HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs, with three teams being released each day from June 17 to July 28. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 1-4. Today, we present … East Tennessee State.
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EAST TENNESSEE STATE (8-4 IN 2018)
The SoCon (ETSU was Tied for 1st in 2018)
COACH: Randy Sanders – At School: 2nd year (8-4 record), Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2018 (first round loss to Jacksonville State)
2018 OFFENSE: 26.0 ppg. (75th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 26.4 ppg. (49th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Oct. 5 – vs. Wofford: This home game against potential SoCon frontrunner Wofford could tell us a ton about where ETSU is heading in 2019. By this time the Bucs will have a month behind them and the majority of the SoCon schedule ahead of them … and they'll have a firmer grasp of what their quarterback situation. Circle this one, folks.
SUM IT UP: Last season, ETSU won eight or more games for only the second time since 1969 (though, take note that the program took a short hiatus from 2004-14). The Bucs are certainly heading in the right direction. Coach Randy Sanders and his staff are crushing it in recruiting, and although they lost a nice core of seniors who had restarted the program — like QB Austin Herink, OL Matt Pyke and LB Dylan Weigel — many of the players that pushed ETSU to eight wins last year are back from last year's FCS playoff team.
Probably the biggest question to start with is who's going to play quarterback? Herink had started since 2015 when the program was resurrected. Now the program is looking for a new signal-caller. Two transfers should be a part of that mix in former Miami Hurricanes Cade Weldon, son of former Florida State standout QB Casey Weldon. Also, Coastal Carolina QB Chance Thrasher will be on ETSU's roster this fall. Those two transfers came after spring ball so that will be an interesting dynamic to watch in August drills. Most of the line and key playmakers are back, but chemistry with the guy behind center is understandably critical.
On defense, this secondary is clearly one of the best in FCS football. All four starters from last year's playoff game with Jacksonville State were underclassmen and there is depth beyond even that with players like rising senior Artevius Smith. Can you say loaded? Well, the Bucs are in the defensive backfield (see returning players below). Couple that with the destructive force up front that is Nasir Player, and you can see there's serious excitement here for a strong defensive unit.
OUR TAKE: It'll all come down to chemistry, folks. Last year, this program won in gritty style … and that core of seniors had a lot to do with it. Six of the eight wins came by a field goal or less, but this Bucs team always seemed to find a way to win those and stay atop the SoCon standings. If this program finds its identity early, this is a seven-win ball club at least. There are two FBS games on the schedule this year (Appalachian State and Vanderbilt) but some key SoCon opponents like Wofford come to ETSU. The league will be a gauntlet again, but this is a program that should be near the top of the mix.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./DL Nasir Player (HERO Sports Preseason All-American – 11 TFLs, 11 hurries, 43 tackles)
THE FOUNDATION: Soph./RB-KR Quay Holmes (HERO Sports Preseason All-American – 928 yards rushing, 15 total touchdowns – good receiver too); Soph./FS Tyree Robinson (HERO Sports Preseason All-American – 6 INTs, 1 TD; 71 tackles, 15 passes defensed); Sr./DB Jeremy Lewis (1st Team All SoCon); Soph./OL Tremond Shorts (SoCon All Freshman team); Soph./RB Jacob Saylors (SoCon All Freshman team – 615 rushing yards, 4 TDs); Sr./OL Ben Blackmon (returning starter); Sr./OL Greg McCloud (returning starter); Jr./LB Blake Bockrath (68 tackles, 8 TFLs, 7 hurries); Jr./DB Karon Delince (41 tackles, 12 passes defensed).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./LB Deven Brantley (HERO Sports No. 5 overall signee in the FCS with 6 P5 offers and 19 total FBS offers).
THE QUOTE: "We will face another challenging schedule this season. We are excited to be playing six home games, while we will face tests against Appalachian State and Vanderbilt. After the success we had last season, we won’t be sneaking up on anyone, so we have to come ready to play each week." — Head Coach Randy Sanders said this spring
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's ETSU Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The SoCon
Chattanooga | ETSU | Furman
Mercer | Samford | The Citadel
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