Courtesy of Tennessee State Athletics,
NASHVILLE — Tennessee State was picked to finish fifth in the Preseason Poll announced by the Ohio Valley Conference to begin Media Day on Monday, while eight Tigers placed on the Preseason All-OVC team.
Last season, the Tigers finished 2-5, but under new leadership, the Tigers look to make a run for the title.
Former Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner and Tennessee Titan All-Pro running back Eddie George enters his first season as a head coach, taking over the Tennessee State program. George is the only new head coach in the OVC this season. George will return to Nissan Stadium, this time as a head coach, leading Big Blue for its first season with all home games played at Nissan since 2012. He has assembled an experienced coaching staff that includes individuals who have achieved at the highest levels of college and professional football, including former Raiders and Browns head coach Hue Jackson who will serve as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Defensive tackle Davoan Hawkins, kicker Antonio Zita, right tackle Cam Durley and fullback Benjamin Johnson joined running back Devon Starling on the first squad, while safety Josh Green, linebacker James Green, wide receiver Cam Wyche and punter Kaleb Mosley earned spots on the second team.
Starling led all freshmen nationally in rushing, finishing with 648 yards on 124 carries and three touchdowns. The Antioch, Tenn. native averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 92.6 yards per game. Starling led all OVC rushers and ranked 16th nationally, first among all freshmen last season. The transfer recorded three 100-yard games with a season-best 149 yards at Murray State, one week before running for 134 yards versus UT Martin. Starling closed out the season with a 104 yard and a touchdown performance against Southeast Missouri.
Hawkins made his presence felt in his first year as a Tiger. The defensive tackle finished the season third in tackles for TSU with 32 and led the OVC in tackles for loss (9.0), sacks (5.0) and forced fumbles (2). Hawkins also totaled 19 solo tackles, recovered a fumble and had four quarterback hurries. The transfer recorded a season best 3.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage and a best 1.5 sacks in a win over Eastern Illinois.
In his first season with TSU, Wyche led the squad with 22 receptions and 456 yards receiving. The transfer scored two touchdowns while averaging 65.1 yards per game. Wyche led the conference and ranked 16th in the nation with 20.73 yards per reception. The Douglasville, Ga. product caught seven passes on the year that went for 20 yards or more, including an 80 yard reception in the final game of the season against Southeast Missouri. The distance tied for the 10th all-time in program history. His top performance of the season can against EIU where he caught six passes for 125 yards.
Durley and Johnson played a role in Starlings success. Durley played in all seven games, starting five, at right tackle. Despite missing a pair of starts due to injuries, Durley did come in to help anchor the offensive line. Johnson carried the ball just one time on the season and caught two passes, but was mainly used as a blocker for the Big Blue running game and in pass protection. The fullback played in all seven games, earning one start.
Zita converted on 14 field goals this season, leading the OVC and finishing second in the country with 2.0 per game. The junior impressed this season with eight field goals from beyond 40 yards and was the only kicker in the country to have more than two field goals made from 50-plus. Zita booted five from that distance, highlighted by a 62-yard blast against EIU. The kick is the longest at all NCAA levels this season. Zita finished second only to Southeast Missouri running back Geno Hess (9.0) in scoring at 7.0.
Josh Green finished second on the team with 39 tackles and led the defensive unit with 30 solo tackles and three interceptions. The younger of the Green brothers led OVC with 0.4 interceptions per game and was fourth in the conference in passes defended with 1.0 per game.
James Green started all seven games for the Tigers, but truly played just six games as he was injured on the very first play of the game in the season finale against Southeast Missouri. Despite missing the rest of the contest against the Redhawks, Green finished the season with 29 stops, just three behind Hawkins and Nick Harper Jr. The Tigers team captain registered 5.0 tackles for loss, an interception, three quarterback hurries and broke up three passes.
Mosley punted 35 times on the year for 1,403 yards. He finished second in the OVC averaging 40.1 yards per punt and had only one touchback. Mosley booted six balls over 50 yards and forced 19 fair catches. The junior placed 11 punts inside the 20 yard line, four inside the 10.
The Tigers open camp on Friday, Aug. 6, in preparation for the Black College Hall of Fame Classic season opener on Sept. 5 in Canton, Ohio.
2021 OVC Football Preseason Predicted Order of Finish
1. Murray State (7 first-place votes) – 64 points
2. Austin Peay (4) – 60
Southeast Missouri (3) – 60
4. UT Martin – 38
5. Tennessee State – 32
6. Tennessee Tech – 28
7. Eastern Illinois – 12
2021 OVC Preseason Football Team
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Draylen Ellis (QB), Austin Peay
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Kordell Jackson (NB), Austin Peay
QB – Preston Rice, Murray State
QB – Draylen Ellis, Austin Peay
RB – Devon Starling, Tennessee State
RB – Geno Hess, Southeast Missouri
FB – Benjamin Johnson, Tennessee State
WR – Zack Smith, Southeast Missouri
WR – Colton Dowell, UT Martin
WR – LaMartez Brooks, Murray State
WR – Donnell Williams, UT Martin
WR – Cam Wyche, Tennessee State
WR – Jacob Bell, Murray State
TE – Rodney Williams II, UT Martin
OL – Cam Durley, Tennessee State
OL – Bucky Williams, Austin Peay
OL – Jaden Rosenthall, Southeast Missouri
OL – Levi Nesler, Murray State
OL – Jacob Vance, Murray State
OL – Shyron Rodgers, Southeast Missouri
OL – Matthan Hatchie, UT Martin
OL – Colby McKee, Austin Peay
OL – Seth Johnson, Austin Peay
DT – Bryson Donnell, Southeast Missouri
DT – Davoan Hawkins, Tennessee State
DE – Chris Tucker, Tennessee Tech
DE – Ethan Edmondson, Murray State
OLB – Omardrick Douglas, Southeast Missouri
OLB – Scotty Humpich, Murray State
OLB – James Green, Tennessee State
ILB – Eric Samuta, Murray State
ILB – Jason Johnson, Eastern Illinois
ILB – Jack McDonald, Austin Peay
CB – Marcis Floyd, Murray State
CB – Jay Woods, UT Martin
S – Deven Sims, UT Martin
S – Josh Reliford, Tennessee Tech
S – Josh Green, Tennessee State
NB – Kordell Jackson, Austin Peay
K – Antonio Zita, Tennessee State
P – Zach Haynes, Southeast Missouri
KR – Matt Judd, Eastern Illinois
PR – Malik Honeycutt, Murray State