston-Salem State, coming off a 5-4 overall record last season, was picked by coaches in the CIAA to finish sixth overall in the league and second in the Southern Division.

It didn’t take long for Robert Massey, the interim head coach of the Rams, to start using that as motivation for this season.

“In the preseason player selections, we only had one guy (safety Daryus Skinner) so I guess they think we don’t have any players, but that’s OK,” Massey said. “Preseason is preseason, and it doesn’t matter where you are picked because it all happens on the field.”

The preseason All-CIAA team was selected by the league’s coaches and sports information directors while the predicted order of finish was a vote by the coaches.

“I look at it like this,” Massey said, “for the last two years we’ve finished behind Fayetteville State in the (Southern) Division, so that’s why there’s nobody picking us to do much. We have a lot of talent and our guys have been working hard, so I’m OK with where we are picked.

“It will be a great story when we prove folks wrong.”

Bowie State, the defending conference champion, was picked to finish first overall. WSSU slipped to sixth behind Fayetteville State, Virginia Union, Chowan and Virginia State. Five of the top six schools were from the Northern Division.

“Everybody talks about the power in the Northern Division but that works in cycles so I don’t expect it to stay there long,” Massey said.

In the coaches’ poll for the divisions, Bowie State was picked to win the Northern Division and Fayetteville State was picked to win the Southern Division for the third year in a row.

WSSU was second, followed by Shaw, Saint Augustine’s, Livingstone and Johnson C. Smith.

For the last several years, WSSU usually has had several players on the preseason All-CIAA team, but only Skinner, whose 11 interceptions last season led all of Division II, was selected.

Quarterback Dominique Graves, who went 4-1 as a freshman last season for the Rams, has gained 20 pounds of muscle and is looking forward to this season.

“I can’t just settle because of my success last year,” Graves said. “There are a lot of things I can improve on, and I have to grow as a leader.”

After losing the division title to Fayetteville State the last two seasons, WSSU is trying to get back to the championship game, which is slated for Nov. 16 in Salem, Va. WSSU had been to the championship game for seven straight years before Fayetteville State ended the string in 2017.

“We have enough to get back to the championship game and we have to prove it on the field,” Massey said. “We have plenty of motivation to get back there so that’s what we’ll start working for on Aug. 9.”

The Rams will report Aug. 7 to camp and begin practice two days later. Their first game is Sept. 5 (a Thursday night) at UNC Pembroke.

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jdell@wsjournal.com 336-727-4081 @johndellWSJ

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