Tough schedule provides challenge for 2014 Tornados

BREVARD, N.C. – The Brevard College football team will look to improve upon last season’s 3-8 mark as the Tornados enter their seventh season of full NCAA Division II membership and eighth campaign under the leadership of head coach Paul Hamilton.

Brevard will play what many consider to be the most difficult schedule in Division II this season. The 2014 slate features back-to-back road contests against Division I opponents Western Carolina and Liberty to open the season. In conference play, the Tornados will face three teams ranked in last year’s final Division II poll, including national runners-up Lenoir-Rhyne.

Brevard’s home games against last season’s No. 2-ranked Bears and fellow South Atlantic Conference opponent Wingate will be broadcast locally on WMYA My40, marking the second and third times in program history that the Tornados will appear on television.

“I don’t think there are any Division II teams in the country that open with a tougher first five games than we do,” said Hamilton. After playing the first two games of the season on the road at Division I opponents, the Tornados welcome last year’s No. 17 team and 2014 preseason SAC favorites in Carson-Newman to Brevard Memorial Stadium before traveling to North Greenville and hosting national championship participant Lenoir-Rhyne. “We’re going to have to be a very good football team early on for this season to be successful.”

A year ago, the Tornados were one of the most disciplined teams in the nation, finishing with the third-fewest penalties and penalty yardage of any Division II team and were fifth nationally with just 12 turnovers on the season. Brevard’s potent triple option offensive attack allowed the Tornados to amass 258.9 rushing yards per contest, the 12th-best total in the country and third among South Atlantic Conference teams. The Tornados return three starters on an offensive line that cleared the way for Tornados’ running backs to gain 2,848 yards on the ground last season, an average 4.65 yards per carry.

Preseason second team all-conference selection Kelvin Jeter will be called upon to spearhead the Tornados’ running game. The fifth-year senior from Gastonia, North Carolina led Brevard’s three-headed rushing attack with 800 yards on the ground. He is Brevard’s all-time leader in rushing yards (2,520), total offense (2,520), and all-purpose yards (3,770), and ranks third with 6.83 yards per carry over the course of his career.

Joining Jeter in the backfield is Andre Overholt, a first team all-conference selection as a kick return specialist. A senior from Tryon, North Carolina, Overholt set a program record with 1,024 kick return yards last season and needs just 114 rushing yards to break 1,000 in a Brevard uniform. His career average of 6.76 yards per carry is fourth on Brevard’s all-time list, and he led the team last season with an astonishing 8.0 yards per carry. He has gained 3,016 all-purpose yards in his career, good for second in program history.

Rounding out the Tornados’ rushing attack will be Jordan Ollis, a senior from Columbus, North Carolina that was Brevard’s second-leading rusher with 786 yards in 2013. He finished second in the conference with 11 rushing touchdowns on the season, which tied a Brevard single-season mark, and can become the Tornados’ all-time leader in touchdowns with nine scores this season. His best game in 2013 came in the 52-33 triumph over Tusculum on November 9 in which he scored five touchdowns, including four on the ground, to set a Brevard single-game record. The Football Gazette named him second team all-region for his performance in 2013.

Senior Tanner Wright is penciled in as the starting quarterback. In seven games played last year, Wright went 20-of-38 passing for 305 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He also picked up 195 yards on the ground and reached the end zone five times. Kevin Herbst, who started the last three games of 2013, provides the Tornados with a viable second option. As a true freshman, he passed for 243 yards and four scores on 10-of-21 passing with three interceptions. He also gained 77 yards on the ground and rushed for a touchdown.

While the offense returns seven starters from last year’s team, the team will look to gain experience quickly on the defensive side of the ball. Preseason first team all-conference linebacker Michael Gruber will anchor a defense that returns just three starters from a year ago. A senior, Gruber needs just 16 tackles this season to break the all-time Brevard record. His 124 tackles last season stand as the most in Tornados’ history for a single campaign. He also added a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery to his impressive totals in 2013.

“Michael has been an outstanding football player for us since the day he got to campus,” remarked Hamilton. “He’s a just tough, hard-nosed football player.” Gruber’s skill has earned him recognition from multiple national publications. He was named second team all-region and an All-America honorable mention by The Football Gazette last season and garnered preseason All-America honorable mention accolades by the Collegiate Development Football League in 2014.

Senior defensive lineman Landon Allen will also be called upon to help lead a position group that will likely serve as a barometer of the team’s success this season. Allen has 98 career tackles, needing just 42 stops to move into the top ten in Brevard history. He is currently 10th all-time with 13 tackles for loss and ninth with five sacks in his career. Last season, he forced two fumbles, the second-highest total in the conference, and had three sacks that caused a loss of 26 yards. Junior safety Marcus Lunsford, Brevard’s lone returning defensive back, had 50 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery during his sophomore campaign.

After opening the season at Western Carolina and Liberty, the Tornados’ home opener comes against 2013 playoff participant and conference favorite Carson-Newman. Brevard travels to North Greenville in a nonconference tilt, then has a televised Homecoming matchup with a Lenoir-Rhyne squad that made a run to the national title game a year ago in the first of six straight conference games. The Tornados travel to Mars Hill on October 11 before its second televised game in three weeks against Wingate.

After a matchup at Catawba, the Tornados wrap up the home portion of the conference schedule with a November 1 tilt against Newberry, which was picked third by the coaches in the conference preseason poll and finished last season with a No. 23 national ranking en route to its second-ever Division II playoff appearance. A Thursday night matchup at Tusculum concludes the conference slate before the Tornados return home for a matchup against the College of Faith to close the 2014 campaign.

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