Crusader Football: One Team, One Heartbeat
Monday, September 2, 2013
Crusader Football: One Team, One Heartbeat
Tigerville, SC – Those who walk down the halls of the Hendricks Athletic Center hallways may be shocked to find a host of new faces staring out from the familiar office space. The North Greenville University football team begins the 2013 season under a new coaching staff, the Crusaders’ second in as many years.

Under the instruction of first year head coach Jeff Farrington and his coaching staff, the Crusaders will look to build upon a 2012 season which saw its shares of ups and downs. After beginning the season on a low note the program turned its fortunes, winning five of its final six games, including four in a row to close out the season.

With a new offensive philosophy and a rejuvenated mindset inside the locker room, the 2013 version of North Greenville football is one that is sure to carry over the recent success of teams past.

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks: The Crusaders will begin 2013 with a few familiar faces vying for time under center. Junior Joey Carter and sophomore Nelson Hughes return to the team after each started multiple games during the 2012 season.  With a new offensive system in place, Hughes and Carter will be left to battle with incoming freshman Mark Weidenaar for the starting job. Hughes appeared in nine games, completing 59.7 percent of his passes for 1,230 yards and six touchdowns, while Carter completed 58.6 percent of his attempts for 553 yards and two touchdowns in six games. Weidenaar, who spent a redshirt season at Georgia State last season, will also battle for the starting job. As a senior at Lakeside High School (GA) in 2011 Weidenaar threw for 1,671 yards and 16 touchdowns as well as rushing for 887 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

Running Backs: The backfield should be an area of marked improvement for North Greenville as the team’s top two rushers from 2012 return as well as some new faces looking to make an impact. Sophomore Darius Paulk returns after leading the ground attack with 161 carries for 748 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns. Fellow sophomore Classe Thompson also returns after totaling 295 yards in eight games last season. Sophomore Trey Walker had a successful spring and is expected to compete for significant playing time in the backfield, while redshirt freshman Ashton Heard returns to the field after missing 2012 with a knee injury. 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: The 2013 receiving corps will feature a multitude of new faces as the team lost five of its top seven receivers to graduation. The top returning receiver is senior Freddie Martino, one of Division II’s most dynamic athletes. Martino has totaled 150 receptions for 2,087 yards and 14 touchdowns, along with five touchdowns on the ground, as a three-year starter. Sophomore Thomas Weeks also returns after amassing 203 yards in just five games last season, while Tyrell Hillary is expected to make a difference after moving from quarterback to wide receiver. Senior Mychal Cannon returns to Tigerville after a year in the armed forces to provide leadership and experience as he has seen playing time in 22 career games. Redshirt freshman DeVontez Rouse makes the move from defensive back to receiver in order to provide depth, while freshmen Tyrecous Garrett, Aaron Broadwater and Robbie Brown are also expected to have an immediate impact in the passing game. The Crusaders also lost their top two tight ends from last season, but will return sophomore Blake Bensch and junior Brock Frisbee, while bringing in freshman Chris Prater to compete for playing time.

Offensive Line: North Greenville’s offensive line will be in a shuffle as the unit returns six players who saw time on the field last season, including senior Jake Morris who has anchored the center of the line for the past three seasons. Fellow senior Ryan Thurn returns to the right side after playing in all 11 games a year ago, while senior Will Beacham returns after missing the second half of the season with an leg injury. Junior Armani Delaney and sophomores Matthew Rochester and Griffin Marsh also return to give the team significant experience up front. The line also has five new faces among the group including freshmen ArmonLindsay, Cory Hoesli, Dillon Alford, Michael Thomas and Dillon Holliday competing for playing time.

DEFENSE

Defensive Line: The Crusader defensive line will be a unit expected to mesh the experience of veterans with the youthfulness of new faces. Seniors Michael Klein (65 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4 sacks in 2012) and Jonathan White return after each lineman played in all 11 games last season. Junior Tra Thomas, a transfer from Clemson University, will also provide the Cruasders with size, strength and experience in the middle of the line. Sophomores LeeShawn Cromedy (13 tackles, 2 tackles for loss) and Antonio Barron also saw significant time in 2012, while junior Eric Mitchell makes a comeback after missing the final 10 games last season with an ankle injury. Freshmen Anthony Blair, Shamal Sanders and Johnny Burch have all impressed this summer and will have a chance to make an impact in the trenches.

Linebackers: Commonly an area of strength for the Crusaders, the defense is looking to replace two of its top producers. While defensive captain Braelen Meredith (52 tackles, 16 tackles, for loss, 6.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) and Nick Rodgers (75 tackles, 5 tackles for loss) return to provide experience and leadership, replacing former Crusaders Jonathon Sharpe and AJ Jones will fall on the shoulders of new faces. Transfer Shaquan Burney and red-shirt freshman Reubyn Walker are expected to fill the empty slots and provide an immediate impact, while juniors Rashad Simmons and Leo Dendy will see time with the second unit and on special teams. Freshmen Jake Dills, Sam Houston and Quan Weeks will also be counted on to provide depth on the defense and special teams unit.

Secondary: The North Greenville secondary is a full of veterans as it returns seven players that have seen meaningful time on the field. Senior Brandon Aldridge (50 tackles, 3 forced fumbles) and junior Cejay Thomas (22 tackles, 3 interceptions, 16 pass breakups) are the most experienced members of the group and will be counted on to lead the unit. Andre Hennie (14 tackles, 1 interception) and Zamardre Wingfield (15 tackles, 1 interception, 5 pass breakups) also return to the defensive backfield, while junior Quantel Mack returns to the team after a year away from the field. Paul Scott, Adam House and KJ McDonald will also see time on the field, primarily on the special teams unit as freshman Nigel Gay is expected to compete for playing time early on.

SPECIAL TEAMS

One area of stability for the Crusaders will be special teams, as the team’s punter and two kickers return. Senior punter Jacob Buckley returns after a 2012 season in which he totaled a school-record 66 punts, including 16 inside the 20-yard line and three punts over 50 yards, for an average of 35.1 yards per punt. Junior kickers Justin Gravely and Parker Langford are also back after successful sophomore campaigns. Last season, Gravely was 6-for-11 on field goal attempts with a long of 47 yards and 21-for-21 on extra points, while also totaling 11 kickoffs, averaging 58.4 yards per kick with one touchback. Langford handled the majority of the kickoff duties as he totaled 28 kickoffs for an average of 57 yards per kick, including two touchbacks. The Crusaders have an open competition at the punt returner spot after the departure of Isaiah Johnson, while Cejay Thomas is the top kick returner from last season after totaling just 12 kick returns for an average of 22.8 yards per return, while junior Colton Sibley, sophomore Tyrell Hillary and freshman Nigel Gay will also make an impact in the return game.