James is the OVC’s top returning rusher — 867 yards, six touchdowns.
“In Damarcus you’ve got a true running back who I got to watch a lot in high school,” first-year JSU coach Bill Clark said. “He comes every day ready to work and pushes himself. You don’t have to go hunt him up to get him in there. (His selection is) well deserved.”
Milner is one of three returning starters to the offensive line but is coming off a shoulder injury.
“Milner didn’t go through spring, yet has done every single thing you’re asked to do,” Clark said. “He’d sit back there when we do pass rush and be the quarterback. You see ability in this guy in the film. I’ve seen him do everything to get himself ready. Now, he’s fully released (to practice), I can’t wait to see him.”
Eastern Illinois senior receiver Erik Lora, the reigning OVC player of the year, was voted preseason offensive player of the year. Tennessee State junior cornerback Steven Godbolt III, the 2012 national interception leader, was voted defensive player of the year.
The Gamecocks had no players on the defensive team, and Clark said it should be a wake-up call for the unit.
“It’s not a slap in the face from a media standpoint, but it should be a slap in the face to our guys,” he said. “Hopefully, that will be something that encourages our guys — we don’t have anybody there, we’re not getting any respect there, what are we going to do about it.”
Play it faster
Eastern Illinois’ offense could be the United States Golf Association’s poster children for fast play. The Panthers led the FCS in plays per game, running a play an average of every 17 seconds.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo agreed that was a “pretty fast” pace, but it still wasn’t swift enough for coach Dino Babers’ liking.
“I was embarrassed at the speed we played at,” Babers said matter-of-factly. “I told them after about five or six games you really don’t have this down yet. Somewhere between Game 4 and 6 of your second year, you’re going to get it, and when the lights go on you’re going to see what I want. The entire football team hasn’t truly gotten it yet.”
Babers, the special teams and receives coach at Baylor before taking the EIU job, said he’d like to run a play as fast as the officials will let them. Garoppolo would like to get it to the Baylor pace when Heisman winner Robert Griffin III played for the Bears.
The Panthers were one of only four FCS teams to run more than 1,000 plays on offense last season. Only Marshall (90.58) and Louisiana Tech (87.8) ran more average plays per game in Division I than the Panthers (84.25).
So glad he made it
The Star has dubbed Southeast Missouri’s return teams “The Spencer Davis Group” in recognition of return specialist Spencer Davis.
It’s also a nod to the mid-60s bluesy British rock group that produced several hits in the U.K. and U.S. — and it’s not lost on the 21-year-old junior, who wasn’t even born when one of the group’s biggest hits was cut off by the owner in the Bob’s Country Bunker scene in the first “Blues Brothers” movie.
“I have heard of them,” Davis said. “It started in high school. I took a kick back for a touchdown, and they said on the intercom, ‘The Spencer Davis Group,’ and since then people would come up to me with it.
“At that point I didn’t know who they were, but I started looking them up and from then on more and more people would see it, and it stuck with me.”
Davis is third on SEMO’s all-time kick return yardage list (1,445). He needs 494 yards to break the record.
JSU personnel update
With their new players scheduled to report to training camp alongside the veterans in nine days, the Gamecocks have lost one of their high school signees and are waiting for one other to qualify.
Fitzgerald (Ga.) lineman Brett Steverson has told the Gamecocks he wouldn’t be joining the program for personal reasons and has been granted his release. Jackson running back Ledarrius Bowe is still short on his test score and the only freshman signee in danger of not qualifying, according to a source within the program.
On the tube
As soon as ESPN signs off on the technical aspects, the OVC will announce a nine-game ESPN3 television package for the season.
Commissioner Beth DeBauche announced the first game — Tennessee State vs. Bethune-Cookman Sept. 1 at LP Field in Nashville— at OVC Media Day. The other eight games are league contests and will include Jacksvonille State games at Tennessee Martin (Oct. 5) and at Eastern Illinois (Nov. 16).
Do not enter
With limited exceptions, all JSU practices and scrimmages this fall will be closed, Clark said Monday.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.