By Gene Stanley/Messenger Sports Correspondent
Beware of the puppies!
That was the message that Jacksonville State University football coach Jack Crowe sent out at the team’s 2012 Media Day on Aug. 3 in Jacksonville.
“These days, if a kid is good, his peers call him a dog,” Crowe said, laughing. “We’ve got a whole bunch of puppies who could grow in real dogs. We’re going to find out if these puppies can bite.”
Of the 95 players on the Gamecock roster, 70 of them are either freshmen or sophomores. The average age of the team is only 19.6 years.
Several of this year’s sophomores already have game experience, though, having come in after injuries to older players.
There is no lack of talent, however.
“There is more talent on this campus right now than there ever has been,” Crowe said. “Our guys represent an enormous threat but we’ve got to develop that into wins.”
Crowe also noted that this group of players is exceptional in other areas. The freshmen scored an average of 21.6 on the ACT. That number is higher than the average for the entire school.
The athletes are already showing a sense of accountability beyond what Crowe usually expects from an incoming class.
This season’s defense will have more new faces than the offense will.
“This defense is going to be really good one day,” Crowe said. “But they’ll have to take their bumps and bruises until they gel as a unit.”
The offense will be defined by what Crowe referred to as a triangle – quarterback Marques Ivory, running back Washaun Ealey and receiver Alan Bonner, all seniors.
“Our offense ought to make plays,” Crowe said. “Right there, we’ve got exceptional talent at three key positions. Ealey is one of the premier runners in this league, and our offense starts with him.”
Last year, Ealey rushed for 1,082 yards, becoming only the 10th player in JSU history to break the 1,000-yard mark. He played two years at the University of Georgia before transferring to Jax State.
Ealey holds the Georgia high school record for rushing in one season, running for 2,982 yards and 58 touchdowns. As a senior, he was considered one of the top prospects in the nation.
“I’ve felt like part of a large family since I arrived here,” Ealey said. “I want to have the best season I can, to help the team have a great season.”
Ivory was redshirted last year after breaking a leg. But he feels he is on target to play this season.
“The rehab is going well,” he said. “My leg is good. I’m ready to go. I don’t even think about it much.”
Backing Ivory is former Che-rokee County High quarterback Coty Blanchard. He was the starter last year after Ivory’s injury. His 145.1 passing efficiency was the highest of any signal-caller in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“What we have this year is a luxury,” Crowe said. “To have two quarterbacks with this much experience and this much talent is unusual. Don’t forget that Coty isn’t just a quarterback – he’s a championship quarterback.”
Cherokee County won the Class 4A state title in Blanchard’s senior campaign.
However, Crowe pointed out that there is no lack of quarterback talent anywhere in the OVC, as Casey Brockman of Murray State was chosen as the league’s preseason All-Conference quarterback. Crowe said there are four or five who could be tabbed as all-conference quarterback.
Blanchard is penciled in as the starting punter, but Australian Hamish MacInnes is learning the American way of punting.
“We need him to come along so that we don’t have Coty out there punting,” Crowe said.
Another area of the game that made Crowe smile to mention is kicker.
“Everyone who watches football knows that a kicker can win a close game for you,” Crowe said. “Let’s just say that we have a kicker who can win those close games.”
Junior Griffin Thomas was solely the kickoff man last year but will get his chance at extra points and field goals in 2012.
Of this year’s freshmen, Crowe said that the athletes who have created the most buzz are Troymaine Pope and Levi Jenkins. “All I know about any of them is what the other players have said. But those two, especially Troymaine, have had the older players talking about their weight-room work and their speed.”
With all the freshmen, Crowe said that there would probably be around 10-12 of them that see action in the season opener against Arkansas on Sept. 1 in Fayetteville. The Gamecocks host UT-Chattanooga in their home opener on Sept. 8.