HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … Eastern Illinois.
EASTERN ILLINOIS (6-5)
OVC (EIU was 3rd in the OVC in 2017)
COACH: Kim Dameron – 5th year (24-22 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 17.6 ppg (101st in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 26.0 ppg (62nd in FCS)
SUM IT UP: The Panthers lost five All OVC players to graduation, so that stings a little bit, but there is good talent returning. Five offensive linemen who started games are back, productive skill players are back at running back and wide receiver (probably the team's top returning strength, depth wise, is playmakers on offense in this "Air Raid" setup). Quarterback Scotty Gilkey is back after starting five games last year, but nothing is in stone with the quarterback situation (see "Top Newcomer" below). The offense struggled at times last year, but the numbers are back to improve greatly. Defensively, this program was much stronger last year and has solid material to build with.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The players in this program haven't played on a losing EIU team, and that's certainly something to be proud of. Last year the Panthers were the king's of the close win — with three of their six victories coming in overtime, and all six wins coming by less than three points. Take that, Jimmy Valvano! Home games with Austin Peay, Tennessee State and UT Martin will be the key this year — and if they win two out of those three against top-half OVC teams? EIU may very well find itself in the playoff discussion, like these seniors were in 2015 when the Panthers received a bid.
TOP RETURNEE: RB Isaiah Johnson (2nd team All OVC – 683 rushing yards, 4 TDs)
THE NEXT BEST: DB Mark Williams (HERO Sports Freshman All-American in 2017 – 49 tackles, 3 INTs, 8 PBUs); WR Alexander Hollins (All-OVC Newcomer Team – 47 catches, 694 yards, 7 TDs); OL Grant Branch (3-year starter); OL Aaron Callaway (3-year starter moving to Center); LB Joe Caputo (leading returning tackler – 63 tackles, 6.5 TFLs); DE Josh Price (42 tackles, 7.4 TFLs); LB Dytarious Johnson (53 tackles, 8.5 TFLs).
TOP NEWCOMER: QB Johnathan Brantley (Tulane transfer — started against Oklahoma in 2017, two starts in 2016 – very strong rushing threat).
DID YOU KNOW?: Eastern Illinois products Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo combined to win four OVC Player of the Year Awards at Eastern Illinois, along with two FCS Walter Payton National Player of the Year awards in 2002 and 2013?
THE QUOTE: "We are excited to get out and start practicing. Most people are aware that we are putting in a new offensive scheme, so a large part of the spring will be getting players comfortable with that new system and having guys battle for positions. We had a good off-season program and now it will be good to see guys out here on the field competing." — Head Coach Kim Dameron said this spring
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #EIUBleedBlue
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @EIUPantherFB
Congratulations to our former EIU football players Bradley Dewberry, AJ Hantak, Mack Weaver, and Tray Mitchell whom all received invitations to NFL Rookie Mini-Camps!! #EIURepresent #PantherPride pic.twitter.com/Kn02MU7Pgu
— EIU Football (@EIUPantherFB) May 1, 2018
FCS QB TRANSFERS: Who Tops The List?