Eastern Kentucky

EKU preview: QB Pryor has big plans for Colonels

star qb focused on sustained success for EKU program

broberts@herald-leader.comAugust 26, 2012 

Eastern Kentucky's T.J. Pryor ranked fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference with 18 passing touchdowns last season. The Ballard High School graduate threw for 1,605 yards and ran for 180 more.

  • Players to watch

    RB Matt Denham: As a junior, he ranked third among all FCS running backs last season with 130.8 rushing yards per game. He ran for 184.5 per game in his eight starts, earning third-team All-America honors. Denham starts the season as one of 20 players on the Walter Payton Award watch list.

    WR Tyrone Goard: The 6-foot-4 play-maker tied for the OVC lead with 11 touchdown receptions last season. That total was also one TD shy of EKU's single-season record. He said his personal goal this year is to better that mark.

    LB Anthony Brown: An All-OVC performer at defensive end his first two seasons, Brown will switch to strong-side linebacker this year. "We're excited about that move," Coach Dean Hood said. He had 3½ sacks and 10½ tackles for loss in 2011.

    LB Ichiro Vance: The former Oldham County standout started all 12 games at middle linebacker last season. He's the team's leading returning tackler (86 last year) and also tied for the team lead with 10½ tackles for loss. His 19 tackles against Missouri State last season were the most by an EKU player since 1996.

    CB Justin Bell: Hood said the Colonels are "as talented as we've ever been" in the defensive backfield, but they don't have a lot of experience. Bell, a senior, has both. He was a first-team all-conference performer last season and came up with big plays in wins over Tennessee State and Jacksonville State.

    Ben Roberts

  • EKU schedule

    Date Opponent Time

    Sept. 1 at Purdue 3:30 p.m.

    Sept. 8 MOREHEAD STATE 6 p.m.

    Sept. 15 at Coastal Carolina 6 p.m.

    Sept. 22 JACKSONVILLE ST. 6 p.m.

    Sept. 29 at Tennessee-Martin Noon

    Oct. 6 at Tennessee State 2 p.m.

    Oct. 13 AUSTIN PEAY 3 p.m.

    Oct. 20 at Tennessee Tech 8 p.m.

    Oct. 27 EASTERN ILLINOIS Noon

    Nov. 3 at SE Missouri 2 p.m.

    Nov. 10 MURRAY STATE 1 p.m.

  • Scouting report

    Coach: Dean Hood (26-20 in four seasons at EKU)

    Last season: 7-5 overall; 6-2 and tied for first place in the Ohio Valley Conference

    Returning starters: 19 (10 offense, seven defense, two special teams)

    Outlook: They're expecting the Colonels to do big things this season in Richmond, and the rest of the OVC agrees. EKU was chosen as the pre-season favorite to win the conference in a poll of league coaches and sports information directors. In its preview magazine, Lindy's Sports has the Colonels at No. 9 in all of the Football Championship Subdivision. The high expectations come with good reason. Five of the 10 returning starters on offense earned All-OVC honors last year. A strong linebacker corps should anchor the defense, which led the league in scoring defense and forced turnovers last year and returns three All-OVC first-teamers. Hood said his team is "the best we've ever been" from a preparation standpoint, with veteran leadership at every position.

    Question marks: Will the Colonels have enough bodies on the offensive line? They return four starters on the line, but depth could be an issue. In addition to starter Josh Miller, EKU lost Derek Moore and Joe Arnason, who had started the previous season, and Kevin Brown, who was a key contributor off the bench. Will the kicking game come around? Hood called it the team's "Achilles' heel" last season. Junior Luke Pray, who made 10 of 20 field goals in 2011, is back this year.

    Game of the year: Jacksonville State also finished in last year's three-way tie atop the OVC, and the Gamecocks were the only team to come close to EKU in the league's pre-season poll. The two teams will open OVC play against each other Sept. 22.

    Ben Roberts

Barring unforeseen circumstances, T.J. Pryor will leave Richmond in a few months as the most prolific quarterback in Eastern Kentucky University history.

But it's future results, not past milestones, that interest Pryor most.

Eastern Kentucky hasn't won the Ohio Valley Conference outright since 2008. It's been nearly 20 years since the Colonels have won a playoff game. That's where Pryor has his sights set going into his senior season.

"The goal is definitely to win the OVC, but we want to go farther," Pryor said. "EKU hasn't won a playoff game since '94. We had a chance last year but we couldn't do it. So to give our fans, our supporters that edge like, 'They might be back.' That's our expectation."

A mix of returning starters and senior leadership has them dreaming big in Richmond. But those seniors are thinking about more than just this season.

Wide receiver Tyron Goard, who caught 11 touchdown passes last season, wants to show that "EKU can still be a powerhouse."

Pryor shares that long-term approach.

"We could start our own legacy by winning that first playoff game (since 1994)," he said. "Next year, they'll have 20, 25 seniors. And that could be crazy. They could build on whatever we do. And it just goes farther and farther."

Pryor, a four-year starter, will leave a legacy of some sort. The Louisville native needs 62 completions, 128 attempts, 622 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes to break the school record in each of those categories.

EKU Coach Dean Hood said of the records: "I don't think about it a lick." And of Pryor: "There's no prima donna in him whatsoever."

His teammates agree that Pryor puts team over self, and the quarterback is quick to spread the credit, even if he admits to giving the milestones more thought than his coach.

"I actually think about it a lot, because it's a way to leave my mark here," Pryor said. "But when you look at the (records), it shouldn't say, 'T.J. Pryor had this many passing yards.' It should say, 'T.J. Pryor and the offensive line had this many yards. T.J. Pryor and the receivers, the running backs had this many yards.' We did all this together."

It hasn't always been easy. Pryor's freshman year marked EKU's first losing season since 1972. The Colonels missed the playoffs again in 2010. Then came last year's 1-3 start amid a rocky transition from a spread offense to a pro-style attack, which caught Pryor off guard.

"I hated it," he said.

But once he and his teammates adjusted, the Colonels rolled. They won six of their last seven games before losing in the first round of the playoffs to James Madison on a last-second field goal.

That loss extended EKU's run of no playoff wins. It also gave Pryor some extra motivation.

"We want to win the national championship. OVC should be a small goal. We want the big one."

Ben Roberts Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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