Carson-Newman Hosts Annual Football Media Day
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Head coach Ken Sparks has seen a lot in his 31 years coaching the Carson-Newman College football team. But after early work in the No. 9-ranked Eagles fall camp, it's not "seeing," but "believing" that's the problem.
"We're excited about what's going on," Sparks said. "But is seeing believing, or is believing seeing? Because with what I see out there, I'll never believe we'll have a good football team."
Sparks addressed the members of the media Tuesday morning at Carson-Newman's annual media and picture day. The Eagles have to find a way to replace 17 starters, many of whom started for the last three to four years.
"I've got to believe that one day I'll see a pretty good football team out of this group," Sparks said. "This is the greatest challenge since I've been here. With great challenges comes great opportunities, so we're fired up about it. We can't wait to see what happens."
The greatest turnover has happened with the offensive skill position. Not a single C-N starter returns from last season's NCAA Division II semifinal team. Only two offensive linemen, left tackle Michael Tribue (Antioch, Tenn.) and Kevin Day (Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.) return to the field. Left guard Zac Hubbard (McCalla, Ala.) is the only other offensive lineman with game experience.
Doug Belk (Valdosta, Ga.) will quarterback the new Eagles' attack with Nate Inman (Fitzgerald, Ga.) and Jamie Bennett (Morven, N.C.) in the backfield. Junior Marcus Huie (Knoxville, Tenn.) and true freshman Jason Brown (Plant City, Fla.) will step in at wide receiver.
C-N offensive coordinator Mike Turner is excited about the potential he sees in Brown.
"He (Brown) is like Superman in the telephone booth," Turner said. "You can't touch the guy. He's an explosive kid who can get the ball in the end zone."
The defense has been forced to replace eight starters. All-South Atlantic Conference defensive end Zeke Andrews (Eastman, Ga.) and defensive tackle Qua Jackson (Chattanooga, Tenn.) will be joined in the trenches by junior defensive end Byron Bell (Knoxville, Tenn.) and junior defensive tackle Sam Palmer (Atlanta, Ga.).
All three linebackers will be new starters. Junior Ryan Helton (Tazewell, Tenn.) will start at outside linebacker though he will probably be sidelined for a month with a fractured arm. Senior Allen Jackson (Dalton, Ga.) will also start at outside linebacker with senior Anthony McAlister (Knoxville, Tenn.) taking over the middle linebacker spot.
All-SAC free safety Mario Russell (Columbus, Ohio) is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield. Issac Kinley (Johnson City, Tenn.) and Oliver Davis (Acworth, Ga.) will start at cornerback and Dontaye Hall (Gallatin, Tenn.) will get the nod at free safety. Russell had an all-world junior year where he recorded 102 tackles, forced six fumbles, defended 18 passes and had one interception.
"Sometimes when you get to that point, you kind of feel like you've arrived," C-N defensive coordinator Mike Clowney said of Russell. "You have to go through the little details and keep him motivated. He's having to step up and be a leader now."
Still, the greatest pressure falls on Belk who must now be the trigger-man for Carson-Newman's high-powered offense. Belk has made the move to quarterback after playing wide receiver for the past two seasons and backing up departed senior quarterback Alex Good. Quarterbacks coach David Needs, who won the AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year award last season, thinks that Belk's time at wide receiver will only make him more productive.
"It has allowed him (Belk) to see what the receiver has to do to get open," Needs said. "He understands the little nuances better because he's been in that spot. He can pull a receiver aside and they respect him because they know he's been there. I'm glad it's his time"