NEWBERRY — It was 20 years ago — 1996 — that Newberry College rejoined the South Atlantic Conference, after exiting the conference in 1988.
Two coaches on the current Newberry College coaching staff, Hunter Spivey and Jeremiah Jones, were on that 1996 squad.
“It’s special to come back to a place that gave you so much,” Jones said. “Newberry is a special place, with special people. To be able to come back and give back, just a little of what they gave to us, is awesome.”
Spivey quarterbacked an experienced offensive unit for the 1996 Newberry College Indians that returned nine starters. Among the playmakers for Spivey were wide receivers Ike Allred and Rico Cannon, and Newberry College Hall-of-Fame running back Keith Porterfield.
Jones was a starting linebacker for the Indians and manned one of the best units on the 1996 team, along with junior Brion Rutherford and senior Doug Knight.
However, the Newberry College defense, which returned six starters, was more than just a great linebacking unit. It featured a star-studded defensive line, with junior defensive ends Fred Cross and John Moore and defensive tackles Blake Mayes and Lorenzo McFadden, and tough players in the secondary like Stanley Clay and Karas Cohen.
The Indians were led by fifth-year head coach Mike Taylor.
“Coach Taylor was old-schooled,” Jones said. “He was a great coach to play for. He always had the players in mind. He was a hard worker.”
Despite rejoining the conference, Newberry was not eligible for a conference championship or any postseason conference awards in 1996.
“It hurts now that you see that side of it. I know several of us would have had a chance to be all-conference,” Spivey said.
It did not deter the Indians from making some noise. They entered the 1996 season with momentum, after winning five out of their final six games of the 1995 season.
Newberry started the season with wins in three of its first four games, including conference foes Elon, Wingate, and Gardner-Webb. However, the Indians stumbled, losing two of the next three, to Mars Hill and Wofford, to field a record of 4-3.
They regained their footing with wins against Lenior-Rhyne to hold onto the Bishop’s Trophy, and Catawba, setting up a showdown with conference heavyweight Carson Newman.
While not eligible for the conference championship, the Indians held out hope of being part of the Division II playoff conversation. Any chance Newberry had depended on a win in Jefferson City, Tenn.
The Indians fell to the Eagles 13-0, but had opportunities to win the game. During the game, Spivey believed he had a sure score when he threw a slant pass to Cannon in the end zone. However, a Carson Newman defensive back arrived the same time as the ball, and the two players fought over possession. The referees awarded the Eagles with a turnover.
Another missed opportunity came when Knight dropped an interception.
Newberry finished the season with a 21-10 win over Presbyterian College, retaining the Bronze Derby, and posting a 7-4 record. The 5-2 record against conference foes would have placed the Indians in third place in the South Atlantic Conference.
The season had an impact past the conference standings. During the Wingate game, Spivey had a 74-yard touchdown pass to Cannon, now tied for 12th longest pass play in Newberry College history.
Spivey finished his Newberry career after the 1996 season and currently sits seventh in career yardage in Newberry College history with 3,680 yards. He was the leading passer for the Indians from 1994 to 1996. The 1996 season was also his best total offensive season, finishing with 1,301 passing yards and 143 rushing yards, which is 19th in school history for a single season.
Jones finished his career with 281 total tackles, which is ninth in school history.
Since rejoining the conference Newberry College has won conference championships in the 2006 and 2008 seasons, and made three NCAA Division II playoff appearances.
“I think it was leading to bigger and better things,” Jones said. “It makes us feel good that the program is heading in the right direction. Newberry is on the map. The program is in great shape now.”
Josh Cruse is the sports editor of The Columbia Star and a graduate of Newberry College.