Abilene Christian has their work cut out for them if they are to top their 2010 season. The Wildcats led the LSC in scoring (43.3 pts per game) and were second in scoring defense (21.5 pts). They tore through the regular season undefeated winning tight ball games over Texas A&M-Kingsville, Midwestern State and West Texas A&M - a testament to a veteran, senior-laden squad.
Let's start with who's coming back. Harlon Hill finalist Mitchell Gale returns for his junior season. Last year, he threw for 3,595 yards and 38 TDs with just 3 Ints. The running back position should be deep, led by Daryl Richardson (HM LSC South), Josh Morgan, and Reggie Brown (returning from injury). Taylor Gabriel is the leading returner at WR, but Darrell Cantu-Harkless (HM LSC South) is expected to shift over from running back as well. FB Justin Andrews (1st LSC South in 2009) and TE Ben Gibbs (1st LSC South)are back as blockers/receivers. Up front, Matt Webber (1st LSC South), Neal Tivis (2nd LSC South)and Josh Perez (HM LSC South)form a solid nucleus.
Gone are OL Trevis Turner, OL Royland Tubbs, FB Emery Dudensing, WR Edmund Gates (all 1st LSC South) and WR Kendrick Johnson (2nd LSC South). Others that have moved on are Clark Harrell at QB, and WRs Raymond Radway, Chris Fowler and Harold Jackson. That group combined for ten 1st team, three 2nd team, and three HM LSC South selections through their careers. The WRs and Dudensing had 176 receptions for 2,486 yards and 28 TDs.
With the defense, we'll start with last year's seniors. Up front, Fred Thompson, Marvin Jones (both 1st LSC South), Bryson Lewis (HM LSC South), Austin January and Mike Jones will be missed. Linebackers Kevin Washington, Courtney Lane (both 1st LSC South), Eric Edwards (HM LSC South) and reserve Case Carr won't be back. The secondary loses one starter, James Williams (2nd LSC South). All together, they will be missing 5 of the top 7 on the team in tackles, a combined 361 tackles, 54 TFLs, 15 sacks, 3 interceptions and 16 passes broken up.
Leading the returnees is three time 1st LSC South selection Aston Whiteside at defensive end. Donald Moore and Ryan Smith got a lot of playing time on the line as well. In the secondary, Darrien Williams (2nd LSC South), L.B. Suggs, Richard Havins (both HM LSC South) and Drew Cuffee are returning starters. Other players with significant experience are Nate Bailey, Nathan Baggs and David LaMour.
Special Teams -
Mark Sprage (two time 2nd LSC South) was a senior last year. He averaged 40.4 yds per punt. Also gone is Kendrick Johnson (2nd LSC South), who was second in punt returns, averaging 14 yards. Returning are leading kick returners Darrell Cantu-Harkless (26.5 avg), Caleb Withrow (22.8 avg) and kickers Morgan Lineberry (21-30 on FGs, 48-53 on PATs) and Spencer Covey (64.7 avg on kickoffs).
Top 5 signees
RB - Sam Kelley - HM All State, 1st All Central Texas, 2,168 rushing yds, 1,147 in 2009
TE - Jonathan Parker - turned down offers to Nevada, UNLV and Arizona to come to ACU, penciled in at #2 on depth chart
OL - Connor Keeton - 3 year starter in HS, could see playing time as true freshman
DL - George Woods - Houston Chronicle top 100
DB - Vicente Cantu-Harkless - District Def MVP, violent hitter
Other top signees
RB - Travis Tarver
WR - Jamaine Sherman
WR - Jace Hudson
DB - Lynn Grady
Not much in the way of transfers for immediate help, but some good long term propects. Wide reciever and the front seven on defense will need returning backups to fill the voids. Grade B