BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - The 2011 Union Bulldogs are looking to pick up right where they left off and make a push for another postseason run.
After starting the season 2-3, Union closed out the 2010
campaign by winning five of six games to finish the year 7-4 overall and tied
for second in the Mid-South Conference West with a 4-2 mark. The 2010 season
was the second in three years the Bulldogs posted a winning record. In
addition, Union tied a program record with 20 wins over a three-year span.
Having picked up votes in the preseason poll to place Union
just outside the NAIA Top 25, head coach Tommy
Reid certainly hopes the momentum from last season carries over into the
"At this point (in the preseason), I feel better about how
our team has bonded and come together than where we were last year," said Reid,
who is in his 11th season as the Bulldogs' head man. "We've got plenty of
experience coming back, and the freshman and transfers we have coming in have
Duplicating last year's success will be a tall order as the
Bulldogs shattered numerous offensive records. Union averaged 40.0 points per
game and set program marks for most rushing yards (2,904), most touchdowns
(61), most rushing touchdowns (33) and most first downs (249).
The school-record 440 points the Bulldogs scored in 2010
eclipsed the previous record by 71 points, needing one fewer game to do so.
Union returns a number of key components to last year's
squad, but it lost a couple big pieces as well. Gone from the offensive line is
Quintin Borders, who was only a
four-time All-Conference First Team selection, a two-time AFCA NAIA
All-American and the 2009 MSC East Offensive Player of the Year. Also gone is
running back Armond Smith, who
exploded for a school-record 1,376 rushing yards, 16 rushing touchdowns and 17
total touchdowns in capturing the 2010 MSC West Offensive Player of the Year
Despite the huge holes to fill, the Bulldogs have plenty of
experience returning, starting with senior quarterback Mike Brinkley (Anthony, Fla.). Compared to his first two seasons,
Brinkley's numbers were down during his junior campaign. Still, he threw for
2,186 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing 55.7 percent of his passes and
throwing only eight interceptions.
Brinkley is already the only player in Bulldog history to
record three 2,000-yard passing seasons and he lays claim to three program
records. And by season's end, he could very well add at least three more
program records to his résumé.
"We have big expectations from him, not
only from a numbers standpoint but also from a leadership role," Reid said. "If
he plays well, we play well."
The Bulldog signal-caller will have an
experienced and skilled receiving corps to throw to, one that has Reid excited
about the possibilities.
"This is probably as talented of group
(of receivers) there has ever been here," he said. "We've got good size and
speed, and we're fairly deep at all four positions."
One of the targets Brinkley will be
gunning for is senior wide receiver Demetrius Hicks (Frankfort, Ky.). Last season, the 6-foot-1, 169-pounder hauled in 26
balls for 641 yards and five touchdowns. He recorded back-to-back 100-yard
receiving games and had another game in which he racked up 92 receiving yards.
His 24.7 yards per catch led the team.
With 52 career receptions, Hicks is 9
away from cracking the top 20 on the all-time receiving list and 40 from the
Returning for his senior season is Rolando Dyer (Lawrenceville, Ga.). The
6-footer missed last season and only played in four games in 2009. However,
during the 2008 campaign, he hauled in 29 passes for 518 yards and eight
touchdowns. Dyer has 50 career passes for 868 yards and 11 scores.
Reid said William McGarvey (Dallas, Ga.) has been "steady" for the Bulldogs
the past two seasons in primarily a backup role. Now, McGarvey will have the
chance to show what he can do as one of the starters. Last season, he caught 17
passes for 121 yards.
Also helping out at wide receiver will be
newcomers Sterlin James (Citra,
Fla.) and Frantzy Sejour (Ft.
With the losses of Smith and Terence Pollock, who rushed for 528
yards last year in four games before suffering a season-ending injury;from the Bulldog backfield, it would
be easy to turn into a pass-oriented offense. Reid insists the philosophy of a
balanced attack has not changed.
"We're going to be as balanced
offensively as we can be," he said. "But we've still got to figure out what our
strengths are and what defenses give us."
Junior Rob Brown (Daytona, Fla.) is Union's most experienced tailback
returning. He was second on the team in rushing last year with 558 yards and
four touchdowns. Brown, who is only 62 yards away from becoming the 11th player
in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in a career, is also a solid
receiver with 27 career receptions for 385 yards and two scores to his credit.
Helping Brown out at tailback will be
newcomers Xavier Robinson (Gainesville,
Ga.) and Brian Clark (Tallahasse,
Senior Chandler Priest (Loganville, Ga.) and sophomore Cody Sapcut (Corbin, Ky.) will split
time at full back.
"They are much like our O-line for us,"
Reid said. "There's not a lot of glory for it."
In 2010, Priest had his best season to
date with 86 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 11 carries. He only has 132
career rushing yards, but he brings so much more to the team than what the
"Chandler's been a workhorse for us,"
Reid said. "He's not going to have the stats, but he's been a valuable member
of the team throughout his time here."
Reid added that Sapcut is much improved
this year and should see plenty of time in the backfield.
Although Union lost two-time All-American
Borders, the Bulldogs return an experienced offensive line with seniors Steven Rodriguez (Kissimmee, Fla.) and Anthony Davis (Cincinnati, Ohio) leading
the way. Rodriguez has been a three-year starter with Davis starting for the
better part of two seasons but seeing lots of action all three seasons.
Juniors Jonathan Shipley (Tazewell, Tenn.) and Nick Garofalo (Peachtree City, Ga.) have been solid contributors on
the line during their first two seasons, and Jeremy Baker (West Palm Beach, Fla.) has crossed over from
defensive line to now protect the ball.
After those five, Drew Elliott (Ooltewah, Tenn.), Andy Flynn (Kennesaw, Ga.), Jaylin Baker(London, Ky.) and James Tripp (Cincinnati,
Ohio) could see some time upfront for the Bulldogs.
Defensively, the Bulldogs were in the
middle of the pack statistically in the MSC, ranking fifth in total defense
(allowing 378.8 yards per game) and sixth in scoring (allowing 30.3 points per
game). However, Union led the MSC and ranked 11th in the NAIA in
passing defense, surrendering only 153.0 yards per game. The Bulldogs also
ranked second in the league in sacks per game with 1.9.
The Bulldog defense had moments of
brilliance as well, recording one shutout and holding opponents to 15 or fewer
points three times on the year. Union also held opponents to under 350 yards in
total offense five times and fewer than 300 yards three times.
And the Union front six will be loaded
with talent, speed and experience.
Continuing to run the 3-3-5 defense, the
Bulldogs return a solid group on the defensive line and at linebacker. Upfront,
C.J. Hunnicutt (Bradenton, Fla.), Seth Jones (Greensburg, Ky.) and James McKinney (Louisville, Ky.) lead
the way. Hunnicutt is looking to bounce back after getting to play in only
three games last season due to an injury. In those three games, he had 12 total
tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and a half sack. Jones saw action in six games
but had just five tackles and one tackle for a loss. McKinney, meanwhile,
played in all 11 games and recorded 33 tackles, had two passes deflections and
one blocked kick.
In addition to that trio, Keith Parker (Powder Springs, Ga.), Mike Beard (Sparr, Fla.), Fred Brown (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Dontavis Henry (Cocoa, Fla.) will see
time on the line.
"We have a number of guys we can turn to
so we can hopefully keep fresh bodies in the game and wear down the opponents,"
said Reid. "And if need be, we should have no problems going to a four-man
front in certain situations."
At linebacker, leading the attack will be preseason
All-American Zach Eagler (Florence,
Ky.), William Roundtree (Ocala,
Fla.) and Darrin Greene (Cherrylog,
Ga.). Eagler is coming of a stellar sophomore campaign in which he led the
Bulldogs with 86 total tackles. He also had 3.5 tackles for a loss, three
forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery, which he returned 71
yards for a touchdown.
Roundtree didn't make it past the first game last year before
suffering a season-ending injury. He recorded three tackles against
Campbellsville in the season opener but left the game with an injury. As a
junior, Roundtree notched 54 total tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5
sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. He returned one pick for 42
yards and touchdown.
Greene saw action in all 11 games last season, tallying 31
tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, a sack, two pass breakups and a fumble
Helping them out will be Isiah Anderson (Boston, Mass.), Jordan Murph (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Ryan Shipley (New Tazewell, Tenn.).
The secondary is a cause for some concern for Reid. While he
has confidence in the starting five, he readily admits he is concerned about
Bert Brown (Daytona,
Fla.) is back for his junior season. The 5-foot-10, 163-pound defensive back
tallied 53 total tackles in 2010 with 3.0 stops for a loss. Brown also had two
forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 12 pass breakups and a blocked kick. Senior Jacob Crothers (Fort Thomas, Ky.) has
proven to be a steady contributor during his four-year career, racking up 84
total tackles, eight pass deflections and two interceptions.
Also helping out in the secondary will be Josh Nixon (Pensacola, Fla.), Marquis Oliver (Pensacola, Fla.), Jontrel Colbert (Dublin, Ga.), Juan McKinney (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
and Pedro Pinckney (Daytona Beach,
(Stockbridge, Ga.) is back for his senior season as punter. He averaged 33.9
yards per punt a year ago and also handled the kickoff and place-kicking duties
as well. In all, he scored a total of 50 points as he was 6-for-7 on field-goal
attempts and 32-of-39 on PATs. Helping out with some of the kicking duties will
be newcomers Steve Loverso (Mt.
Pleasant, S.C.) and Jon Shaw (Merseyside,
England), both of whom have an extensive soccer background.
Colbert will return punts, while Bert and Rob Brown will
Despite the strong finish last season, the Bulldogs are
picked to finish fifth in the MSC West. Cumberlands (Ky.) and Cumberland
(Tenn.) are the favorites with Shorter (Ga.) and Bethel (Tenn.) just ahead of
Union's two conference losses were to Cumberlands (35-21)
and Cumberland (29-18) and both were on the road. This season, the two
favorites come to Barbourville. Union also posted its first-ever win at Shorter
with a 37-31 decision, and the Bulldogs gave up 55 points to Bethel but scored
84 points of their own in route to a wild 29-point victory.
The Bulldogs open the season with three of their first four
games on the road. Union's lone home game in September is against Kentucky Christian
on Sept. 10, and the Bulldogs will also face NCAA FCS UT-Martin on Sept. 15.
On Oct. 1, Union will open MSC West play at home against
Cumberlands in the annual Brass Lantern game.