GREENEVILLE—The Tusculum University football team will open the 2019 campaign this Thursday night when the Pioneers make the 574-mile trip to Cleveland, Mississippi to face Delta State University. Kickoff time is slated for 7 p.m. (ET) at Parker Field-McCool Stadium.
Tusculum returns 45 lettermen and 15 starters from last season’s 5-5 squad that finished tied for third place in the South Atlantic Conference.
TU head coach Jerry Odom enters his fourth campaign in Greeneville where his teams have posted improvement in each of his previous Tusculum seasons and is looking for 2019 to be a breakout year for the program.
The Tusculum defense has emerged as one of the best in the conference during the Coach Odom era as the Pioneers have been listed amongst the league leaders in scoring defense, total defense and turnovers caused over the past three seasons. The Pioneers allowed just 21.9 points per game last year which was the third-best in the SAC and the fewest by a TU defense in a dozen seasons (16.4 ppg – 2006). The Pioneers were also third in the conference in total defense allowing 312.9 yards per contest (31st in NCAA II).
Tusculum returns eight starters on defense as well as seven of its top-10 tacklers. TU also brings back 69 percent of its defensive production from 2018.
Junior linebacker Ivan Hogans garnered All-Region and All-SAC accolades last year. The 6-2, 219-pound product of Stockbridge, Georgia, led the Pioneers with 92 tackles and finished third in the league posting 9.2 stops per contest. Hogans tallied eight tackles for loss with two sacks, two interceptions, three pass break-ups and a forced fumble. He enters this year having posted at least two tackles in each of his previous 20 career games in a TU uniform and led the team with five games of 10 or more tackles in 2018.
Two-time All-South Atlantic Conference cornerback Dee Alford is back for his final collegiate campaign. The Griffin, Georgia native has been a menace in the TU secondary where he has posted 20 career passes defended which are the ninth-most ever by a Pioneer. In 2018, Alford led the Pioneers with 13 passes defended (43rd in NCAA II) including 11 pass break-ups (4th in SAC) and two interceptions (T14th in SAC). The 6-0, 170-pounder finished fourth on the roster with 49 tackles including a team-leading 31 solo hits.
Senior free safety Malik Goodman earned All-SAC first team honors as well as a spot on the Football Gazette All-Region third team last year. His 146 career tackles are the most by an active TU player to go along with his two career interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 career passes defended. His 48 tackles were the fifth-most on the TU team last season including five for loss.
Greenwood, South Carolina senior David Johnson is slated to start at the other cornerback position after tallying 39 tackles with five for loss and two interceptions. Rounding out the starting secondary is senior defensive back Isaiah Dunn (McDonough, Ga.), who finished eighth on the team with 38 tackles including four for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
Senior defensive lineman Colton Strickland (Naples, Fla.) claimed All-SAC second team honors after he tallied 36 total tackles including eight for loss with four sacks and finished second on the team with seven quarterback hurries. Senior Devin Woodson also returns up front for the Pioneers at defensive tackle where he played in all 10 games and posted 28 tackles including seven for loss and three sacks. Woodson, a native of Central, South Carolina, also shined in the classroom and was tabbed to the CoSIDA Academic All-District first team.
Senior Josh Forrest (Lawrenceville, Ga.) recorded 24 tackles in his 10 outings last year including seven hits behind the line of scrimmage with three sacks, four quarterback hurries and returned an interception for a touchdown. Forrest is slated to start on the defensive line at the Bandit position, while veterans CJ Bartley and Javon “PJ” Green should also see action in the trenches. Bartley, a sophomore from Rockledge, Florida, finished third on the team with his 10 tackles for loss and fourth with four sacks. Green, a senior from Savannah, Georgia, has accounted for 36 stops as a Pioneer including seven for loss and two sacks.
The sophomore duo of Jackson Cauthen (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) and Jahaud Russ (Tampa, Fla.) are poised to anchor the middle linebacker position where both saw action in nine contests apiece. Redshirt freshman Luis Morris (Satellite Beach, Fla.) will see his first playing time on the TU gridiron after earning All-SAC honors on the TU track & field team where he finished third in the pole vault at the league championship meet last spring.
Senior linebacker Chris Matheus (Lehigh, Fla.) will start at the nickel position and has been a mainstay defensively in his 30-game career with the Pioneers. Last season he posted 22 tackles including four for loss with one sack. Graduate student Rhomel Fields and redshirt freshman John Smith will also make contributions defensively. Fields (Chicago, Ill.) posted 60 tackles with two interceptions and recovered two fumbles last year at Alabama A&M. Smith was an All-County and All-Conference choice at Cocoa (Fla.) High School as he recorded 279 tackles during his prep career.
Fellow Alabama A&M transfer Solomon Hunter has earned the starting nod at defensive end for the Pioneers. The 6-3, 243-pound graduate student accounted for 27 tackles including 3 ½ for loss with a fumble recovery last year with the Bulldogs. Prior to A&M, he was ranked as one of the top junior college defensive players in the nation while attending Cisco College in Texas. In 2016, the San Antonio native recorded 100 tackles (19th in NJCAA) including 12 ½ for loss.
Also returning to the Tusculum defensive unit are Ashton Watson (Gr., Ooltewah, Tenn.), Xavier Clemmons (So., Douglas, Ga.), Nick Jackson (RFr., Valdosta, Ga.) and Jordan Gilliard (So., Tampa, Fla.). Three true freshmen have also worked their way onto the defensive depth chart including defensive backs Ty’Korian Brown (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Jonovan Lowe (Tucker, Ga.) and Trey Trawick (Milledgeville, Ga.).
On the offensive side of the football, the Pioneers return seven starters from 2018 including All-SAC running back Jordon Shippy and All-Region offensive tackle Keveon Broadwater.
Shippy, a senior from Gaffney, South Carolina, led TU with 694 rushing yards last season on 116 carries with five touchdowns. He averaged 6.0 yard per rush and 77.1 yards per game which were both third in the conference. He ran for a school single-game record 258 yards in last year’s SAC-opener with Limestone as he also scored three touchdowns. He garnered SAC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts, while also finishing the season with four receptions for 34 yards.
Shippy enters his senior season with 1,186 rushing yards to his credit, which are ranked 11th in the Tusculum record book.
Broadwater, who has been a prep and collegiate teammate of Shippy at both Gaffney High School and Tusculum, will be the anchor of the Pioneer offensive front. The 6-4, 315-pound senior from Gaffney has started in all 31 games of his TU career as he was a consensus All-Region selection last year while also garnering All-SAC first team accolades.
Tusculum’s top receiver from a year ago is back in sophomore Ajay Belanger. The 6-3, 190-pound product of Green Cove Springs, Florida, led the Pioneers with 33 receptions and 386 receiving yards as a true freshman. He averaged 11.7 yards per reception and also posted three touchdowns as was tabbed to the 2019 Preseason All-SAC second team.
The Pioneers have a stable of talented quarterbacks as redshirt freshman Joaquin Collazo has been tabbed to get the opening week start at Delta State. Collazo, a 6-3, 185-pound southpaw from Melbourne, Florida, was a two-time All-State standout at Central Catholic High School where he passed for over 4,000 yards and tossed 63 touchdowns.
Also listed on the depth chart at quarterback are redshirt freshman Bryce Moore and junior Hunter Weismore.
Moore, a 6-4, 215-pounder from Jefferson, Georgia, threw for 32 touchdowns and 4,000 yards at Jefferson High School. He led his prep team to back-to-back State semifinalist performances and was named the Region Offensive Player of the Year.
Weismore is the lone player to have seen collegiate action under center for the Black and Orange. The 6-0, 205-pound product of St. Cloud, Florida, has appeared in four games at quarterback in his two prior seasons where he has completed 10 passes, including four for touchdowns. In 2018, Weismore made reserve appearances on the road at Shorter and in the season-finale against Wingate. In the Wingate game, he nearly led the Pioneers to a monumental rally as he tossed two fourth-quarter TD passes in a 16-12 loss to the Bulldogs.
Sophomore tailback Maurice Gomillion ran for 281 yards on 56 attempts last year with a touchdown. He also posted a TD catch on the year for the Jacksonville, Florida native. Redshirt freshman Thurlow Wilkins is expected to see time in the offensive backfield for the Pioneers. He rushed for 1,425 yards in 2017 at Avon Park High School in Florida where he was an All-State, All-County and All-Conference selection.
Jacob Moss, a sophomore from Orange City, Fla., led the squad as a true freshman with his five touchdown receptions. His 23 catches for 286 receiving yards were both the second-most on the TU roster in 2018 as he posted at least one reception in all 10 contests.
Sophomore receiver Tory Ponder (Moultrie, Ga.) tallied 194 yards on 11 receptions to average 17.6 yards per grab as he had a solid fall camp heading into Thursday’s opener. Senior Chavis Williams (Asheville, N.C.) and sophomore Desmond Arthur (Rockledge, Fla.) return to the TU receiving corps.
Three newcomers will be looking to contribute in passing attack for the Pioneers including Al Thompson IV, Brandon Ziarno and Tyler Ajiero. Thompson, who originally committed to Arizona State was a 3-star recruit from Rivals.com and was a two-time All-State standout at Brentwood Academy in Nashville. Ziarno, a junior from Melbourne, Florida, makes the move to receiver after playing quarterback two seasons at NCAA Division II Florida Tech. Ajiero, a true freshman from Tifton, Georgia, garnered All-Region first team accolades while playing at Tift County High School.
Joining Broadwater on the offensive line are returning starters from a year ago in Bailey Herring and Brandon Harrison. Herring, a 6-1, 295-pound junior from Merritt Island, Florida, will get the starting nod at center after playing mostly at left guard in 2018. Harrison, a 6-3, 315-pound senior from Decatur, Mississippi, is back as the starting right guard. Jeremiah James, a 6-2, 325-pound sophomore from Port St. Lucie, Florida will take over Herring’s spot as the starting left guard, while Georgia All-State selection Christian Coulter has won the starting right tackle spot. The 6-5, 338-pound true freshman led the Thomson High School squad to two AAAA 3A region titles and a state runner-up performance.
Soddy Daisy junior Grant Cordell is back for the Pioneers, while newcomers Rick Jeantihomme (6-4, 300, Orlando, Fla.), Carter Sysak (6-4, 300, Bradenton, Fla.) and Mike Peppin (6-3, 300, Flagler Beach, Fla.) have earned spots on the depth chart for the offensive line.
Preseason All-SAC second team choice Carter Mangel (6-4, 260, Bogart, Ga.) has taken over the starting job at tight end as he finished 2018 with four receptions for 72 yards. Mississippi Valley State University transfer Tyron Hundley (6-5, 240, Kankakee, Ill.) will also see action at tight end. He played two season at MVSU where he totaled six catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.
The fullback position will be manned by the veteran duo of Will Boney and Conner Johnston. Boney, a graduate student from Mayo, Florida, has played in 28 career games with the Pioneers where he has rushed for three touchdowns as a blocking back. Johnston, a senior from Warner Robins, Georgia, has played his three previous TU campaigns at tight end, but has made the move to fullback this year.
On special teams, sophomore Andrew Cantrell returns as the team’s starting punter. The Sparta, Tennessee product average 38.7 yards per punt which was the sixth-best average in the league. He accounted for 17 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line along with eight punts over 50 or more yards.
Redshirt freshman Alan Andrzejewski (Hoschton, Ga.) is slated to be the starting placekicker as the Mill Creek High School product established a new school record for PAT and field goal accuracy. Greeneville redshirt freshman Eli Shephard garnered All-Conference and All-County accolades at Greeneville High School where he made 96-of-98 extra points along with 3-of-6 on field goals as the Greene Devils captured the 2017 State Championship.
Thurlow Wilkins and Maurice Gomillion will handle kickoff returns while Jacob Moss and Dee Alford will be the focus on the punt return unit.
The Pioneers will take on its second straight Gulf South Conference foe on Sept. 14 when they host the University of West Alabama in Greeneville. It will be the inaugural meeting between TU and the Tigers who went 8-4 last season and advanced to the NCAA Playoffs. UWA will host South Atlantic Conference foe Limestone College this Saturday in Livingston, Alabama.