ROCK HILL, SC -- The Carson-Newman Eagles, who claimed their 17th South Atlantic Conference football championship last season by finishing in a three-way tie, are favored once again in what is once again forecasted as a very tight 2004 SAC race.
In a poll of the eight head football coaches in the league, the Eagles were picked to win the 2004 championship, garnering five first-place votes and 61 points overall, out of a possible 64.
|Team (1st place votes)||Pts|
|1. Carson-Newman (5)||61|
|2. Tusculum (2)||54|
|3. Catawba (1)||52|
|4. Mars Hill||33|
The Eagles return 62 lettermen, including seven offensive starters and five defensive starters.
Returning to direct the Eagles’ potent veer offense is senior quarterback Shane Kelley, who threw for more than 1,600 yards and rushed for more than 800 last season. The top three rushers return, including junior J.J. Chatmon, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and was second in the league in rushing at over 75 yards per game. The Carson-Newman offensive line should once again be a key part of their success, with several experienced veteran lineman returning.
Picked to finish second in the SAC are the Tusculum Pioneers. The Pioneers have some big holes to fill in the loss of SAC Defensive Player of the Year Ricardo Colclough and record-setting wide receiver Kevin Wolcott. But the Pioneers bring back quarterback Tony Colston. Tusculum was hit hard by graduation on the defensive side, with only three starters returning.
The Catawba Indians, who have not finished lower than second in the league standings since 1998, are picked to finish third. The Indians bring back nine starters on offense, including quarterback Luke Samples, the 2003 SAC Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 2,785 yards and 21 touchdowns. Catawba also has seven starters returning on defense, including the past two SAC Defensive Freshman of the Year in SaMario Houston and Marcus Huntley.
Mars Hill has finished fourth the previous two years, and is picked to wind up there again. The Lions have 10 starters returning on offense, including senior wide receiver Rod DeWalt, who led the league in scoring last year with 14 touchdowns.
Wingate was the pick to finish in fifth place. The Bulldogs bring back 13 starters, including seven on offense. Senior running back Antonio Hailstock led the SAC in rushing last year with 77.1 yards per game.
Presbyterian is picked to finish sixth. The Blue Hose have 14 starters returning off last year’s team which finished 4-6.
Newberry is picked to finish seventh. The Indians return 16 starters, including junior linebacker Terrance Leverett, who led the SAC in tackles per game last year.
Lenoir-Rhyne is picked to finish eighth. The Bears do return 17 starters, including a pair of talented wide receivers in Aaron Caldwell and Christopher Winford.