August 26, 2013

Season starts Thursday for rejuvenated Golden Eagle football squad


Download/view game notes vs. Cumberland (PDF)

By Rob Schabert, TTU Sports Information Director

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- For some, it's been more than nine months in the making. For others, a year....two years. On Thursday night, the Tennessee Tech football team takes the field for the 2013 opener and the entire Golden Eagle roster is more than ready to get the new season underway.

Tech hosts in-state foe Cumberland University Thursday in Tucker Stadium with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. in the season-opener for both schools.

Some special events will take place at the game, including Communiversity Night and First Tennessee Bank Poster Night. The pregame activities will also include the first "Running of the Freshmen" as TTU President Philip Oldham leads a charge onto the field by the entire Class of 2017 just ahead of the Golden Eagles.

Once all the pageantry is complete, Watson Brown will begin his seventh season as Golden Eagle head coach and the anticipation has never been greater. The Golden Eagles are anxious to come storming back from a disappointing 2012 campaign which saw dozens of injuries prevent TTU from repeating as Ohio Valley Conference champions.

Tech went from first place in 2011 to the bottom spot in the standings last year, and every player, coach and supporter is anxious to turn it back around.

Nobody is more prepared for the opener than senior Zack Ziegler and junior Marty Jones.

A dangerous offensive weapon who has piled up more than 1,000 career all-purpose yards, Ziegler missed most of last season with an injury and was granted a medical redshirt to return for one final go-round in 2013. Jones, meanwhile, has missed pretty much all of the past two years due to injuries. He was on the field for one play in 2011, and last year got off to a tremendous start before an injury early in the second game ended his season...again.

Those two figure heavily in Tech's plans for 2013. Ziegler is the starter at the "A" runningback position, a spot that is also effective in the Golden Eagle passing game as a receiver. Jones is listed as the starter at free safety. Both provide leadership and experience.

Tech and Cumberland, two in-state rivals, have met 14 times through the years, but went through a 60-year span without facing each other until resuming the rivalry in 2007. The 2007 meeting was the first in the "modern era" since Tech joined the Ohio Valley Conference, and the Golden Eagles claimed a 45-21 victory to give Brown his first win as head coach back in his hometown.

Thanks to early dominance by Cumberland nearly a century ago, the Bulldogs lead the all-time series, 7-6-1. After a 6-6 tie in the first meeting in 1922, Cumberland ran off six consecutive wins between 1923 and 1927 — all by shutouts and a combined score of 155-0. Tech has won six of the past seven encounters (1928, 1929, 1937, 1946 and 1947), including that 2007 meeting.

In that game, the head coach of the Bulldogs was Dewayne Alexander, who now serves as assistant head coach for the Golden Eagles and directs the TTU offensive line. Larry Shipp returned the opening kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown (Tech's first kick return for TD in 20 seasons), and Derek White rushed for 213 yards to pace the offense.

The game drew a record crowd of 12,831 to Tucker Stadium, the largest opening-day crowd in the facility's history dating back to 1966.

Cumberland comes into the season under the direction of first-year coach Donnie Suber, who moves up from Defensive Coordinator for the Bulldogs. Cumberland went 8-3 overall last year, and comes into the season ranked 25th on the NAIA Football Coaches' Preseason Top 25 Poll. Cumberland returns 12 starters and 32 letterwinners from last season's club.

Redshirt junior Reed Gurchiek will make the fourth opening-game start of his career, but the Mt. Juliet, Tenn., native is still learning a very different offense than perhaps anything he has run in his football career. Gurchiek ran the Wing-T in high school at Mt. Juliet HS and then the Hybrid Wing for three seasons under Alexander, but Suber has switched to a spread offense in the spring, giving Gurchiek more opportunities to show off his arm strength and hopefully limit his rushing yards, which have led to injuries during his career. He missed the 2010 campaign after a hip injury in the season opener at Austin Peay and ailments limited him to just eight games as a redshirt freshman. He started all 11 contests last season, passing for 1,455 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for 527 yards and seven more scores, but he was knocked out of the season finale at Lindsey Wilson in the first quarter.

Three-fifths of the offensive line returns as well for Gurchiek – seniors Dalton Burge, Tucker Cathey and AJ Harmon – along with
junior running back Blake DeBoard.

Suber enters his sixth season as the team's defensive coordinator, but that side of the ball has seen a mass exodus over the last few years because of graduation. The Bulldogs have just eight players who saw action in games last year returning and only three starters – defensive backs Grant Jones and Josh Walker and defensive lineman Jarred Williams. Defensive back Anthony Knight played a great deal in the second half of the year after starting the season injured, and Devin Guthrie was a regular in the defensive line rotation. Simon Moriarty will also see plenty of time on the D-line after sitting out last season, but the Rockwood, Tenn., native played in 20 contests with 12 starts the previous two seasons at defensive tackle. Turnovers and sacks are expected to be the Bulldog's defensive strength.

Two new safeties as well as three new linebackers will be asked to fill big shoes from players who graduated last season and combined to play in 188 career contests.

Junior Darian Stone heads into the season as the starter at quarterback for the Golden Eagles, a role he inherited for the final four games last season when Tre Lamb was sidelined with injuries. Stone averaged 124.5 yards per game rushing and 188 yards passing as a starter in those games. The rushing attack will feature Ziegler along with sophomore Ladarius Vanlier, plus returning runningbacks Bud Golden, Stephen Bush, Cody Forbes and Radir Annoor.

Among a deep group of receivers, junior Cody Matthews has 40 career receptions for 646 yards in the past two years and is the most experienced wideout on the roster. Several talented young players fill out the depth chart at receiver, all but one of whom saw action last year including sophomores Krys Cates and Jordan Smith, both slated to start. Tech also has four sure-handed receivers at tight end.

Up front, senior James Normand at center and Wesley Sherrill at right tackle will headline the offensive line. Also scheduled to start up front are junior Randall Reeves, sophomore Jibrin Linge and redshirt freshman Matt Martin.

On the defensive side of scrimmage, the top two tacklers from last year are back as headliners in strong safety Austin Tallant and inside linebacker Tra'Darius Goff. Also back and expected to make their presence felt on defense are Marty Jones at free safety, defensive end Malcolm Mitchell and defensive tackle Jordan Johnson. Younger players who could emerge as defensive leaders include sophomore linebacker Jay Rudwall, junior Cory Webber at rover, and sophomore linemen Avery Rollins and Midoho Okpokowuruk. On the corners, junior James Huguely and sophomore Demario Donnell are listed as starters. Each has three career starts behind him.

On special teams, the Golden Eagles appear to be in tremendous shape with placekicker Zach Sharp handling field goals and PATs, sophomore Chris Harris kickoffs and senior All-American Chad Zinchini punts.

For tickets to the Cumberland game or to order season tickets for Tech's six-game home schedule, please visit the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center or call (931) 372-3940.