Crusader Football Season Preview
Tigerville, SC – The 2014 season of Crusader football is just around the corner as head coach Jeff Farrington enters his second season at the helm of the program. Despite a sub-par 5-6 record last season, Farrington and his staff have high hopes for their sophomore campaign on the field.
North Greenville returns seven starters to an offense that averaged 412.5 yards per game and 27.9 points per game, while also returning seven starters to a defensive unit looking to mature after starting six freshmen during the 2013 season.
Quarterbacks: The Crusaders begin 2014 with a familiar face under center as junior Nelson Hughes returns after a sophomore season in which he set numerous school records including completion percentage (66.6 percent) and passing yards (3,202) while totaling 24 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Incoming freshman Will Hunter (Lexington, SC/Lexington HS) will look to compete for playing time after a successful high school career which saw him throw for over 10,000 yards for 101 passing touchdowns while rushing for over 600 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground, while sophomore transfer Mike Calabro brings a strong arm, depth and experience after spending a season at Florida Atlantic University.
Running Backs: The Crusader backfield will also be an area with recognizable faces returning to the field for North Greenville as the team’s top two rushers from 2013 return as well as some fresh faces looking to make an impact. Junior Trey Walker started all 11 games a season ago, leading the attack with 170 carries for 877 rushing yards, including three games going over the century mark, and seven touchdowns, while proving his versatility in the passing game with 30 receptions for 230 yards and three scores through the air.
Sophomore Simeon Byrd also returns after totaling 324 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns in nine games played, while fellow sophomore Ashton Heard provides speed, agility and versatility to the backfield after being fully recovered from a knee injury. Incoming freshman Tristen Jackson looks to make an impact after totaling over 1,000 all-purpose yards and 16 total touchdowns as a senior at Jefferson High School (GA).
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: The 2014 receiving corps returns many familiar faces to the field while looking to replace arguably the most dominant receiver in Division II football from a season ago. The graduation of Freddie Martino (146 receptions, 1,680 yards, 12 touchdowns in 2013) leaves an open spot at the #1 receiver position with a number of players looking to take his place. Sophomore Tyrecous Garrett caught 26 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games, while junior Tyrell Hillary also saw action in every game, totaling 15 receptions for 185 yards from the slot. Senior Thomas Weeks III is fully recovered from a broken collarbone just three games into the season, while sophomore Robbie Brown and senior transfer Rob Greene (Wofford College) provide additional targets for North Greenville.
Incoming freshman Mason Sanders provides size (6’6”, 215lbs) and a stout resume (85 receptions, 1,450 yards, 22 touchdowns as a senior at Boiling Springs High School), while fellow freshman Kyle Brandt (Rock Hill, SC/South Pointe High School) adds to the size advantage (6’6”, 190lbs) after catching 34 passes for 437 yards and six touchdowns as a senior at South Pointe High School a year ago. Freshman Javon Smith (Blythewood, SC/Blythewood High School) is also expected to produce in the passing game with his quickness, agility and ability to lineup at multiple positions out wide or in the slot after racking up 395 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns as a high school senior.
The tight end position also returns two players who saw significant time on the field last season in seniors Brock Frisbee and Blake Bensch. Transfer Ricki Delos Santos comes to North Greenville after two seasons at Nassau CC and is expected to provide an immediate impact with his experience and athleticism in the passing game.
Offensive Line: North Greenville’s offensive line will also need to fill a few holes left by the graduation of two seniors from last year’s unit. Eight of the returning 10 lineman saw action on the field in 2013 whether it be on offense or on the special teams unit as the linemen allowed just 18 sacks on the season and helped the Crusaders to 120.6 rushing yards per game and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Seniors Armani Delaney (17 career games, 11 starts) and junior Matthew Rochester (15 games, 14 starts) return to give the team significant experience up front. Senior transfer Charles Coleman comes to Tigerville after spending three seasons at The Citadel, having played in 21 games at the Division I level, also providing experience and leadership.
Sophomores Armon Lindsay, Cory Hoesli, Dillon Alford and Parks Wallington each saw playing time during last season for unit that will also feature a few fresh faces with red-shirt freshmen Michael Thomas and Casey Stewart competing for time. Freshman Cameron Stepp (Chesnee, SC/Chesnee High School) is also expected to compete for playing time along with fellow freshmen Jordan Watson (Honea Path, SC/Belton Honea Path High School) and Gage Smith (Gilbert, SC/Gilbert High School).
Defensive Line: The Crusader defensive line will be a unit expecting to develop young talent throughout the season. Junior LeeShawn Cromedy (21 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss in 18 career games) and sophomore Caleb Adkins (six tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack in six games) are the unit’s most experienced players until the return of junior Antonio Barron (53 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks in 10 games in 2013) from a knee injury suffered in the team’s final game last season.
Redshirt freshmen Renwick McNeil II, Anthony Blair and Johnny Burch will each have a chance to make an impact in the trenches, while sophomore Shaquan Burney (49 tackles, three tackles for loss, one fumble recovery) makes the move to the defensive line after playing nine games at middle linebacker in the fall. Incoming freshmen Delton Bradford (6’4”, 305 lbs) and Nick Adams (6’2”, 260 lbs)) will provide an immediate size upgrade and compete for time up front.
Linebackers: Commonly an area of strength for the Crusaders, the linebacker corps is looking to replace one of its top producers with the departure of defensive captain Braelen Meredith (89 tackles, 13 tackles, for loss, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble). Senior Nick Rodgers (81 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack) returns to provide experience and leadership in the middle, while sophomores Sam Houston (43 tackles, two tackles for loss) and Quan Weeks (26 tackles, two tackles for loss) will also see time in the middle of the field.
On the outside, junior Taylor Anderson (39 tackles, one tackle for loss, four interceptions in 17 career games) moves from the secondary after back surgery sidelined him for the 2013 season as fellow junior Jalen Hammett is also expected to have an immediate impact on the outside. Junior Darius Custard moves from running back to linebacker to provide athleticism and depth after seeing time primarily on the special teams unit a season ago. Seniors Rashad Simmons and John Higgins also return to provide leadership and experience on the defensive side of the ball, while incoming freshman Mycheal Payden (Spartanburg, SC/Dorman High School) provides versatility on the outside and is expected to compete for playing time early on.
Secondary: The North Greenville secondary returns all but two members of a unit that limited opponents to just 225.3 yards per game after starting four freshmen last fall. Sophomore safeties KJ McDonald (64 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, six pass break ups) and Tony Godbolt (62 tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions, nine pass break ups) return as the last line of defense. Seniors Quantel Mack and Andre Hennie both make the move from cornerback to safety to provide experience and leadership.
Sophomore cornerbacks Nigel Gay (55 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions seven pass break ups) and Rochar Witherspoon (28 tackles, one tackle for loss, three pass break ups) also return to the field along with senior pre-season All-American Cejay Thomas (18 tackles, three tackles for loss, three pass break ups) and junior Zamardre Wingfield (28 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, five pass break ups), while freshmen Darrius Proctor (Chesnee, SC/Chesnee High School), Travis Beatty (Augusta, GA/Richmond Academy), and Trae Bonner (Luella, GA/Luelle High School) will also compete for playing time in the secondary.
One area of stability for the Crusaders will be special teams, as the team’s primary punter and two kickers return. Senior pre-season All-American kicker/punter Justin Gravely returns after a 2013 season in which he totaled a team-high 29 punts, including 11 inside the 20-yard line and seven punts over 50 yards, for an average of 41.8 yards per punt, while converting a school-record 12-of-20 field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards and was successful on 35-of-39 point-after attempts.
Fellow senior Parker Langford handled all of the kickoff duties as he totaled 59 kickoffs for an average of 60 yards per kick, including seven touchbacks, as opposing teams started at their own 22-yard line on average.
Gay is back as the team’s top punt returner after totaling 18 punt returns for an average of 10.2 yards per return, while also being the Crusaders’ top kick returner from last season’s squad after returning 14 kickoffs for an average of 18.4 yards return. Witherspoon (12 returns, 18.7 yards per return), Hillary (five returns, 17 yards per return) and Brown (three returns, 22.7 yards per return) also saw time in the return game a year ago.
The Crusaders will open up the 2014 season on Thursday, Sept. 4 when they host the Gyrenes of Ave Maria University in Younts Stadium at 7 p.m.