For the past 20 seasons, one of the steadiest college football programs in Kentucky is not one that annually garners big notoriety, attention or even postseason success. It does not live in a major city or belong to a power conference. Since 1998, Andy Frye has led Division III Centre College to 15 winning seasons by consistently doing it with a “volunteer army.”
“I get to deal with highly motivated student athletes,” Frye said. “I coach at a place I couldn’t have gotten into. It’s gratifying to coach men who have their ladder up against the wall. We’re a volunteer army. Kids choose to play because they want to play.”
Frye has relied heavily on in-state talent to carry the Colonels, and with 17 returners in 2018, this may be his best chance to make noise in the NCAA Division III playoffs since he was named head coach in Danville 20 years ago.
“I can’t control injuries but I do believe we have the talent to compete not only for a conference championship but also for the NCAA championship,” Frye said.
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Last season, Centre finished 9-1 overall with the only loss coming to conference rival Berry College (Ga.).
The Colonels’ offense was fueled by two talented rushers in Trevor Carnell and Colin Burnam. The pair compiled more than 80 percent of the team’s total rushing yards. Carnell and Burnam earned first- and second team All-Southern Athletic Association honors, respectively, after last season. Senior quarterback Tanner Young will fill the void left by the departure of senior quarterback Devin Hayes to graduation.
“Offensively, I think we have the two best running backs in the conference,” Frye said. “Usually you have one; we’ve got two. We have a very good wide receiver corps too. Jaylon Hibbs is a good player and so are Eric Niemann and Cody Estep.”
On defense, junior defensive back Cal Lewellyn returns as a preseason All-America third-team honoree. Lewellyn totaled 31 tackles, two interceptions and 12 pass breakups last season.
“Defensively we’ve got a lot of speed,” Frye said. “We’ve got two of the best corners in the conference and in college football you gotta have good corners.”
Frye and Centre are looking for their first conference championship since 2014 after coming up just short the past three seasons. Until he gets over that hump again, Frye knows that the spotlight on his football team will remain distant.
“I think obviously we’re a pretty good football team, but I also believe that you’ve got to earn the respect,” he said. “One of our goals is to win the national championship and until you do that you’re not gonna get the respect.”
Loaded backfield at TMC
Shining bright from an overall average 6-4 season last year for Thomas More was the production from its running backs. The even brighter news is that both Hjavier Pitts and Luke Zajac are returning this season to lead the Saints’ offense.
Pitts, a 5-foot-8 senior from Cincinnati, will look to build on his 124 yards per game average from a season ago. He and Zajac combined for 80 percent of Thomas More’s 278 rushing yards per game a season ago.
With the school announcing its move to NAIA level next season, Pitts and Zajac will seek to make one more splash for the Saints in NCAA Division III.
Morehead on the move
After going 4-7 last season, Morehead State is in need of a boost.
Shelbyville native Lawson Page will look to build on a 2,600-yard, 21 touchdown season in 2017 at quarterback for Morehead. Page was one of eight Eagles players named to All-Pioneer Football League teams by national FCS sportswriter Phil Steele.
Page was a third-team selection who is flanked by plenty of talent. The team returns its leading wide receiver, Jarin Higginbotham, who was a first-team selection and caught 48 balls for just shy of 975 yards as well as 10 touchdowns in 2017. The senior led the PFL in yards per catch at 20.3..
Joining Higginbotham is sophomore receiver Landon Hurst from Franklin County High School, who earned second-team all-special teams honors as a punt returner last season.
With five more all-conference-caliber players on defense, head coach Rob Tenyer has a solid collection of talent to piece together in Morehead.