NASHVILLE --- Tennessee State was picked to finish sixth in the Preseason Poll at the Ohio Valley Conference Media Day on Monday. Senior offensive lineman Jessaman Dunker, junior wide receiver Patrick Smith and junior defensive end Ebenezer (Ebo) Ogundeko were all named to the All-Preseason team.
Defending champions and National runners-up, Jacksonville State, was given the nod to repeat with 16 first place votes and 128 points. Eastern Kentucky garnered 100 points for second, just ahead of Eastern Illinois with 97 points and two first place votes. UT Martin (96) is fourth, finishing a single point behind EIU and 30 points ahead of fifth place Southeast Missouri (66). The Tigers follow with 55 points, ahead of Tennessee Tech (45), Murray State (43) and Austin Peay (18).
The Tigers are coming off a 4-6 campaign, 1-6 in the OVC, and will look to improve with a veteran team in 2016. The defense returns eight starters, while the offense brings back six including Dunker and Smith.
TSU will rely on redshirt-sophomore O’Shay Ackerman-Carter and senior Ronald Butler at quarterback. Despite missing action due to injuries during his redshirt-freshman campaign, Ackerman-Carter was able to throw 11 scoring passes as he completed 110 passes in 190 attempts for 1,279, throwing only five interceptions. He will return with the starting nod, but will be pushed by Butler who has seen action in 25 contests through his first three seasons, starting 13. The senior finished 65-of-115 for 813 yards, as he tossed eight scoring passes with seven picks. Butler also ran for 199 yards, including a touchdown.
With 35 games under his belt, 33 as a starter, Dunker will anchor the offensive line again in his final season. The Boynton Beach, Fla. native has been tabbed by various publications as a Preseason All-American and has been listed as high in the top 10 of pro-prospects at guard.
Smith provides firepower for the offense, after leading all TSU receivers with 10 touchdowns as he completed his inaugural season with 996 yards on 54 receptions. Smith enters his second season with the Big Blue as a big play threat as he tallied six plays over 50 yards in 2015.
Ogundeko collected 52 tackles, trailing only junior linebacker Chris Collins (79) and sophomore safety Laquarius Cook (58), in his first season with the Tigers. The redshirt-junior registered 10 tackles-for-loss and five sacks, while forcing a fumble and picking up three quarterback hurry’s.
The Tigers will host Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Nissan Stadium in the 18th John Merritt Classic on Sept. 3.
2016 OVC Preseason Football Predicted Order of Finish
1. Jacksonville State (16 first-place votes) – 128 points
2. Eastern Kentucky - 100
3. Eastern Illinois (2) - 97
4. UT Martin - 96
5. Southeast Missouri - 66
6. Tennessee State - 55
7. Tennessee Tech - 45
8. Murray State - 43
9. Austin Peay - 18
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Eli Jenkins (QB), Jacksonville State
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Darius Jackson (DL), Jacksonville State
QB - Eli Jenkins, Jacksonville State
RB - Tremane McCullough, Southeast Missouri
RB - Devin Church, Eastern Illinois
WR - Josh Barge, Jacksonville State
WR - Patrick Smith, Tennessee State
WR - Brock McCoin, Tennessee Tech
TE - Jesse Blackburn, Murray State
C - Casey Dunn, Jacksonville State
OG - Jessamen Dunker, Tennessee State
OG - Garret Baker, Southeast Missouri
OT - Justin Lea, Jacksonville State
OT - Dylan Cline, Jacksonville State
OT - Justin Adekoya, Eastern Kentucky
DL - Ebenezer Ogundeko, Tennessee State
DL - Darius Jackson, Jacksonville State
DL - Damani Taylor, UT Martin
DL – Desmond Owino, Jacksonville State
LB - Roper Garrett, Southeast Missouri
LB - Joel McCandless, Jacksonville State
LB - Seth McDonald, Eastern Illinois
DB - Maleek Hall, Tennessee Tech
DB - Mike Ford, Southeast Missouri
DB - Bradley Dewberry, Eastern Illinois
DB - Jaylen Hill, Jacksonville State
DB - Eriq Moore, Southeast Missouri
K – Lucas Williams, Eastern Kentucky
P - Keith Wrzuszczak, Eastern Kentucky
RS - Lawon DeBardelaben, Jacksonville State