By Mike Goodson
Jacksonville State head football coach John Grass unveiled his 2016 version of the Gamecocks to the news media on Wednesday (Aug. 3) at the JSU Media Day.
Jacksonville State is expected to have one of its strongest teams in recent years with a program that returns many veterans and features several newcomers to a team that finished as the FCS runner-up to five time champion North Dakota State University.
“I’m excited about being here today, and this day always means that it is about time to kickoff the season,” said Grass. “You know it’s about time for football to start as the heat index has warmed up for fall camp. We have some exciting things going on with our new turf on the field, and our home schedule is a really good one. I would say this offseason was one of our best since we have been here.
“With our playoff system, there is only one team that is happy at the end. Our guys were definitely not satisfied with how we finished. It was a great year and we did some phenomenal things both on and off the field. Just last week, our team won a championship in the league for the second year academically. I don’t think many teams have done that two years in a row, win your conference on the field and academically. That just shows you how our guys carry themselves on and off the field. We carried a 3.0 grade point average the last two years and that is impressive with a lot of hard work behind the scenes.”
Senior quarterback and preseason All-America pick Eli Jenkins seemed excited to get practice and the upcoming season underway. Jenkins last year passed and rushed for a combined 3,950 yards and 36 touchdowns.
“Last year was a great experience. It was the highlight of my career, We played as a family and had an unbreakable bond. North Dakota State deserved everything they got; we didn’t play like we could have in the championship game. But we had a great run in the playoffs and beat some really good teams. If we dig deep and play like we can, we will have another successful season.”
Junior running back Roc Thomas is expected to contribute early on.
The Auburn transfer and former Oxford High star reported healthy for practice.
Thomas’ early career at Auburn was plagued by injuries but Thomas is expected to step in and replace running back Troymaine Pope, who graduated following the 2015 season.
“We’re hoping to continue where last years team left off and build on their successes,” he said.
Grass noted that he harbored some concern as to how off season would go due to the team playing into mid-January.
“It’s new territory for us, but we gave the guys a few weeks off and got back in the weight room. I was pleasantly surprised about the hunger that our guys had to get started working on this season. We had a great spring training and it has probably been the best summer as far as lifting and conditioning.”
Jacksonville State kicks off the 2016 season against the University of North Alabama on Thursday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. at Burgess-Snow Field.
“We have a tough non-conference schedule, and I think UNA is as good as anyone out there,” said Grass. “They’re not your normal Division II team. They are more like an FCS playoff team with 18 starters back and a chance to win their conference and win the national championship at that level. We have our work cut out for us. But it’s going to be a challenge and a great way to start the season.
“Then we go on the road and play at LSU, who is as good as anyone in the country at any level and then come back home and play a very great program in Coastal Carolina, who is moving up to the FBS level. We have to go on the road to Liberty and that will be a tough road game against a top FCS program.”