Nashville, Tenn. - On Saturday, the Tennessee State football team hosts the Rattlers from Florida A&M at LP Field. The Tigers take on their rivals in the fourteenth annual John A. Merritt Classic in honor of legendary TSU coach John A. Merritt.
This year's game will be the 51st meeting between the two schools and the first since 2010's Atlanta Football Classic. The Tigers won the last contest, 29-18 to tie the all-time series at 25-25 dating back to 1944.
For Tennessee State, the Tigers are looking to build upon last year's 5-6 record with a season opening victory. TSU returns a total of 14 starters, including nine on the offensive side of the ball. They also return six specialists from a year ago- everyone except punter Matt Moseley.
On offense, the Tigers will feature an offensive line that boasts three all-conference selections in tackle Rogers Gaines, center Sherman Carter and guard Kadeem Edwards. Tennessee State will count on those three plus the rest of its line to help protect quarterback Michael German and open up running lanes for running back Trabis Ward.
Last season, German passed for 1,899 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to being named the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year. German accomplished the feat after only starting eight games last season.
Tennessee State loses its leading receiver in terms of yards from a year ago, but junior wideout Devin Wilson looks to build upon his sophomore campaign where he caught a team-high 48 passes, two of which went for touchdowns.
Ward was 23 yards shy of 1,000 last season after carrying the ball 193 times. He also scored 11 touchdowns on the ground.
Defensively, the Tigers lose their leading tackler from a year ago in Rico Council, but do return all-conference selection Antonio Harper. Harper will start for TSU at one of the defensive ends after leading the squad in sacks last season with 6.5. The Memphis, Tenn. native also recorded nine tackles-for-loss and 44 total tackles.
Another key returnee from last season is defensive back Steven Godbolt. Godbolt is coming off of freshman campaign that saw him grab All-OVC Newcomer honors and a team-high two interceptions.
On special teams, the Tigers welcome back return man Weldon Garlington who accumulated 544 return yards including a 100-yard scamper that went for a touchdown. This preseason, Garlington was named an All-American by Boxtorow.
Last year, FAMU sported a 7-4 record, but the Rattlers will have to find a way to replace 13 starters from a year ago.
The key returnees for the offense are quarterback Damien Fleming and left guard Steven Robinson. As a freshman last year, Fleming threw for 1,622 yards and 11 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. Robinson was vital in padding Fleming's numbers, as the 300 pound senior earned First Team All-MEAC honors last season.
Defensively, the Rattlers must find replacements at both defensive ends and at three linebacker positions. FAMU does return one linebacker in Brandon Hepburn and First Team All-MEAC safety John Ojo. Last season, the duo combined for 105 tackles, and Ojo recorded a team-high four interceptions.
This year's John A. Merritt Classic honors all the players that were coached by "Big John". The game starts at 6 p.m. at LP Field.
-- TSU TIGERS --