One of the hardest positions to crack the All-OVC list in football may be at defensive back. The league currently has all four first team selections from last year back in EIU's CJ James, Jacksonville State's TJ Heath, Tennessee State's Eugene Clifford and Eastern Kentucky's Jeremy Caldwell.
The talent has been so deep the last couple of year's that EIU senior Rashad Haynes was a second team All-OVC selection last year and may be the league's top shutdown corner. He enters the season ranked 7th on the EIU career interceptions list.
James and Haynes anchor the Panthers defensive backfield which we examine today. Behind the two senior veterans are sophomore Randolph Tribble behind James while true freshmen Pete Houlihan and Tavares Crawford will battle to play behind Haynes. While the Panthers are steady at corner this year, they also have a bright future with that back-up group.
The safety tandem also has a couple of years under their belt with starters Carlos Reyna and Nick Martinez. Both are juniors who saw plenty of action last season. Backing them up and playing in a lot of nickel and dime combinations are redshirt freshman Nick Beard and sophomore James Cooper. Those nine players will take a majority of the snaps on defense.
Speaking of OVC football, games start this Thursday. One team - Austin Peay - should start the year 1-0 when they host Cumberland University. Most everyone else in the league is likely looking at 0-1 starts as they play a money game. On the docket are Ole Miss, Iowa, Tennessee and Arkansas. Murray State and SEMO will open with Kent State and Ball State from the MAC. TSU hosts Alabama A&M in the John Merritt Classic while the game with the most intrigue is EKU at Missouri State - those two teams will see where they are right out of the gate.
The EIU family sends its thoughts and prayers out to the family of former EIU head tennis coach Dutch Gossett who passed away over the weekend. Gossett's son Jeff was a star at EIU before going on to an All-Pro punting career in the NFL.