2015 Football season previewSeptember 4, 2015
BREVARD, N.C. – Facing a challenging schedule highlighted by two televised games and a trip to Division I Southern Utah, the Brevard College football team will look return to its winning ways when the 2015 season kicks off in Richmond, Virginia on September 5.
The 2014 Tornados were responsible for matching or surpassing a staggering 58 NCAA-era school records, including 41 individual marks. Brevard led the nation in red zone efficiency, finished second in time of possession and third in fourth down conversions, and had the sixth-most prolific rushing offense in Division II at 321.6 yards per game.
The good news for Brevard is that four of the five starters on the offensive line, along with starting tight end Brian Matias and experienced backup Austin Wright, return from last year’s squad. The line is highlighted by sophomore left tackle Josh Turner, who was selected first team all-conference last season and is on the preseason first-team squad in 2015. Left guard Rodney Garrett, center Dylan Dunbar, and right guard Branden Dagley combine with Turner to make the offensive line the most experienced unit on the team—veteran right tackle Darrin James is the only new starter on the front of the formation.
The Tornados are forced to deal with the loss of the entire backfield, however, after the graduation of all four primary ballcarriers from a season ago. The quartet of Jordan Ollis, Kelvin Jeter, Tanner Wright, and Andre Overholt accounted for 83 percent of Brevard’s total offense and 34 of the team’s 38 touchdowns.
But despite the significant losses, the cupboard is far from bare. Sophomore Kevin Rucker will be one of several players competing for a starting role in preseason camp after limited touches last season. T.J. Lett, a junior, and converted cornerback Anthony Washington will be given a look in preseason practice as well, with freshmen Kobe Garrett, Tyler Garland, and Jacques Ash expected to contend for playing time.
Brevard will be aided by the offensive line’s experience at the quarterback position as well. Tyler Gregory entered the preseason as the projected starter after redshirting last season. He progressed well through the spring and could add a passing dimension to complement Brevard’s deadly rushing attack. Kevin Herbst, a junior who has 812 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns in 14 career games, may also figure heavily into the Tornados’ offensive plans.
While players at other positions have talent that has thus far gone untapped, two of Ollis’s former understudies return at the fullback position. Arvin Berry is Brevard’s leading returning rusher, picking up 262 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry last season. Xavier McEachern suffered through an injury last season but has a career average of 4.5 yards per carry in two seasons. Head coach Paul Hamilton says that the tandem of Berry and McEachern make fullback “as strong a position on this team that we have going into the preseason, without a question.”
With the Tornados expected to place a higher level of emphasis on the passing game, the wide receiver corps will enjoy an expanded role in the 2015 offense. Senior Zac Queen is the team’s leading returner after hauling in eight passes for a team-high 179 yards and two touchdowns a season ago. Marlowe Macklin II, a natural receiver that was injured last season, is also expected to contribute. Hamilton calls a group of newcomers led by Charles Frederick “the best group of receivers we’ve ever signed,” emphasizing that this year’s passing offense will better complement Brevard’s punishing rushing attack.
The Tornados struggled defensively last season, but new defensive coordinator Thomas Neel, who spent eight years coaching at perennial Southern Conference powerhouse Wofford, has brought a new mentality to the unit. Hamilton remarked that he could see the defense playing with confidence throughout spring practice, and eight returning starters make the defense a veteran group.
The return of preseason second team all-conference defensive lineman Landon Allen from injury will reinvigorate the defense. The defensive end was fourth on the team with 61 tackles in a breakout 2013 campaign. He logged seven tackles for loss that accounted for a team-high 39 yards and can move into the top 10 in Brevard’s NCAA-era record book with 34 tackles this season. Chris Hamrick, Larry Cann III, and Henry Pryor will also return to the defensive line in Brevard’s 3-4 scheme.
The team’s biggest loss on the defensive side of the ball comes at the linebacker position after the graduation of Michael Gruber, the Tornados’ all-time leading tackler who was a finalist for several national awards and was selected to two postseason all-star games. Fellow inside linebacker Jack Woerner was also lost to graduation. Modzelle Atkins, who netted 6.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles from his outside linebacker position last season, will move inside. Jackson Vause and Jason Nieradka, who combined for 61 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery last season, are expected to occupy the outside positions. The return of Mitch Watson from injury will strengthen the unit considerably.
Hard-hitting free safety Marcus Lunsford, who was second on the team with 76 stops and 38 unassisted tackles last season, will head up the secondary. Junior college transfer Gionni Gibbs seems likely to secure the starting job opposite him, but newcomers Ty’Reik Faulks and Ashud Moore will make a push for the position in preseason camp. At cornerback, junior college transfer Amir Williams will likely take over the spot vacated by Anthony Washington’s shift to the offense. Jeremy Chandler, who led the team in pass breakups in 2014 and had an interception, could occupy the other starting role.
One of Brevard’s strongest returning assets is the leg of Alex Noboa, a preseason first team all-conference kicker who was named to the Fred Mitchell Award watch list last month. He was 7-for-8 on field goal attempts and converted on 97.7 percent of his extra point attempts last season while also handling kickoff duties.
The Tornados will be forced to replace Andre Overholt, a mainstay in Brevard’s return game for many years. He departs as the Tornados’ all-time leader in both kick return and punt return yardage. Sophomore Arvin Berry’s three career kick returns for 58 yards are the most of any returning player, while the Tornados are unlikely to have any player with collegiate punt returning experience on the roster this fall. The return game will likely be entrusted to freshmen, but Amir Williams and Anthony Washington may be pressed into duty as well.
Brevard also enters the season without a set punter. Freshman Dayton Rodgers and sophomore Tyler Beam are expected to compete for the position in preseason camp.
After playing arguably the most difficult schedule in Division II last season, the Tornados’ 2015 slate is another extremely challenging one. The Tornados face 10 fellow Division II schools and will travel over 2,000 miles to square off with a Division I team in Southern Utah.
The Tornados will play two difficult games to begin the season with a road trip to two-time national champion Virginia Union and home date with Bowie State on tap. A road contest at Wingate opens the conference slate before the long trip to Cedar City, Utah closes out a grueling month of September.
Brevard’s first home game in conference play comes on October 3 in a Homecoming tilt with Tusculum. The team then travels to Carson-Newman before its first-ever meeting with Limestone, which will be played under the lights at Memorial Stadium before a local television audience on WMYA My40.
A road trip to Newberry awaits on October 24 before the Tornados return home to face the Catawba Indians on Halloween afternoon. Brevard will make one final road trip to preseason conference favorite Lenoir-Rhyne on November 7. The season finale comes on November 14 against rival Mars Hill in another televised contest that will begin at 6:00 p.m.
“Our players are excited about the schedule we have lined up this season,” said Hamilton. “Right now the process of preparing for our first game against Virginia Union is our biggest concern. We’re going to put the best team we’ve got on the field on September 5, and we’ll evaluate after that game and hopefully find that we’re right where we need to be.”
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