By TYLER PHILLIPS
The Eastern football team will have new faces all over the offensive side of the ball, but the team is not short of talent at any position.
Stepping into the spotlight is a new “face” of the program, junior quarterback Jared McClain. McClain has had significant playing time the last two seasons, but shared time with Eastern’s all-time leading passer, T.J. Pryor. With Pryor graduating, McClain takes over a team that went 8-3 last season.
“Since the day I got here, I’ve prepared like I was the starter,” McClain said. “Sitting behind T.J. for two years, I learned some things from him. Having played my freshman and sophomore seasons, it’s helped me grow into this moment I’m about to step into.”
Along with the graduation of Pryor, Eastern lost two of the best players in the entire Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Running back Matt Denham and wide receiver Tyrone Goard.
Although the loss of Denham is critical, McClain said he is not worried about the running back situation.
“It’ll be running back by committee replacing him,” McClain said. “Those guys are young but they are talented. It’s the most talented backfield as a group since I’ve been here.”
McClain mentioned junior Caleb Watkins, redshirt freshman Thomas Owens, redshirt freshman J.J. Jude and redshirt freshman Jared Sanders as the committee of backs to replace Denham.
The new Eastern signal caller will have no shortage of weapons at receiver either.
Spread across the field will be big targets for McClain to throw to. Senior Ike Ariguzo, sophomore Jeff Glover, redshirt freshman Devin Borders and senior Matt Lengel all stand over 6 feet 4 inches tall.
On the defensive side of the ball, Eastern returns five of the seven starters from the front seven of their 4-3 defense.
Leading that group will be seniors Anthony Brown, Ichiro Vance and Shawn Shupperd. Brown, a linebacker, has been All-OVC the last two seasons and should be one of the best defensive players in the entire FCS.
Head coach Dean Hood said the biggest question mark however, lies in the defensive backfield.
Three starters were lost to graduation, but redshirt junior Brandon Stanley returns to help a young group find their way. Stanley led the Colonels in tackles last season with 81. By his side will most likely be senior Christian Albertson.
The two cornerback spots are slated to be filled by sophomore Stanley Absanon and redshirt freshman Kiante Northington.
After the recent practices, McClain feels good about the defense as well.
“Defensively, we are flying around,” McClain said. “That’s where most of our experience and seniors are.”
Eastern will open the season at 7 p.m. Thursday night Aug. 29 against Robert Morris at home. This is the first Thursday night home opener for Eastern since 1993.
The week after that, Eastern will travel north to face the No. 9 ranked Louisville Cardinals.
Some major dates to pay attention to this season: Homecoming will be Oct. 19 against Tennesee Tech and the Colonels will visit face in-state foe Morehead State on Sept. 21.