Simpson, Skyhawks focus on playoff run

Simpson, Skyhawks focus on playoff run
Coach Simpson instructs his team after the scrimmage. (Jared Peckenpaugh)

Coach Simpson instructs his team after the scrimmage. (Jared Peckenpaugh)

Head Coach Jason Simpson and the UT Martin Skyhawks will be more poised and confident this season as the 2014 football season gets underway this Saturday.

“We’re always confident in our players,” said Simpson, who went 7-5 last year and 5-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference. “We’ll have a chance every Saturday that we line up.”

Along with all the high hopes for the Skyhawks this year comes some concerns.

The Skyhawks will only have 10 returning starters this year, including both quarterbacks, Dylan Favre and Jarod Neal, and FCS preseason All-American linebacker Tony Bell. Despite losing 12 starters from last year’s team, Simpson is confident in the depth of his team.

“When you’ve got almost 40 upperclassmen … there are some things that get done without me in the building, just from those guy’s experience and leadership and that could lead to some good things,” Simpson said.

Simpson will also have new recruits and transfer players this year, such as Ronald Carswell, a redshirt junior wide receiver who transferred from West Virginia, and Manny Stocker, a redshirt sophomore quarterback from North Carolina State.

Simpson has not yet named a starting quarterback for this team, but says he likes what he is seeing out of both Favre and Neal.

“I’m confident with either one of the guys right now,” Simpson said. “We have two quarterbacks who can play.”

The schedule will be intimidating for the Skyhawks this season, as they will face two SEC foes, Kentucky and Mississippi State, as well as Cumberland and Central Arkansas in their non-conference games. The conference games are important this season in order to reach the postseason, something the program hasn’t done but once (2006) since the school joined the FCS in 1992.

“We put all our stock in these conference games,” Simpson said. “These other games are meaningful, but they don’t determine our postseason.”

The Skyhawks were picked to finish fifth this year in the conference at OVC Media Day behind Jacksonville State, Eastern Illinois, Tennessee State and Eastern Kentucky.

Simpson also believes that there could be a few new stars on the team this year.

“What is unknown is that there have to be some new stars,” Simpson said. “A lot of our playmakers have graduated, but we do have the guys behind them that haven’t done it yet, but certainly have the ability.”

The Skyhawks will play their first game on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 11 a.m. against the Kentucky Wildcats. The game will be televised live on the SEC Network.

Featured Photo: Quarterback Dylan Favre huddles with his offense during a recent scrimmage. (Jared Peckenpaugh)

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