NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Last season was, by all accounts, a landmark year for Jacksonville State.
JSU won 11 games, the most in the school’s Division I history, and went all the way to the quarterfinals in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, winning two playoff games, the first in the school’s history.
Yet even with all his team accomplished in 2013, head coach John Grass feels his team could have accomplished more had his team been more mature.
“Last year, we were talking about unknowns to our guys,” Grass said in Nashville Monday at the Ohio Valley Conference’s annual Football Media Day. “We were talking about winning the playoffs, eventually the national championship. Well, we ain’t never won a playoff before, so we had no idea what we were talking about.”
This year, Grass feels his team has the maturity to make it even further into the playoffs. His team returns 77 players from last season, including six starters on defense that only relinquished 23.6 points per game and nine returners on an offense that averaged 442.5 yards and 35.2 points per game.
Senior offensive lineman Max Holcombe said he feels if his team had a little more experience heading into the playoffs, the Gamecocks might have been able to advance past the quarterfinals.
“The biggest thing with us, last year, is this is all a new experience,” Holcombe said. “I’d never made it past the first round of the playoffs in high school. It was a new experience for me.”
On offense, JSU will continue to be led by sophomore quarterback Eli Jenkins, who Grass said should have more of an expanded role after having completed his freshman year. His freshman year, Jenkins turned in 953 yards on the ground and 887 yards through the air.
Senior running back DaMarcus James will continue to be the workhorse for the team after turning in a standout season for the Gamecocks in 2013. He is one of the best returning running backs in the nation, having turned in 1,477 yards last season.
Defensively, defensive lineman Chris Landrum will hope to anchor a defense that played second fiddle to the offense last year. Landrum returns as one of the team’s leading tacklers, turning in 38 total tackles, 10.5 for a loss, and four sacks.
Landrum said he feels the team is in a prime position to succeed in 2014 after experiencing what it’s like to win on a consistent basis. Not only will it no longer be new to the team, but the players will understand how to better prepare themselves for the playoffs.
“That experience should help us,” Landrum said. “It’ll help us prepare our bodies and take better care of ourselves as we make a stretch into the playoffs.”