The Carson-Newman Eagles, who claimed their 16 South Atlantic Conference football championship last season by going undefeated in the league, are favored once again in the 2003 SAC race.
In a poll of the eight head football coaches in the league, the Eagles were picked to win the 2003 championship, garnering seven first-place votes and 63 points overall, out of a possible 64.
The Eagles return 61 lettermen, including five offensive starters and eight defensive starters. But the Eagles will need to find replacements at quarterback and running back, after losing Leonard Guyton and Randy Bell. Guyton, a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, was last year’s Offensive Player of the Year in the conference, while Bell was signed as a free agent by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. The Eagles do have experience at quarterback in junior Shane Kelly, who was the 2001 SAC Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year while filling in for the injured Guyton.
Picked to finish second in the SAC are the Catawba Indians. The Indians have made the NCAA playoffs each of the past four years, and look to make another run behind the power of running back Rodney Wallace, who led the league in rushing last season.
Picked to finish third are the Tusculum Pioneers. The Pioneers bring back 22 starters off last year’s team which finished 7-4 overall. All-Americans Donald Amaker and Alan Dunn spearhead a talented returning cast for the Pioneers.
Presbyterian was picked to finish fourth. The Blue Hose return 60 letterwinners, including 15 starters, from last year's team which posted a 8-3 overall record, finished third in the South Atlantic Conference regular season and ranked No. 9 in the final NCAA Division II South Region poll.
Mars Hill College is picked to finish fifth. The Lions’ ground game should be strong again with the return of the school’s all-time leading rusher in Travis McFadden, who missed most of last season with an injury, and Cedric Johnson, who stepped in when McFadden went down and earned All-Conference honors. But the Lions’ defense will miss four-time All-Conference member and 2002 SAC Defensive Player of the Year Khalid Abdullah, as well as linebacker Matt Carter.
Wingate is picked to finish sixth. The Bulldogs have some offensive firepower in quarterback Stuart Card, receiver Zeke McKine and running back Antonio Hailstock.
Lenoir-Rhyne and Newberry finished in a tie for seventh place in the poll.
The Bears lost record-setting quarterback Brett Meunier, but return plenty of young talent, including seven defensive starters.
The Indians are looking to climb out of the cellar with new head coach Zak Willis.
Coaches Preseason Poll
1. Carson-Newman (7) 63
2. Catawba (1) 55
3. Tusculum 48
4. Presbyterian 36
5. Mars Hill 31
6. Wingate 27
7. (tie) Lenoir-Rhyne 14
(numbers in parentheses represent number of first-place votes)
Carson-Newman, Catawba Lead Way on Preseason All-Conference Football Team
Carson-Newman and Catawba, who have monopolized the SAC football championship over the past decade, appear to have the talent to keep that streak alive.
The Eagles, the defending SAC champions, lead the way with 12 representatives on the 2003 preseason All-Conference team, as selected by the league’s Sports Information Directors. The Indians placed a dozen on the teams. Both Carson-Newman and Catawba have eight first-team representatives.
Catawba’s Luke Samples, who broke the Indians’ single-season passing mark as a sophomore, is the First Team quarterback. He’ll have plenty of protection from a pair of preseason First-Team selections in Joe Nixon and Daniel Lynch, while Cole Bean, a former First Team All-Confernece selection, starts out on the second team. The Indians also return preseason First-Team selection Rodney Wallace, who led the league in rushing last year. Samario Houston, last year’s Defensive Freshman of the Year, looks to continue Catawba’s history of standout linebackers.
The Eagles will look to senior running back Damone Boone and wide receiver Mikkail Jenkins to spearhead the C-N offensive juggernaut. The Eagles aren’t all about offense, however, with five representatives on the First Team Defense, including Clarence Glymph, Germon Spence and William Moody.
Tusculum also placed 11 on the preseason teams, including All-American offensive lineman Alan Dunn and return specialist wizard Donald Amaker.
Presbyterian College had six representatives. Wide receiver Terry Meng and punter Philip Bernardi were First-Team selections.
Mars Hill had a pair of running backs among its five members. Cedric Johnson was a First-Team selection, while Travis McFadden, the school’s all-time leading rusher, is back after missing most of last year with an injury and is on the Second Team.
Jeremy Durham, Newberry’s First Team All-Conference representative last season, returns for the Indians. Todd Jeter, who led the league in interceptions two years ago, also made First Team.
Wingate had four selections, all on the Second Team. Offensive standouts Zeke McKine and running back Antonio Hailstock lead the Bulldogs.
Lenoir-Rhyne placed three on the Preseason All-Conference teams, including tight end Ross Penland on the First Team. Chris Winford, a return specialist who was the 2002 Offensive Freshman of the Year, was a Second Team selection.
2003 SAC Preseason All-Conference Team
First Team First Team
QB: Luke Samples, CAT DL: Clarence Glymph, C-N
WR: Matt Riggs, TC DL: Tellex Lanham, MH
WR: Terry Meng, PC DL: Khanis Hubbard, CAT
WR: Mikkail Jenkins, C-N DL: Germon Spence, C-N
RB: Cedric Johnson, MH LB: Craig Pritchett, TC
RB: Rodney Wallace, CAT LB: Daris Robinson, TC
RB: Damone Boone, C-N LB: William Moody, C-N
OL: Bakari Wilkerson, C-N LB: Samario Houston, CAT
OL: Alan Dunn, TC DB: Todd Geter, NEW
OL: Joe Nixon, CAT DB: Jamel Jackson, CAT
OL: Jeremy Durham, NEW DB: Avery Blue, C-N
OL: Daniel Lynch, CAT DB: Michael Grant, MH
TE: Ross Penland, L-R P: Philip Bernardi, PC
PK: Allan Rohrbaugh, CAT LS: Justin Anderson, C-N
RS: Donald Amaker, TC
Second Team Second Team
QB: Carson Bardley, TC DL: Teddy Canty, PC
WR: Rod DeWalt, MH DL: Lebron Johnson, TC
WR: Kendall Brown, NEW DL: Piotr Kalinowski, CAT
WR: Zeke McKine, WING DL: Mike Hobbs, TC
RB: Mario Crowe, CAT LB: Eric Solomon, C-N
RB: Travis McFadden, MH LB: Isaac Gibson, PC
RB: Antonio Hailstock, WING LB: Darrell Nicholson, WING
OL: Justin Anderson, C-N LB: Adam Mosher, L-R
OL: Reggie Perkins, C-N DB: Ray Cooper, NEW
OL: Mike Hill, PC DB: D.J. Starling, TC
OL: Cole Bean, CAT DB: Ricardo Colclough, TC
OL: Marcus Johnson, WING DB: Jemonte Battle, CAT
TE: Hamp Eadon, PC P: Brandon Carnes, NEW
PK: Kjell Lorentzen, C-N LS: Mike Ball, TC
RS: Chris Winford, L-R