Among the many things Hampton University coach Donovan Rose saw in Friday's annual Blue/White scrimmage, no sight was sweeter than running back Antwon Chisholm making cuts, taking hits and heading for daylight.
Chisholm, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rookie of the year last season after rushing for 607 yards and four touchdowns, missed all of spring practice after February surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee. While Chisholm has been in pads for fall practice, Friday was the first day he absorbed full-contact blows for an extended time.
"The worst part was just sitting out, watching the team go without me this spring," said Chisholm, who said he hurt the knee last Oct. 16 against Norfolk State. "Now I've had to work hard during the summer and in camp and come in strong.
"I feel like I'm getting right back on track. I'm almost there. One more week, and I'll be there, 100 percent."
That will be right on time for the Pirates, who open the 2011 season on Sept. 3 against Alabama A&M in the Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field.
Chisholm, 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, was a featured part of the Blue team's offense for much of the first half of Friday's two-hour scrimmage, running up the middle and off tackle, taking option pitches and hauling in screen passes. He reeled off a 20-plus-yard carry and also took a screen down the right sideline, taking a helmet-rattling lick near the goal line and popping right up.
"I'm going to have to put a red jersey on him in practice," Rose said. "He's special. Every time he gets hits, I kind of get a little nervous, because he's not a big guy. But he's a tough guy. He's not afraid to run up in the hole."
A left sweep ended in a short-yardage TD for Chisholm two possessions after Pirates quarterback David Legree faked a handoff into his belly, then waltzed untouched around right tackle and into the end zone for the Blue team's first score. The fluidity of the play prompted a nearby cheerleader to remark, "Dang. That was too easy."
Legree, wearing the quarterback's red, no-contact jersey, was pressured a few times, but rarely had to improvise with one of the run-for-his-life scrambles that frequently disrupted HU's offensive flow last season.
White team quarterback Allen Overton, a freshman from Flint, Mich., found the going a little tougher. He was "sacked" once, hurried several times and saw one snap sail over his head.
Most of the first half was penalty-free, though a few flags, including a personal foul call on the Blue team, crept into the second.
In his debut as the Pirates' placekicker, Taurean Durham missed one extra point and had a 47-yard field goal attempt come up just short, hitting the front of the crossbar. Rose, though, was happy with the play of that unit, including solid punting from Jordan Stovall and some shifty moves from Nassau Community College transfer Justin Blake, battling for the kick returning job, after enduring inconsistent special teams play last season.
"I'm very pleased with the special teams," Rose said. "Kickers, you know they got a little different mind of their own, but compared to last year, I was very pleased."
The Blue/White game was originally scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m. before being moved to Friday at 4 p.m. because of the pending arrival of Hurricane Irene, then moved up again to 1 p.m.
"We had to get this in," Rose said. "You have to see what it feels like in a game, with the kickoff and the referees and just the tempo of the game. Now we've got this football out of the way, and now we can get to a safe place and stay safe.
"… When we come back Sunday, it's game time."