8-23-06 - A new era in East Central University football will be launched soon and Kurt Nichols is the new man pushing the buttons.
Nichols, who guided Cisco Junior College to a bowl championship in 2005, will try to fire the Tigers back on the winning track after they finished just 3-7 last season after a surprising 6-4 finish in 2004 under the direction of head coach Tim McCarty.
McCarty is now Ron Prince’s top assistant at Kansas State and Nichols takes over a promising program that returns two first team, all-conference senior performers on defense in linebacker Andrew O’Neill and defensive back Cody Fagan, along with a second team offensive lineman in Scott Copeland.
“If we stay healthy and condition well in a two-a-days, I think we can contend with anybody in the conference,” said Nichols. “Our focus is to take one game at a time. I really want us to be the best-conditioned team in the conference.”
That conditioning will certainly play a big role as the Tigers will employ an up-tempo, no-huddle, spread offense.
Pulling the trigger at quarterback is junior college transfer Robby Treadwell, who turned in an outstanding performance in the Tigers’ spring game. The 6-2, 205-pound junior transfer out of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College was 20-of-34 passing for 311 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception.
“He emerged as the starting candidate out of the spring,” Nichols said.
Senior Akeem Leviston, who started the Tigers’ final six games at quarterback in 2005, should also push for a start or playing time while Ryan McGuire, who played as a backup QB for Nichols at Cisco last year, could also see playing time.
Leviston was 14-of-25 passing for 101 yards in the spring game.
The receiving corps will have ECU and junior college experience as junior Mark Hodges, along with seniors Quinta Becks and Mike Glover return to the fold.
“Quinta had a decent spring and Mike has a good spring. Mike is very fast,” said Nichols.
Becks led the Tiger receivers last season with 16 catches for 227 yards while Hodges had 15 receptions for a team-leading 294 yards, after shifting from quarterback to receiver early in the year.
Also expected to make an impact at some of the receiver slots are juniors Kory Dowell and Marcus Pitts, along with two former Cisco players * Nigel Cooper and Justin Goolsby.
Pitts caught six passes for 115 yards and a pair of late touchdowns in the spring game while Dowell had six catches for 38 yards.
The tailback spot may be the biggest question mark as no player emerged as the clear-cut starter out of the spring. However, Evans ‘Flash’ Gordon and Keith Jones are both viable candidates as is another junior college transfer in Charles Huffman.
“Gordon was inconsistent, but was injured in the spring,” Nichols said. “Jones showed signs of brilliance, but was also injured. Huffman was a back-up for me as Cisco and should contend for that spot immediately.”
The fullback slot has Thurman Blake, a junior college transfer, as a leading candidate.
“He’s a big, strong kid and had a productive spring,” said Nichols. “He can also play tight end. He has good hands.”
August Peters is the leading candidate at tight end.
As for the remainder of the offensive line, the two-year starter Copeland returns and will make a position switch.
“We potentially have a good offensive line,” said Nichols. “We’re going to switch Copeland from guard to tackle. He had a very consistent spring.”
Stephen Collins and John Dodson, another pair of junior college transfers, are strong candidates for the guard spots while Wes Richardson could occupy the center slot.
But that’s not all. The Tigers welcome two newcomers * Aaron Turner and Jay Reeves * who could make a big splash on the offensive line. Turner is 6-6, 360 while Reeves is 6-3, 300. Both played for Nichols at Cisco.
Two other Tigers, who are pursuing a start or playing time, are David Thompson and David Gonzales.
“Thompson was a spot starter and Gonzales is a capable center and will see rotation at the center spot,” Nichols said.
The defensive unit will be led by O’Neill, a preseason pick for Lone Star Conference North Defensive Player of the Year at linebacker.
O’Neill’s 81 tackles were third on the team as he also registered seven tackles for lost yardage, one sack, one intercepted pass, two forced fumbles and one recovered fumble.
“We expect an all-conference type of year out of him. The key is staying healthy,” said ECU defensive coordinator Todd Fugett.
Also expected to contribute are Colby Williams, a transfer from Cisco; Jeb Rollins, a fifth-year senior for the Tigers; and Steven Marshall, who had more playing time than any reserve linebacker for ECU last season.
Leon Ames and Robert McDonald-Douglas are also strong candidates.
“Leon showed some promising things in the spring and could compete for a starting job,” Fugett said. “Robert had a very good spring and we look for him to go in and play immediately.”
Leading the way in the secondary is Fagan at free safety, who led was the fourth-leading tackler on the team in 2005 with 74 (43 solo) and topped the team in interceptions with three for 104 return yards and a touchdown, four recovered fumbles for 17 return yards and a TD and seven broken up passes.
“We expect an all-conference year out of Cody,” said Fugett.
Also expected to play some at free safety is Chris Mims. “He played a lot there in our nickel packages last year,” Fugett said.
The strong safety position appears to be a battle between Chris Henson, who is in his fourth season in the program but only a junior; Brandon Smith; and Carlos Moody.
Jermaine West and Shane Richardson are experienced candidates at the corner. West is a returning starter and Richardson played like a starter last year, according to Fugett, because he gained a lot of experience there.
Other candidates are Ervin McGee and Tyrone Ealy. Ealy is moving to the corner from safety.
“We have depth with that group in the secondary. They all understand the system pretty well and have experience,” said Fugett.
As for the defensive line, the lone returning starter is Charles Cohee. However, several players, with junior college experience, will join him, including Corey Roberts, out of Cisco.
James Henderson, a transfer from Southwest Mississippi Junior College, and Winford Hood are candidates for the read end spot while Demarcus Young and Avery Anderson are up for the call end slot.
Cedric Cofer is up for a tackle spot as is Kevin Roach and Carl Crawford for an inside tackle slot.
The Tigers will operate out of a 4-3 base alignment on defense with some 4-3 zone coverage.
Curtis Lilly returns as the team’s punter after ranking 11th in the nation and third in the Lone Star Conference at that position last year.
“He should be an all-conference contender,” said Nichols. “He worked hard this summer and has gotten stronger in his legs.”
Max Mauser is expected to at least handle the extra points and possibly the field-goal kicking.