Coach: Perry Thomas (37-40 in eight seasons)
Last season: 7-4, 4-1 and finished tied for second in the Mid-South West Division.
Outlook: Campbellsville closed the 2014 season ranked No. 14 in the NAIA Top 25 after sharing the West Division title with Faulkner.
After finishing the regular season with three straight wins, Campbellsville fell to Saint Xavier University 38-35 in the first round of the NAIA playoffs, its first postseason bid in 13 years.
This season, the Tigers enter ranked No. 15 in the NAIA. The return of quarterback Jacob Russell could propel the Tigers to a second consecutive playoff berth. He finished 2014 with more than 3,000 yards passing and 30 touchdowns. A solid defense, led by 2014 Mid-South Conference first-team member Percy Minor, returns mostly intact.
Key players: DB Percy Minor, QB Jacob Russell, DL Dekwain Tarrance.
Coach: Andy Frye (110-61 in 18 seasons)
Last season: 10-1, 6-0 and finished in first place in the Southern Athletic Association.
Outlook: Coming off a 63-28 loss against John Carroll in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Division III playoffs, Coach Fyre has a solid nucleus heading into this season built around nine returnees on offense and six on defense. “We have some momentum,” Fyre said. “I think we’re at a point now, in the last four or five years, that the movement of our program is heading in the direction that we want. That’s to compete for a national championship.”
Returning for Centre is senior quarterback Heath Haden. He looks for redemption after being knocked out in the opening series of the John Carroll loss. Fyre is also excited about the depth of his team, especially at quarterback.
“I believe our backup quarterback is good too,” he said. “Devin Hayes, he won two state championships at Bowling Green, so I feel very strongly that we’re in a good situation at the quarterback spot.”
The one spot Frye wants to improve on is interior defensive play.
“Our kids hit that hard,” Frye said. “You have to really make a commitment here because of the academic style. You have to be very intentional and disciplined in your time management. That’s what we have to do here.”
The Colonels graduated four starting defensive linemen. Solving the riddle of who fills the gaps will be tough for Fyre.
“We’re not in a position that we need freshmen to help us win,” he said. “But we have a really good recruiting class.”
Key players: QB Heath Haden, RB Nolan Coulter, WR Max Mazza, TE Brandon Kamp, DB Alex Mattingly, DB Sam Spees.
Coach: Matt Rhymer (second season)
Last season: 3-7, 2-4 and finished tied with Kentucky Christian for fourth place in the Mid-South East Division.
Outlook: The loss of 20 seniors and 16 starters from the 2013 NAIA national champion runner-ups meant that then first-year head coach Rhymer had his hands full replicating the success in 2014.
As a result, the Patriots finished near the bottom of the Mid-South, but finished the season with a two-game winning streak and hope to carry that success into this season. Quarterback Adam Craig returns after he missed seven games last year due to an injury he sustained in the third game of the season. The Patriots turned to Randy Maynard, who struggled in Craig’s absence.
Key players: QB Adam Craig, DB Arrico Ogletree, K Joe Rose.
Coach: Bill Cronin (170-43 in 19 seasons)
Last season: 8-3, 5-1 and finished in second place in the Mid-South East.
Outlook: Georgetown opened the 2014 season 8-1 before running aground during the final two games. The Tigers’ last loss came against Marian University in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. The road back to the postseason will not be easy for a Tigers team that loses signal caller Neal Pawsat.
His 254 yards per game was fourth-best in the Mid-South East and he helped the offense as a whole place fifth in the conference in passing yards per game. Stepping into Pawsat’s place should be senior Tanner Evans. Throughout his career at Georgetown, Evans has thrown for just 420 yards and four touchdowns. With four freshman quarterbacks waiting in the wings, Evans will need to show that he is able to produce.
The Tigers have substantial depth at wide receiver, though, meaning whoever steps in behind center will have a senior-laden receiving corps at his disposal. Joe Ganci returns for his junior season after leading the Tigers in 2014 with 33 catches.
The running game took a hit after the graduation of last year’s leading rusher, Demonte Smith. He took the bulk of the carries with sophomore Zach Harris playing cleanup. Harris looks to be the replacement.
The defense figures to return to form with the return of leaders Max Nussbaum and Jake Blust. However, defensive lineman Tommy Campbell will be missed. He finished last year with 10.5 sacks. Linebacker Dylan Sims returns and should finish his senior season as one of the leading sack producers on the team.
LB Max Nussbaum: The Fort Mitchell native finished 2014 strong with 10 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in the defeat to Marian. He’s just a sophomore, so his growth from year one to year two should be substantial. Look for him to be one of the leaders before the year is out.
WR Joe Ganci: Despite finishing last season with just 33 catches, the 5-foot-8 receiver averaged about 40 yards a game and three touchdowns in the last three games of 2014. With a new quarterback, his experience will be vital.
Coach: Steve Barrows (first season as head coach)
Last season: 5-6, 2-4 and finished tied for fourth place in the Mid-South East Division.
Outlook: A two-game improvement in 2014 concluded previous head coach Gene Peterson’s tenure at Kentucky Christian. Current head coach Steve Barrows now helms a Knights team that finished 2014 last in the Mid-South in total offense and fifth in overall defense. Barrows, though, will get senior quarterback Graham Johnston back after a foot injury sidelined him last season. Robert Powell, now a sophomore, started in his place and threw for 857 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Knights will need to shake off a three-game losing streak that ended last season; the return of running back Jamuel Jones should provide some relief for Johnston, who will be surrounded once again by a lackluster receiving corps that only caught 75 passes last year.
Key players: LB Aaron Cooper, DB Mike Ritter, LB Andrew Stewart, QB Graham Johnston.
Coach: Josh Dean (8-12 in two seasons at Kentucky State)
Last season: 3-7, 2-5 and finished in fifth place in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference West Division.
Outlook: The Thorobreds lost four of their last five games in 2014 and enter 2015 with questions abounding. How will an offense that averaged only 22 points a game improve after the departures of running backs Jacquise Lockett, Justin Williams and quarterback Adam Robinson? Kentucky State was a run-heavy offense last year and without the two senior running backs the blow will be substantial.
Sophomore Ora Johnson returns at quarterback after he spent the 2014 season in the shadow of Robinson. Johnson’s 50 attempts during the season won’t turn heads, but they were vital for experience. He is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience. The only returning starter at receiver with more than 20 receptions is Corey Slaughter.
Kentucky State’s defense was near the bottom of the league in 2014, totaling just 14 sacks on the season. Linebackers Lydell Simon and Trevon Spencer lead a defense that gave up 341.6 yards a game along with 30 touchdowns.
The Thorobreds are projected to finish next to last in the Western Division this season.
Key players: LB Lydell Simon, KR Corey Slaughter, DB Jermaine Graham.
Coach: Brent Holsclaw (entering 13th season)
Last season: 7-4, 7-1 in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.
Outlook: Last season was the first time since 1999 that the Panthers won as many as seven games, an impressive feat after a winless 2013. This season, Kentucky Wesleyan returns 20 starters. Quarterback Dalton Oliver returns for his senior year after a 2014 season in which he threw for 3,510 yards and 35 touchdowns.
One problem plaguing the Panthers last year was the inability to run the ball. They averaged just 106 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry. Myles Walker returns for his junior year after he led the Panthers in rushing with 511 yards on 113 carries in 2014.
Key players: WR Keenan Cole, DB Tyler Hermann, WR Xavier Mitchell, RB Myles Walker.
Coach: Chris Oliver (33-23 in six seasons)
Last season: 10-3, 6-0 and finished in first place in the Mid-South East Division.
Outlook: Despite a 17-30 loss to Saint Xavier University in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Football Championship series, the Blue Raiders finished the 2014 season with a program-best 10 wins. Ranked No. 7 in the NAIA Coaches Spring Top 25 poll, Lindsey Wilson wants to continue that success and is poised to with quarterback Branden Cresap returning for his senior season. The Mid-South Conference East Division Co-Offensive Player of the Year threw 38 touchdowns in 2014 for an offense that scored 70 touchdowns to lead the conference.
Running back Josh Haney was responsible for eight of those touchdowns and will run behind an offensive line that returns mostly intact. The only departure this offseason was Jake Vulhop.
The loss of receivers Cortez Barber and Chaz Barnes will be felt. Both finished in the top 15 in the conference in yards per game.
Key players: TE Emilio Gonzalez, OL Joseph Fawns, K/P Caleb Keeton, LB Michael Brooks, QB Branden Cresap.
Coach: Rob Tenyer (7-17 in three seasons)
Last season: 4-8, 3-5 and finished in seventh place in the Pioneer Football League.
Outlook: Experience, head coach Rob Tenyer said, will be the key heading into this season.
“We’ve got 16 starters, nine on defense, seven on offense and 10 more guys on the defensive side of the ball that have significant experience. Then we have 11 guys outside of starters on offense that have game experience. We have a roster full of veterans.”
The team will have its largest senior class in more than 20 years.
After a 2014 season that saw the defense ranked last in the PFL, the experience is a welcome relief for Tenyer.
“We have a bunch of guys on defense,” he said. “Justin Grier, our corner, is back; Brandon Louder, who’s a junior, will be a starter at safety; Dominic Iori, a former starter and a sophomore captain, will be back after an injury-plagued season; Luke Keller, returns as our mike linebacker, he’s our leading tackler, he’s healthy again. All those guys have over 35-40 tackles and we have seven preseason All-Americans on our roster.”
The Morehead offense finished second in the PFL last season.
“I feel that we can be explosive,” Tenyer said. “I’m excited about our running game. As I mentioned, we have 11-12 guys on that side of the ball that have game experience. I’m looking forward to it.”
QB Austin Gahafer: Threw for 23 touchdowns and 2,840 yards in 2014 as he led the Eagles to a second-place rank in passing offense in the PFL behind Jacksonville. “I’m extremely excited about having him back,” Tenyer said.
LB Luke Keller: Despite the Eagles’ troubles on defense, Keller had a great 2014 season. He was near the top of the PFL in tackles (87) and was fifth in sacks (six).
OL Todd DeWoody: He helped block for an offense that ranked second in the PFL in yards per game (429.2) and was second in fewest sacks allowed. “To have them back,” Tenyer said of the offensive line returnees. “It’s the foundation of our team.”
WR Jake Raymond: Ranked fourth in the PFL in receptions per game (5.9) and led the Eagles in receptions (71) and receiving yards (697). “I’m looking forward to it,” Tenyer said of the team. “It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing us grow and win some games.”
Coach: Mitch Stewart (first season as head coach, spent the last six seasons as offensive coordinator at Murray)
Last season: 3-9, 1-7 and finished tied for last place in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Outlook: The addition of first-year defensive coordinator Chris Boone should help a Racers defense that finished last in the OVC. Two of his units (2010, 2006) finished in the top 12 nationally in total defense.
Stewart hopes the culture on the team will change with the addition of a new staff. He wants to implement a more physical brand of football.
“We did some things to change up the practice schedule to make it more physical,” Stewart said.
Offensively, junior quarterback KD Humphries returns after he finished the 2014 season third all-time in program history in single-season passing yards with 3,488, going 319-for-473 with 27 touchdowns.
QB KD Humphries: “It’s always good when you got your triggerman back,” Stewart said. “Last year was his first year in the starting role so I’m excited to see his growth moving forward.”
RB Pokey Harris: Returns after playing in 41 games as a member of the baseball team; made 10 starts as running back in 2014. He finished second in the OVC in all-purpose yards per game with 138. “We’re really excited about Harris coming back,” Stewart said.
LB Jonathan Jackson: Started 11 games last season and had 134 tackles and led the OVC in total tackles (12.2 per game). “He has really transformed his body, looks very good right now,” Stewart said.
DT Thomas Chapman: He was red-shirted in 2012 at Kentucky, appeared in 10 games in 2013 at Murray and recorded just 12 tackles, but Stewart is impressed with what he has seen out of Chapman this spring. “Had a knee injury last year,” Stewart said. “He will be back and we’re excited to see where he fits in this year.”
Coach: Allan Holland Jr. (entering his first official season as head coach after being named interim head coach in 2014)
Last season: 5-5, 4-2 and finished in third place in the Mid-South East Division.
Outlook: The mantra for the Bears heading into the 2015 campaign is limit mistakes. Pikeville finished 2014 ranked No. 5 in Division I with 92 penalty yards per game. Add in the 43 percent third-down conversion rate and what you have is an offense that was average at best. Fortunately for Pikeville, the loss of running back Seth Miller won’t be a blow as Quan Weaver will now carry the bulk. He finished 2014 with 961 yards and seven touchdowns.
Youth is the theme of the Bears. Quarterback Sani Warren is just a sophomore and though he didn’t cement himself as a legitimate starter last season, he still finished with 1,426 yards and 12 touchdowns. Look for Pikeville to continue running the ball, though. No receiver in 2014 finished with more than 40 receptions and leading receivers Shawntay Zachary, Shawntez Johnson and Aaron Jackson have since departed, leaving Austin Pray and Eddie Miller III to take up the slack.
Key players: WR Austin Pray, RB Quan Weaver, QB Sani Warren.
Coach: Regis Scafe (first season as Saints head coach)
Last season: 8-2, 7-1 and won a share of its sixth Presidents Athletic Conference title.
Outlook: Thomas More is the second-fastest Division III school to 100 wins and holds the best all-time win percentage in NCAA Division III, so the expectations each year are high.
In 2014, the Saints were a statistical powerhouse, finishing first in overall offense and defense. They averaged 45 points and 534 yards a game while the defense allowed just 292 yards and 20 points per game. Quarterback Jensen Gebhardt returns after a junior year in which he threw for 2,235 yards and 17 touchdowns. The loss of running back Domonique Hayden will be felt. Sophomore CT. Tarrant takes his spot and looks to add to the 745 yards he accumulated last year.
Out wide, Goose Cohorn will have to carry more weight after the departures of Bobby Leonard and Ryan Winkler. Cohorn led the Saints in 2014 with 47 receptions and 910 yards.
Key players: OL Jake Henderson, QB Jensen Gebhardt, WR Goose Cohorn, DL Erick Butler, DB Kyle Fuller.
Coach: Zak Willis (second season as head coach)
Last season: 1-9, 1-5 and finished in last place in the Mid-South East Division.
Outlook: Bigger, stronger, sharper and more experienced, Willis said of his team this year during spring practice. After a disappointing 2014 season, the Bulldogs take to the field with a full season of experience under Willis.
The team has been noticeably sharper with improvements all around. The defense, especially the secondary, looks to be much improved. The quarterback position looks better with Chandler Whittlesey entering his third year under center. He’s thrown for 30 touchdowns in two years. The offensive line will be the main question mark. Willis noted that the line is in the developmental phase, with the linemen needing time to gel and grow. The return of three starters will help the process move more smoothly.
Key players: QB Chandler Whittlesey, LB Jake Johnston, DB Buddy Harrison, DL Serge Vita, DB Doug Jeter.
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