Are you ready for some football? Tennessee State University senior offensive lineman Jessaman Dunker, junior wide receiver Patrick Smith and junior defensive end Ebenezer (Ebo) Ogundeko were all named to the Ohio Valley Conference All-Preseason team. The Tigers as a team were picked to finish sixth in the Preseason Poll at the Ohio Valley Conference Media Day on Monday. The Tigers are coming off a 4-6 campaign, 1-6 in the OVC, and will look to improve with a veteran team in 2016. The Tigers will host Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Nissan Stadium in the 18th John Merritt Classic on Sept. 3 to open their 2016 campaign.
Tennessee State looks to return to its winning ways after registering its first losing season since 2011 last year, dropping five of its final six games of the season after a 3-1 start. This season seventh year head coach Rod Reed returns 65 letterwinners including six offensive and eight defensive starters. Among the defensive returners is Ogundeko who finished his debut season with the Tigers by amassing 58 tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.0 sacks. Also back is junior linebacker Chris Collins who led the team with 79 tackles a season ago.
Offensively junior wide receiver Patrick Smith returns after catching 54 passes for 996 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Smith ranked seventh nationally in receiving yards/game (99.6) and 13th nationally in receiving touchdowns. Smith provides firepower for the offense, after leading all TSU receivers in his inaugural season. Smith enters his second season with the Big Blue as a big play threat as he tallied six plays over 50 yards in 2015.
The offense brings back six starters including Dunker and Smith. With 35 games under his belt, 33 as a starter, Dunker will anchor the offensive line again in his final season. The Boynton Beach, Fla. native has been tabbed by various publications as a Preseason All-American and has been listed as high in the top 10 of pro-prospects at guard.
TSU will rely on redshirt-sophomore O’Shay Ackerman-Carter and senior Ronald Butler at quarterback. Despite missing action due to injuries during his redshirt-freshman campaign, Ackerman-Carter was able to throw 11 scoring passes as he completed 110 passes in 190 attempts for 1,279 yards, while throwing only five interceptions. He will return with the starting nod, but will be pushed by Butler who has seen action in 25 contests through his first three seasons, starting 13 of them. The senior finished 65-of-115 for 813 yards, as he tossed eight scoring passes with seven picks. Butler also ran for 199 yards, including a touchdown.
The defense returns eight starters. Ogundeko collected 52 tackles in his first season with the Tigers, trailing only junior linebacker Chris Collins (79) and sophomore safety Laquarius Cook (58). The redshirt-junior registered 10 tackles-for-loss and five sacks, while forcing a fumble and picking up three quarterback hurries. The Tigers will report for fall camp on Aug. 4.
Jacksonville State, defending OVC champion and NCAA FCS runner-up, was given the nod to repeat as OVC champion, with 16 first place votes and 128 points. Eastern Kentucky garnered 100 points for second, just ahead of Eastern Illinois with 97 points and two first place votes. UT Martin (96) is fourth, finishing a single point behind EIU and 30 points ahead of fifth place Southeast Missouri (66). The Tigers follow with 55 points, ahead of Tennessee Tech (45), Murray State (43) and Austin Peay (18).
Eli Jenkins, Jacksonville State QB, was named Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and his teammate Darius Jackson (DL) was named Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.