NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Max Holcombe hoped his team wouldn’t come away as the favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference in 2014.
JSU received 10 of the 18 first-place votes from league coaches and sports information directors Monday to edge two-time defending conference champion Eastern Illinois as favorite to win the OVC. The team also placed eight players on the preseason All-OVC team: five on offense, two on defense and one on special teams.
Senior running back DaMarcus James led the way, being named the OVC preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
After Jacksonville State’s record-setting season in 2013, one that saw the Gamecocks go all the way to the quarterfinals in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and finish in the top 10 nationally, Holcombe said he can see how people could pick them as favorites to win the OVC. But with increased expectations comes greater difficulty to produce.
Holcombe said it will be imperative for the team to avoid the overconfidence that comes with lofty preseason awards.
“I think you have to be humble,” Holcombe said. “Basically, you’ve got to start over and prove yourself all over. The preseason awards picked us to win the conference. We know every week we’ve got to play with our A game, because we can get beat every weekend.”
This season, the Gamecocks will play three teams who finished in the top 25 in the FCS in 2013, as well as a first-week trip to East Lansing, Mich., to play a formidable Michigan State team.
Junior defensive lineman Chris Landrum said he feels being picked as one the top teams in the conference will also draw out the best competition.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Landrum said.
To combat that complacency and prepare his team for everybody’s best shot, head coach John Grass said his team will have to work every day to make sure they’re getting better. Still, Grass said he thinks his team will react positively to the preseason pick to win the conference.
“I think it’s just a day-in, day-out battle,” Grass said. “I think the more mature your team is, the easier it is to fight.
“I think it’s good for our guys,” Grass continued. “It lets us know where we want to be. We want to be a top five team, but it has no teeth. It’s all coming off what 2013 did.”
For Holcombe, the key will to be to remember what made them successful in the first place.
“I think hard work and dedication is going to be important for us,” Holcombe said. “It’s not the seasons you get in the preseason, it’s the one in the postseason that’s important.”
Staff Writer Zac Al-Khateeb: 256-235-3554. On Twitter @zalkhateeb_Star.