With just a littler over a month before kickoff, The Ferrum football team enters this season as defending conference co champions. This was, to me, somewhat unexpected, but well deserved as the team finished 7-3 for the second year in a row. In Coach Harper's two years at the helm, he has led the team to apparent consistency, despite having several challenges.
First was the departure of coach Jim Hickam. He was replaced by former all pro running back Chris Warren. Warren had served as a volunteer assistant in Harper's first season, and was given full time status when Hickam retired. Warren finished last season having served as running backs coach, but resigned at the end of last season.
Next to leave was second year offensive coordinator Ralph Isernia. Isernia, after leading two very successful offensive attacks for the Panthers, was hired at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's head coach. This position was filled by Ferrum when it was announced that Chris Bache had joined the staff. Bache brings an impressive resume to Ferrum. Chris Warren's position has yet to be filled.
In a recent conversation with SID Gary Holden, I learned that there is reason for optimism this season. Holden seemed to think that the number of players that will be in fall camp will be strong. Besides strong recruiting efforts, Holden indicated that player retention efforts are paying off as well. This is a huge development, and is the foundation for success in any program.
With graduation taking a solid toll on last season's starting lineup, I think it is important to identify who is returning.
On offense, the Panthers look solid up front. With J.L. Tyree, LeRon Cameron-Fuller, Joe McDonagh, and Taylor Mendler leading a host of returners.
Also, look for quarterback Tim Reynolds to be back for his Junior season. He not only broke the all time passing record for Ferrum as a sophomore, he was named the USA South Offensive Player of the year last year.
The receiving corps is somewhat depleted due to graduation, but the list of wide receivers is deep, despite there playing time being minimal. I have no clue who the starters will be. Interestingly enough, the football roster on the Ferrum website lists Makaya Jackson but as a graduate. If he indeed has another year of eligibility left, this would be huge!
At running back, I am certain that Jericho James is expected to return, but beyond that, I have no information as to who will start. This will become more clear as we get closer to kickoff. This is another area that may lack experience.
On the defensive side of the ball, I again expect the line to be solid with Lynwood Pickett, and DeRon Dillard anchoring the defensive front. There are several others who saw a good amount of playing time last season, so I look for this unit to be strong.
Linebackers will be led by Senior Jatavious Adams. Adams who led the Panthers in tackles last season will be the most experienced returner at this position.
The defensive backs and safeties will also be looking for new starters. Tarrell Owens will be back to guide the defensive backfield. Also expected to see plenty of playing time is Marco McNeal. While the defensive unit is going to have new faces, I expect coach Adams to have them ready for the season.
Punting will be handled by by Senior Wesley Franklin, and I would expect Franklin to not only carry out punting duties, I think it is likely he will be called on to replace Scott Puschell for field goals and extra points.
It is hard to say how Ferrum will end up this season. They have a strong nucleus to build around, and the fact that the player retention is improving is a positive sign. Each year, it seems that the conference has a greater level of equality, and I feel sure that you can count on the following teams (In no particular order) to be the strength of the conference.....on second thought, I will hold off on that list. My predictions will be out on July 28th.