Last season began with so much promise, but a five-game losing streak squashed what was expected to be a playoff season for the Tigers of Tennessee State. Then the banishment from postseason play due to a low APR score last spring added to the fan misery index. However, the score was adjusted, the ban was lifted, and attention turned to a new season and new hope.
There is much work to be done though for Coach Rod Reed. Only eight starters return to the top-22, three on a decorated defense that was the engine of this team. But Gabe Terry returns to anchor the defensive line, gaining some national recognition along the way. Terry had 11 ½ sacks a season ago while only starting one game due to the numbers. Now he will be counted on to set the tone.
TSU needs the defense to once again be the strength of this team as there are questions on offense. Ronald Butler figures to take over at quarterback, and he has much experience. He is getting pushed by O’Shay Ackermann-Carter in camp, and competition will be a good thing. Telvin Hooks headlines the running corps, none of which really stood out a year ago in a committee approach. Whoever is at QB will be looking to an inexperienced group of receivers, and the Tigers have much to sort out.
On defense, the Tigers were decimated by graduation, with five award winners departed. Vantavious Williams returns at linebacker, and will have youngsters all around him, with the same for Berrell Brooks in the secondary—though he will be helped by Ole Miss transfer David Kamara who figures to make an immediate impact, literally. Kamara was known as a fierce hitter from the safety position in his time at Ole Miss. TSU needs improvement in the kicking game as they only converted eight field goals all season.
The schedule is not kind to such an inexperienced team as this one. The Big Blue opens with Alabama State in the John Merritt Classic on Sunday, September 6, at Nissan Stadium, with kickoff at 6 pm. After that comes the annual Southern Heritage Classic and Jackson State at Memphis’ Liberty Bowl on September 12. Four of the next five are on the road with the only home game being Homecoming back at Nissan Stadium on October 17 in a nationally televised game against Eastern Illinois and their new running back, Jerron Seymour, who starred at Vanderbilt under James Franklin. In all, the Tigers appear four times on the syndicated American Sports Network.
TSU plays OVC favorite Jacksonville State on September 19, Florida A&M on the 26, and UT-Martin on October 10, all on the road. After EIU comes to town, the Tigers travel to Eastern Kentucky October 24 before the schedule lightens up. Austin Peay and Murray State visit Hale Stadium on October 31 and November 7, before a road game at Tennessee Tech ends the slate on November 21. It is only a 10-game schedule, seven within the conference this year.
The best for Tennessee State football is in the future, with 2015 being about finding leaders and defining roles with so many players now in places they have not been. A lot of work needs done off the field and in the classroom as well, that being much more of a priority. The media picked the Tigers sixth in the preseason OVC poll, and that is realistic. But knowing Coach Reed’s track record and the talent that is there, 2016 should see the Big Blue back at the top of the OVC.