The MTSU football team enters its second season of Conference USA action trying to improve on last year’s 8-5 (6-2) record.
The Blue Raiders were two games away from advancing to the league championship game. The 2014 team only has 13 seniors, and it will have to replace several key members, including quarterback Logan Kilgore.
“I am real excited,” said Blue Raider senior wide receiver Marcus Henry. “I have been waiting on this year. It is year-round training, but I am ready to see how all of this hard work will pay off.”
MTSU has begun preseason practice in preparation for the season opener on Aug. 30 against Savannah State at Floyd Stadium. So far, both the coaches and players are pleased with how fall camp is going after a few days of practice.
“I have been pleased as a whole,” MTSU head football coach Rick Stockstill said. “I think we have responded each day. Our competitiveness and our intensity have been good. Our attitude has been great. We have been getting better on both sides of the ball.”
Senior right tackle Isaiah Anderson added: “I think we are doing pretty well. Our spring program really advanced us. I think we are ahead in some areas than in the past. Everybody is competing and we are having a good time right now.”
Last season, the Blue Raiders had only two C-USA losses to North Texas and East Carolina. The main goal for the squad this season is to improve on the success and compete for a berth in the league’s title game.
“We are going to have to come together as one,” MTSU junior cornerback Jared Singletary said. “We got to play as a unit on offense and defense. If we do that I feel like we can beat anybody.” Added Anderson: “Last year, we were a couple of games away. I think we are a little step away, and we got to win the big games. We cannot lose any conference games, and we’ve got to take that approach.”
Here is a look at both sides of the ball as the Blue Raiders prepare for the upcoming season.
The biggest question heading into practice is who will replace the recently graduated Kilgore at quarterback. Currently, three players are competing for the starting position -- sophomore Austin Grammer and freshmen Brent Stockstill and A.J. Erdely. Stockstill played at Siegel and is the head coach’s son.
So far, the players and coaches are pleased with how each one is practicing at this point of the preseason.
“I have been really pleased,” Rick Stockstill said. “They got a good grasp of the offense. I think each one of them is doing better. We are protecting the ball pretty good. It has only been a few practices. I have been very pleased with them. They are great teammates, and they pull for one another. They have all fit in well with the team. There is no little cliques here, or little cliques there. I feel really good about where we are at the quarterback position.”
Added Anderson: “I think it is looking great. They all bring something different to the table. They all have great leadership, and they can run our offense in different ways. I am just anxious to see who sticks their head out.”
Last season, the offense was very balanced, averaging about 200 yards per game both rushing and passing. However, the Blue Raiders want to become more up tempo and use a lot of zone read options this season. “We have seen on film how other teams in the country how tempo causes a lot of problems for the defense,” Grammer said. “If we can get lined up and communicate it really will help us that much more.”
While the offense has to replace several starters, the defense only lost four starters from last season, including Jimmy Staten and Kenneth Gilstrap. However, the Blue Raiders return two of the top tacklers in C-USA from last season in junior safety Kevin Byard and junior linebacker T.T. Barber.
Also, the team wants to bring back its turnover machine as it led the league in turnover margin last season with a plus 12. The defense forced 33 turnovers, including 18 fumbles and 15 interceptions. It is looking for the same success this season.
“We just want to keep playing violent, and keep playing physical,” Barber said. “We want to work on our effort, toughness and getting to the ball.” Added junior cornerback Jared Singletary: “We just want to go out there and get takeaways. Turnovers are what we work for and we strive for. If it is in the air, the defensive backs mentality is the ball is ours. The linebackers are hunting, and they are trying to knock the ball out and recover it.”
The Blue Raiders hope the newcomers and the returnees will come together as they try to compete for a C-USA title this season.