GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University football team kicks off its 2018 season Thursday night when they host North Greenville University at Pioneer Field. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. and will launch the 70th gridiron campaign in program history.
TU head coach Jerry Odom is entering his third season in Greeneville and returns 39 lettermen, including 14 starters from last year's 5-5 squad that finished fourth in the South Atlantic Conference for a second straight season. Tusculum won three of its final five contests including an upset victory over 12th-ranked Wingate in the 2017 finale, snapping the Bulldogs' bid for an undefeated season.
Offensively, the Pioneers return seven starters including quarterback Alex Ogle, running back Maxwell Joseph, tight end Gary Breuklander and offensive tackle Keveon Broadwater, all of which were named to the 2018 Preseason All-Conference Team. On defense, TU also brings back seven starters including Preseason All-SAC honorees Dee Alford (DB), Ivan Hogans (LB) and Jay Boyd (DB). Boyd also returns after garnering All-Conference honors as a return specialist in each of his first two TU campaigns.
The Pioneers will be young at the wide receiver position and will also have new personnel at both punter and placekicker.
North Greenville won three of its first four games to open the 2017 season including a thrilling 34-33 win over Tusculum in the season-opener in Tigerville. But the Crusaders stumbled down the home stretch going 1-5 in its last six games to end with a 4-6 worksheet.
NGU is entering its first year as an associate member of the Gulf South Conference and will play a nine-game GSC slate which includes defending NCAA Region Champion and national runner-up West Florida. This Thursday will be the 10th meeting between Tusculum and North Greenville. NGU leads the series 6-3 and have won five in a row over the Pioneers.
Quarterback Alex Ogle is slated to direct the Tusculum offense once again after a solid first season with the Pioneers. The 6-4, 225-pound graduate student from Hobe Sound, Florida, garnered the start in all 10 games at quarterback where he tossed for 2,056 yards and 14 touchdowns. The two-time SAC Offensive Player of the Week completed 56.3 percent of his passes (156-of-277) and rushed for two touchdowns.
Tommy Pistone is No. 2 on the TU depth chart at quarterback. The 6-4, 210-pound graduate student from Yuma, Arizona played two seasons (2014-2015) at Grossmont Community College where he passed for 1,070 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Junior running back Maxwell Joseph led the Pioneers in scoring with his 54 points, all coming off his nine rushing touchdowns which were fifth-most in the league. The 6-2, 230-pound Naples, Florida product played in eight games, rushing for 551 yards on 128 attempts for a 4.3 yards per carry average.
Also back in the Tusculum backfield are Jordon Shippy and Lor'renzo Pratt. Shippy, a 5-9, 190-pounder from Gaffney, South Carolina, saw action in every game in his junior season as he ran for 211 yards on 54 attempts (3.9 ypc). He also hauled in six receptions for 58 yards. Pratt, a 5-9, 190-pound senior from Cocoa, Florida, played in the first six games of the season and rushed for 173 yards. He also posted 52 yards on nine catches including a touchdown in a home win over Mars Hill.
Sophomore tight end Gary Breuklander garnered preseason conference recognition following his rookie campaign as he tallied seven catches for 124 and including three touchdowns which were second on the team. The 6-2, 250-pound Jacksonville, Florida native hauled in a nine-yard TD in overtime as TU rallied to a double-OT victory at Newberry. He also posted a 22-yard touchdown in the Pioneers' win over Wingate.
Junior tight end Conner Johnston also returns as the Warner Robins, Georgia native played in nine games last season with a pair of starts. He totaled four catches for 26 yards and a touchdown. His biggest play of the year came with his game-winning two-point conversion catch in TU's 32-31 overtime win at Newberry.
The top-returning receiver is junior Chavis Williams. The 5-11, 175-pound native of Asheville, North Carolina, is coming off a 2017 campaign where he posted eight catches for 145 yards. Also back from a year ago is junior Deshawn Davis and sophomore Shemar Bridges. Davis, a 5-11, 170-pounder from Rock Hill, South Carolina, was credited with one reception for 17 yards while appearing in eight games. Bridges, 6-3, 190-pounder from Jacksonville, Florida, made four appearances with one reception for nine yards.
True freshman Ajay Belanger is marked to start in Thursday's opener. Belanger, a 6-3, 190-pound product was a two-time All-County selection at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs, Florida, where he accounted for 49 receptions for 839 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman Tory Ponder returns looking for his first collegiate action. The 5-11, 210-pound native of Moultrie, Georgia was an All-State standout at Colquitt County High School where he posted 83 career receptions for 1,069 yards and 10 touchdowns.
True freshman Dazhun Steele has shown promise during fall camp as the 6-5, 210-pounder from Twin City, Georgia was a three-time All-State pick at Emanuel County Institute, recording 1,856 receiving yards.
The Tusculum offensive line returns some quality veteran experience which is anchored by the trio of seniors Caleb LaFleur and Benson Napier, along with Preseason All-SAC tackle Keveon Broadwater. They have combined for 81 starts during their collegiate careers. Napier, a 6-2, 315-pounder from Coalfield, Tennessee has started in all 32 games he has played including all 10 outings last year where he graded out at 85 percent on the season.
LaFleur, a 6-3, 300-pound product from Murfreesboro has started in 30 outings during his collegiate career which includes nine starts at East Tennessee State University in 2015 and 21 straight starts with the Pioneers as he posted a 90 percent grade in his 10 contests in 2017.
Broadwater has emerged as a force a left tackle for the Black and Orange. The 6-4, 315-pounder from Gaffney, South Carolina has started in all 21 of his Tusculum contests and graded out at 84 percent as a sophomore last year.
Sophomore Bailey Herring, a 6-1, 300-pound product from Merritt Island, Florida, earned some playing time last season in his first Tusculum campaign after transferring from Hampton University and is slated to start the season at left guard. Garnering the right tackle start is 6-8, 305-pound junior Nick Pallas. The Las Flores, California junior starred on the basketball hardwood the last two seasons at Cal State Marcos and UT Arlington.
Also slated to garner playing time this year in the offensive trenches are Nathan Podares (6-4, 290, Soph., Jensen Beach, Fla.), Jeremiah James (6-2, 310, Fr., Port St. Lucie, Fla.), Devin Morton (6-1, 295, Jr., Central, S.C.), Brandon Harrison (6-3, 305, Jr., Decatur, Miss.) and Andre Jones (6-5, 300, So., High Point, N.C.).
Defensively, the Pioneers return three of its top four tacklers from a season ago including junior free safety Malik Goodman. The Jacksonville, Florida standout finished second on the squad last year with 61 tackles including five for loss and a pair of sacks. The 5-11, 185-pounder accounted for an interception and three pass break-ups.
Also returning in the TU secondary is Viera, Florida junior Jay Boyd who finished third on the team with his 58 total tackles including two interceptions and four pass break-ups. He 2016 SAC Defensive Freshman of the Year has totaled seven interceptions in his career, which are already tied for fifth-most in program history garnering him All-SAC accolades in back-to-back seasons.
Dee Alford returns at one of the starting cornerback spots after earning All-SAC second team honors. He led the conference with three fumble recoveries, which were also 10th in the nation. The 6-0, 170-pound junior from Griffin, Georgia, tied for the team-lead with three interceptions (4th in SAC). He added seven passes defended and forced a fumble. In last year's meeting with North Greenville, Alford returned a fumble for a 35-yard touchdown.
Junior David Johnson (5-11, 180) will start at the other cornerback spot in season that saw the Greenwood, South Carolina native appear in eight games with two starts. He finished with 10 tackles including seven solo hits and one tackle for loss.
Sophomore linebacker Ivan Hogans finished fourth on the Tusculum club with his 53 tackles along with a team-leading 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. The 6-2, 210-pounder from Stockbridge, Georgia also topped the team with six quarterback hurries and has recorded at least two tackles in each of his 10 games last year.
Joining Hogans in the linebacker corps are senior Randy Hooks and junior Chris Matheus. Hooks (5-11, 230, Auburn, Ala.) played in six games last season while posting nine stops. Matheus (5-11, 210, Lehigh, Fla.) recorded 19 tackles with two stops for loss, one sack and a fumble recovery in his 10 contests last year.
Colton Strickland is poised to start at defensive tackle after posting 24 tackles with three hits for loss and two sacks to his credit. The 6-2, 230-pounder from Naples, Florida saw action in all 10 games with three starts and forced a fumble.
Senior defensive end JaQuinton Alston-Thompson (6-4, 255, Marietta, Ga.) returns for his final campaign following a junior season where he accounted for 22 tackles, including seven for loss, two sacks, six quarterback hurries and forced a fumble. One of those hurries resulted in an intentional grounding penalty and a two-point safety in the season-finale win over Wingate.
Also in the defensive trenches are starting nose guard Xavier Clemmons and bandit CJ Bartley. Both will be seeing their first collegiate action after redshirting last season. Bartley, a 6-3, 210-pound native of Rockledge, Florida was the consensus Defensive Player of the Year in Central Florida playing for Cocoa High School. Clemmons, a 6-3, 280-pounder from Douglas, Georgia, was and All-Region standout at Ware County High School.
Junior bandit Josh Forrest (6-2, 230, Lawrenceville, Ga.) logged 37 tackles including six tackles for loss and four sacks last year with the Pioneers. He also recovered two fumbles and forced another for the Black and Orange in 2017.
Also up front will be juniors Javon Green (6-1, 230, Savannah, Ga.) and Devin Woodson (6-1, 260, Central, S.C.), sophomores Amaad Gandy (6-3, 290, Jennings, Fla.) and Denaz Ross (6-4, 270, New York, N.Y.), redshirt freshman Nelson Louis (6-3, 265, Moultrie, Ga.) and true freshman Logan Cowart (6-4, 280, Hiwassee, Ga.).
Green played in all 10 games last season including one start where he finished with 20 tackles, including six for loss and a sack, almost doubling his defensive production from his first TU campaign in 2016. Woodson saw action in 10 games with seven starts as he posted 28 tackles, including 14 solos, two for loss and recovered one fumble. Gandy recorded 15 tackles in nine games as a redshirt freshman a year ago.
Senior Leon Cunningham (6-0, 205, Hernando, Miss.) was a solid contributor at linebacker last season as he finished with 24 tackles including seven for loss and a sack. He recorded a tackle in nine of his 10 contests which included a start.
The senior pairing of Quadre Allen and Bryce Bartlett will be patrolling the TU secondary. Bartlett (5-10, 180, Dacula, Ga.) has seen action in 25 contests during his career, totaling 24 tackles and four pass break-ups. Allen (5-10, 175, Acworth, Ga.) has posted 25 tackles in his 23 career contests with a fumble recovery and a pass break-up.
Junior Lenny Roundtree (6-0, 185, Miami, Fla.) joins the defensive backfield following the last two seasons playing at Allan Hancock College where he was an All-Conference first team choice, finishing with 62 tackles, seven interceptions and 19 pass break-ups.
Jay Boyd has proven to be a return threat on special teams as he led the South Atlantic Conference with his 664 combined return yardage which were 31st in the country. His 24.7 yards per kickoff return average was third in the conference. In just two years, Boyd has already amassed 1,186 kickoff return yards which are fifth in the TU record book. His 25.23 return average is fourth in program history.
Joe Defatta is slated to be the starting placekicker for the Pioneers. The 5-10, 175-pound Franklin, Tennessee senior comes to Tusculum after spending time with NCAA Division I programs Middle Tennessee State University and East Tennessee State University. He garnered All-District accolades during his prep career at Franklin High School where he was a perfect 5-of-5 in field goals including a long of 47 yards.
Handling the kickoffs will be redshirt freshman Branden Glick. Like Defatta, Glick started his collegiate playing career at the Division I level redshirting last season at The Citadel. A highly touted All-Region kicker at Wade Hampton High School in South Carolina, Glick was a perfect his senior year, going 32-of-32 on extra points and four-of-four on field goals. He also averaged 65.6 yards on his kickoffs in 2016.
New to Tusculum but not unfamiliar with the Pioneer program is true freshman punter Andrew Cantrell. Cantrell will assume the punting mantel from his oldest brother Hunter Cantrell, who served as TU's punter for the past four years. Andrew Cantrell (Sparta, Tenn.) averaged 42.8 yards per punt last season at White County High School where he garnered All-Region, All-Conference and All-Mid-State honors and was tabbed the Special Teams Player of the Year.
Graduate student Kelly Donnelly will serve as Tusculum's long-snapper for his final TU campaign.
Thursday's game has been designated Tusculum's "Black Out" Game for 2018. The first 500 fans will receive a free Black-Out T-Shirt (while supplies last). The fun begins at 5:30 p.m. with the Pioneer Tailgate with musical guest The JayStorm Project. There will also be a fireworks show following the game.
The Tusculum Pioneer Club will be having a tailgate event, also starting at 5:30 p.m. The event is sponsored by Ingles Markets which will feature a Low Country Boil. Cost is $10 and fans are asked to RSVP to Associate Athletic Director Deborah Davis at email@example.com to reserve your spot.
Ticket prices are $10 and children ages 12 and under get in free. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. following the "Pioneer Walk."
For more information visit our web site at www.TusculumPioneers.com and also download the new #PioneerUp APP.
TUSCULUM DEBUTS #PIONEERUP APP
Take your Tusculum fan experience to the next level and get rewarded. Download the #PioneerUp app and check-in at events to rack up points and unlock awesome prizes. Check your points' progress and compete against your fellow TU fans.
With the #PioneerUp app, you can earn points for attending and checking in at events, stay up-to-date on Tusculum events, game times and point values, unlock rewards and exclusive offers with your points, keep track of your points and check your rank compared to top point holders.
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