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Pioneers kick off gridiron season Thursday at North Greenville

Pioneers kick off gridiron season Thursday at North Greenville

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Following a strong finish to his first season at the helm of the Tusculum football program, head coach Jerry Odom enters his second campaign in Greeneville with a sense of optimism and excitement.  The Pioneers will kick off the season this Thursday (Aug. 31) as they travel to 2016 NCAA Division II region finalist North Greenville starting at 7 p.m.

The Pioneers return 39 lettermen and 14 starters from last year's squad that finished 4-7 overall and tied for fourth place in the South Atlantic Conference standings with a 3-4 league worksheet.

The 2016 season got off to a slow start dropping its first five contests, but the Black and Orange rebounded with wins in four of its final six games, including a 3-1 record in TC's last four contests.  The last two wins included a 38-28 road win at defending SAC champion Catawba and a thrilling 31-30 overtime victory over arch-rival Carson-Newman.

The Pioneers will have five new faces on the full-time coaching staff from a year ago with Coach Odom also serving as defensive coordinator.  Prior to his arrival at Tusculum, Odom was the architect of the Jacksonville University defense, which posted some outstanding numbers during his six seasons with the Dolphins.

Brian Ferguson was promoted to associate head coach as well as serving as offensive coordinator.  In 2016, Ferguson coached the TC offensive line, while also serving as co-offensive coordinator.

Assistant coach Mike Klein moves from coaching the bandits and defensive tackles to mentoring the Tusculum linebacker corps as well as serving as the program's strength and conditioning coordinator.

New to the coaching staff from a year ago will be Ben Luther (offensive line), Chaz Scales (defensive backs), Chuck Bell (bandits/defensive tackles), Jamere Hogue (nose guards/defensive ends) and Brandon Jackson (wide receivers).                              

LINEBACKERS

Returning to anchor the linebacker corps is the conference's top tackler from a year ago in senior L'Keith Brown.  The Athens, Georgia product recorded a SAC-best 95 tackles a year ago, including 19 for loss.  He finished second on the squad with his four sacks and tied for the conference lead with four forced fumbles to go along with two fumble recoveries and three pass break-ups.  The 2014 SAC Defensive Freshman of the Year enters his final collegiate campaign with 248 career stops, which are 10th in the Tusculum record book.

Lehigh, Florida sophomore Chris Matheus returns at linebacker following a rookie campaign where he finished with 46 tackles with six tackles for loss and one sack as he played in all 11 games.

Javon Green, a sophomore linebacker from Savannah, Georgia, tallied 11 solo tackles in his five outings with the Pioneers.

Also returning from last year's squad at linebacker are sophomores Allen Cooper (Powder Springs, Ga.), Robert Green (Naples, Fla.), and redshirt freshmen D'Andre Milner (Piedmont, S.C.), Zach Redden (Kingston, Tenn.) and Sidney Stokes (Jacksonville, Fla.).

Tusculum will have some talented newcomers in the linebacker corps including transfers Leon Cunningham (Northwest CC / Hernando, Miss.), Randy Hooks (New Mexico Military / Auburn, Ala.), and Chase Hunter (Appalachian State / Concord, N.C.).  Freshmen Jackson Cauthen (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Kivontay Clinkscales (Greenwood, S.C.) and James Sasser (Jacksonville, Fla.) will be looking to make contribution on the TC defense.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The defensive front returns a nucleus of veterans to the trenches, including a pair of Preseason All-South Atlantic Conference honorees in Britt Hasty and Colton Strickland.

Hasty, a sophomore from Dalton, Georgia, finished his rookie campaign with 24 tackles, including three hits behind the line of scrimmage to go along with a quarterback hurry.

Strickland, a sophomore product from Naples, Florida played in all 11 games on the line as he totaled 29 tackles, one sack and a pair of QB hurries.

Mosheim, Tennessee senior Jaylynn Kesterson is back for his final TC campaign.  The converted tight end had a solid first season on the defensive line where he posted 27 tackles, including four for loss and led the Pioneers with his four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Josh Forrest, a senior from Lawrenceville, Georgia, recorded 14 tackles in his seven outings on the line.  Junior Kyle Bailey (Decatur, Ga.) contributed six tackles, including two solo hits and four assists in his nine games of action. 

Also returning on the defensive front are juniors JaQuinton Alston-Thompson (Marietta, Ga.), D.J. King  (Cleveland, Tenn.) sophomores Quaheim Glasgow (Newberry, S.C.), Christian Sisto (Sevierville, Tenn.), Ashton Watson (Ooltewah, Tenn.), Devin Woodson (Central, S.C.) and redshirt freshmen Amaad Gandy (Jasper, Fla.), Patrick McGhee (Harrison, Tenn.), Davis Harper (Elberton, Tenn.),

Also vying to contribute on the line are The Citadel transfer Travis Johnson (Fayetteville, N.C.), along with Xavier Clemmons (Douglas, Ga.), Reid Odom (Greeneville, Tenn.), George Lira (Oakwood, Ga.), LaMarious Majors (Gallatin, Tenn.), Hunter Bentley (Deland, Fla.), Anthony Cal (Chattanooga, Tenn.),  CJ Mullins (Columbia, Tenn.) and CJ Bartley (Rockledge, Fla.).

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Anchoring the Tusculum secondary will be sophomore rover and 2016 SAC Defensive Freshman of the Year Jay Boyd.  The Viera, Florida product earned All-America, All-Region and All-Conference honors a year ago as he led the league with his five interceptions, which were tied for the second most in school history.  He totaled 44 tackles, including six for loss with three pass break-ups, forced a fumble and recovered another as he garnered All-Conference honors.  He is a Preseason All-SAC first team choice both at defensive back as well as return specialist.

Senior Matt Simon, a product of Lithonia, Georgia, accounted for 30 tackles including two for loss and a quarterback hurry.

Junior defensive back Martez Thompkins (Atlanta, Ga.) is back for his third season after posting 30 tackles and finished second on the squad with his six pass break-ups.  He is two years removed from an outstanding rookie campaign where he led the team with five interceptions and established a TC single-season mark with 149 return yards on those picks.

Junior Stetson Mayes (Atlanta, Ga.) recorded 19 tackles including 11 solo stops to go along with one hit behind the line of scrimmage and recovered a fumble.  Bryce Bartlett, a Dacula, Georgia junior, played in nine contests, including seven starts in the secondary where he finish with 16 tackles, including two for loss and two pass break-ups.

Quadre Allen, a junior from Acworth, Georgia, finished his sophomore campaign with 14 tackles for the Pioneers.

Sophomore Malik Goodman added 37 tackles, with one hit for loss, two pass break-ups and a fumble recovery for the Jacksonville, Florida native.  Sophomore teammate David Johnson (Greenwood, S.C.) saw action in nine outings in 2016 where he tallied eight tackles and a pass break-up.

Also returning in the defensive secondary are senior Devin Williamson (Raleigh, N.C.), sophomores Dee Alford (Griffin, Ga.), Isaiah Dunn (McDonough, Ga.), Jalen Sims (Gaffney, S.C.) and redshirt freshmen Landon Brown (Johnson City, Tenn.), Antoine Ferguson (Knoxville, Tenn.), Malik Ferrell (Jacksonville, Fla.), Khyrel Harvey (Crystal River, Fla.), Jalene Kennedy (Boiling Springs, S.C.), Matt Price (Charlotte, N.C.) and Anthony Simmons (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Brian Taylor (Kennesaw, Ga.).

Joining the Tusculum program this year in the defensive backfield are: Dominck Anderson (Jacksonville, Fla.), Markel Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Bailey Deese (Titusville, Fla.), AJ Favorite (Oakwood, Ga.), Ashun Favorite (Oakwood, Ga.), Djimon Harris (Neptune Beach, Fla.), Calvin Johnson (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and SuanPaul Nobles II (Jacksonville, Fla.).

QUARTERBACKS

There will be a new signal caller under center when the Pioneers open the 2017 campaign and the two favorites heading into season are junior college transfers Alex Ogle and Tommy Pistone.

Ogle, a junior from Hobe Sound, Fla. who started his collegiate career at NCAA FBS Boise State, joined the Tusculum program last January.  He played the 2016 season at Arizona Western where he passed for 254 yards and four touchdowns in his five games at the Yuma, Arizona junior college.  During his prep career at Jensen Beach High School, he threw for 4,026 yards and 34 touchdowns, including 22 TD tosses his senior campaign.

Pistone, a junior from Yuma, Arizona, has been with the program the last two springs and redshirted during the 2016 season.  He played two seasons at Grossmont College where he threw for 1,070 yards and 10 touchdowns.  During his prep career at Yuma Catholic High School, Pistone led his team to three conference championships and four trips to the State championship game, winning the title his senior year.  He threw for 3,057 yards and 30 touchdowns as a junior and followed with 3,527 yards and 40 TDs during his senior campaign.

Also returning to the program at quarterback is redshirt freshman Hunter Weismore (St. Cloud, Fla.).

Joining the team this year are freshman Alec Cromie (Weeki Wachee, Fla.) and Andrew Fowler (Robbins, N.C.).

RUNNING BACKS

Sophomore Jordon Shippy (Gaffney, S.C.) finished third on the team with 281 rushing yards on 70 carries, including two touchdowns.  He also totaled seven receptions for 44 receiving yards.  He rushed for a season-high 81 yards and a TD against Carson-Newman, but it was his game-winning two-point conversion reception in overtime that highlighted the year.

Sophomore Tommy Brown (Jacksonville, Fla.) ran for 40 yards on 13 carries including a touchdown, while junior DJ Samuels (Winchester, Tenn.) posted three rushing attempts for 12 total yards in 2016.  Sophomore Tony Belle (Jacksonville, Fla.) ran for 287 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie campaign.

Sophomore Will Boney (Mayo, Fla.) provided some solid reps at fullback last season where saw action in 10 games and made six catches out of the backfield for 80 yards.

New to the program this season is Iowa Western College transfer Lor'renzo Pratt.  Pratt, a native of Cocoa, Florida, rushed for 852 yards and six touchdowns in his two seasons at Iowa Western.  He was an All-State first team choice at Cocoa High School where he ran for 1,317 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Maxwell Joseph, a transfer from Northeast Mississippi College, is also new to the Tusculum line-up.  The Naples (Fla.) High School graduate helped his prep alma mater to an 11-2 record as a senior while rushing for 982 yards on 96 carries and 10 touchdowns.

Also returning at the running back slot are Justin Ware (Cleveland, Tenn.), Chase Eichner (Crossville, Tenn.), Conner Johnston (Warner Robins, Ga.), Christian Bell (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.), Romeo Gallegos (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Lavadrick Glenn (Dawsonville, Ga.), Jalen Mitchell (McDonough, Ga.), Malcolm Nicholson (Columbia, Tenn.) and Zack Smith (Flowery Branch, Ga.).

Joining the Pioneers at running back in 2017 are Isaiah Cloud (New Tazewell, Tenn.), Maurice Gomillion (Jacksonville, Fla.), Derek Phillips, Timmy Pratt (Cocoa, Fla.) and Teakok Stanley (Knoxville, Tenn.).

RECEIVERS

The Pioneers bring back their top two receivers in Evan Altizer and Rodnell Cruell.

Altizer, a senior from Waddington, North Carolina, is the program's all-time leader in yards per reception, averaging 21.79 yards per catch.  During his career, he has amassed 915 receiving yards on just 42 receptions.  The 2016 CoSIDA Academic All-District first team selection led the Pioneers with his 364 receiving yards on 22 receptions, both coming in 2016.  He also paced TC with his five touchdown grabs (T4th in SAC) and averaged 16.5 yards per grab.  Altizer slated to continue being Tusculum's top punt return threat.  His 62 career punt returns for 485 yards are both second in school history.

Cruell, a junior from New Orleans, Louisiana, led Tusculum with his 25 receptions a year ago to go with 318 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Sophomore Chavis Williams (Asheville, N.C.) finished fifth on the team with 145 receiving yards on 10 grabs and a TD in 2016.

Senior Eric Lynch (Matthews, N.C.) returns for his final collegiate season after finishing sixth on the roster with 10 receptions for 102 yards last year.  Also returning from 2016 are Jordan Barnes (Goose Creek, S.C.), Deshawn Davis (Rock Hill, S.C.), Dominic Moore (Knoxville, Tenn.), Keondre Banks (Raleigh, N.C.), Antonio Hardy (York, S.C.) and Robert Zirkle (Lakeland, Ga.).

After playing his first three seasons on the defensive side of the ball, senior Evan Gates will be moving to wide receiver this year.  Also returning for the Pioneers are RJ Brooks (Greenville, S.C.), Shemar Bridges (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Jacob Acklin (Maumelle, Ark.).

New to the TC receiving corps are Tory Ponder (Moultrie, Ga.), Desmond Arthur (Rockledge, Fla.), Luke Clark (Merritt Island, Fla.), Jaylin Clark-McNatte (Miami Beach, Fla.), Dejan Brown (Naples, Fla.), Marcus Devault (Gallatin, Tenn.), Darryl Harris (Jacksonville, Fla.), Jeremiah Kidd (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Rodarrious Timmons (Gainesville, Ga.).

TIGHT ENDS

University of Massachusetts transfer Shaquille Harris is one of the leading candidates to see playing time at tight end in 2017.  The Palmetto, Florida senior played in 17 games in his three active seasons with the Minutemen where he totaled seven receptions for 98 yards.

Also looking to compete for the position are Mason Hewitt (Red Boiling Spring, Tenn.), Josh Taylor (Callahan, Fla.), Gary Breuklander (Jacksonville, Fla.), Wiley Golden (Brunswick, Ga.), JP Hall (Greeneville, Tenn.), Umar Muhammad (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and Russell Wheeler (Bainbridge, Ga.).

OFFENSIVE LINE

Four of the five offensive linemen from a year ago have returned led by Preseason All-South Atlantic Conference second team tackle Keveon Broadwater.  Also back on the offensive front senior Seth Batsel (Franklin, Tenn.), junior Benson Napier (Coalfield, Tenn.) and junior Caleb LaFleur (Murfreesboro, Tenn.).

Also returning to the TC line-up are Malik Brewer (Chattanooga, Tenn.), Kory Gillam (Atlanta, Ga.), Josh Cameron (Fairview, Tenn.), Cody Santmyers (Flowery Branch, Ga.), Ivan Fast (Orange Park, Fla.), Grant Cordell (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.), Kenneth Johnson (Stone Mountain, Ga.), Nathan Podares (Jensen Beach, Fla.), Andre Jones (High Point, N.C.) and Andwele Richards (Stockbridge, Ga.)

New to the offensive line for the Pioneers are Bailey Herring (Smyrna, Tenn.), Nathaniel Coby (Middleburg, Fla.), Ricky Cruz (Saint Cloud, Fla.), Michael Cone (Dallas, Ga.), Worley Robinson (Elberton, Ga.), Tory Ponder (Moultrie, Ga.) and Quintel O'Hara (Chattanooga, Tenn.).

SPECIAL TEAMS

Anchoring the Tusculum special teams will be senior punter Hunter Cantrell.  The Sparta, Tennessee native has been the Pioneers' starting punter for the last three seasons and is coming off one of his finest campaigns in his TC career.  The 2017 Preseason All-SAC second selection averaged 41.5 yards per punt in 2016, which was the third-best average in the league.  The 2016 CoSIDA Academic All-District pick recorded 15 punts over 50 yards and booted 14 kicks inside the opponent's 20-yard line.  He enters this year averaging 38.77 yards per punt in his career, which is the sixth longest average in school history.  His 185 career punts for 7,172 punting yards are second in the program record book.

Senior Jose Esparza is expected to return as the team's placekicker.  The Dandridge, Tennessee product has scored 23 points in his career, connecting on 13 of his 14 career extra point tries with the Pioneers to go along with 3-of-4 accuracy rate on field goals.

Competing for playing time on special teams kicking will be Gabe Shillings (Kingston, Tenn.), Isaac Gallegos (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Nicholas Sisto (Sevierville, Tenn.).

Handling the long-snapping duties for a fourth straight season will be Preseason All-SAC first team choice Ian O'Grady.  The Orlando, Florida senior played in all 11 games last season as there was only one blocked kick in 109 specialty snaps.  He also posted three tackles on the TC special teams unit.

Junior long-snapper Kelly Donnelly (Pulaski, Tenn.) will also be in the mix for playing time for the Tusculum special teams.

 

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