Courtesy: Coastal Carolina University Athletics
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After a record-setting 2013 season, the 2014 edition of the Coastal Carolina football team was voted by the league's coaches and media as the preseason favorite to win this year's conference championship, it was announced Thursday at the annual Big South Football Media Day at the Charlotte Marriott City Center. It was also announced that Quinn Backus and Alex Ross were voted the league's preseason Defensive and Offensive Players of the Year, respectively, and they are two of nine Chanticleers named to the league's preseason All-Big South team.
Others Chants to be named preseason All-Big South includes Chad Hamilton (OL), Calvin Hollenhorst (DE), Richie Sampson (DB), Denzel Rice (DB), Alex Catron (PK), Austin Cain (P) and Devin Brown (KOR).
Coastal Carolina, a six-time Big South champion, received 14 of a possible 18 first place votes with Liberty garnering the remaining four first-place votes. The Flames were picked as the preseason runner-up, followed by Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, Monmouth and Presbyterian.
Backus, a two-time All-American and Buck Buchanan Award candidate for the second straight year, has been the league's Defensive Player of the Year for each of the last two seasons. He is looking to become the first player in league history to be a three-time Player of the Year honoree. Backus enters the season as the NCAA FCS active leader in both tackles (314) and solo tackles (172). He has led the league in tackles in each of the last two seasons and enters his senior campaign with 20.0 career tackles for loss, six interceptions, 10 pass break-ups, 4.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, three recovered fumbles and two touchdowns.
Ross, named to the initial Walter Payton FCS Player of the Year Award watch list, was named first team All-Big South at quarterback last season. The junior is 12-3 as a starter and has led Coastal to five of its top seven games of offensive production, including a school-record 652 yards of total offense at Elon last season. Ross led the Big South in seven offensive categories and led an offense that set 24 school and 17 league single-season offensive records. He completed 232-of-358 passes last season for 3,093 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Hamilton is a two-time All-Big South pick and tabbed a 2014 preseason All-American. A Coastal Carolina graduate, the Charleston native graded out as the unit's top lineman, posting a season grade of 91 percent. He helped Coastal lead the nation in fewest tackles for loss allowed, while ranking second nationally in third-down conversions and third in red zone offense.
Hollenhorst is coming off a 2013 which he earned second team All-Big South honors. After playing just three games and making four tackles as freshman, the junior started all 15 games in last season and led the defensive linemen with 42 tackles. He was selected the team's defensive MVP twice last season and made one of the key stops – a four-yard tackle for loss in double overtime at Liberty – of the 2013 season. After the tackle, the Flames were forced to kick a potential game-tying field goal. However the kick was blocked and Coastal escaped with a 55-52 victory.
Sampson had a productive 2013 season and was selected second team All-Big South. He ranked third on the team in tackles, tied for the team lead with 3.0 sacks and tied for second in the league with three forced fumbles. His 11 pass break-ups was second on the team, second in the league and 19th (tied) in the NCAA FCS. In the playoffs alone, Sampson recorded 20 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, three pass break-ups and forced a fumble that was recovered and returned for a touchdown in the opening-round playoff win versus Bethune-Cookman.
Rice, also a second team All-Big South selection in 2013, led the league and tied a CCU single-season record with 12 pass break-ups, which additionally tied for 10th-best in the NCAA FCS. He ranked fourth on the team with 61 tackles and added an interception in the Gardner-Webb win.
Catron garnered first team All-Big South honors last season. He led league kickers and ranked fourth overall by scoring 6.0 points per game. He connected on 60-of-63 extra points and 10-of-13 field goals with his .769 season field goal percentage setting a CCU record. He drilled a school-record, 50-yard field goal at Charleston Southern. Catron also made eight tackles on kick coverage as CCU led the Big South and rank 16th nationally in kick coverage defense (17.73 yards per return).
Cain, a three-year starter, set a CCU single-season record by averaging 38.2 yards per punt last season. Of his 56 punts, 16 pinned CCU opponents inside their own 20 yard line while one in every 3.8 punts for his career have been inside the opponent's 20.
Brown was named second team Freshman All-American and first team All-Big South as a kick returner last season. Despite being the team's kick returner for the second half of the season, Brown set a CCU record with 632 kick return yards while ranking 35th in the NCAA FCS with an kick return average of 24.3 yards. He had a 95-yard kick return for a score versus VMI, becoming the third Chanticleer to return a kickoff for a touchdown and marking the longest scoring play in school history.
2014 Big South Football Preseason All-Conference Team
OFFENSE SCHOOL YR
QB Alex Ross Coastal Carolina Jr.
RB Christian Reyes Charleston Southern Sr.
RB Juanne Blount Gardner-Webb Sr.
WR Kenny Cook Gardner-Webb Sr.
WR Darrin Peterson Liberty Jr.
WR Tobi Antigha Presbyterian College Sr.
TE Mike Estes Gardner-Webb Soph.
OL Chad Hamilton Coastal Carolina Sr.
OL Jonathan Burgess Liberty Jr.
OL Greg Ray Liberty Jr.
OL Clayton Truitt Charleston Southern Sr.
OL Mitch Hanson Liberty Sr.
DEFENSE SCHOOL YR
DL O.J. Le'iatua Mau Gardner-Webb Jr.
DL Chima Uzowihe Liberty Jr.
DL Calvin Hollenhorst Coastal Carolina Jr.
DL Dylan Black Charleston Southern Sr.
LB Quinn Backus Coastal Carolina Sr.
LB Nick Sigmon Liberty Sr.
LB Tanner Burch Gardner-Webb Sr.
LB Chad Geter Gardner-Webb Jr.
DB Jacob Hagen Liberty Sr.
DB Richie Sampson Coastal Carolina Jr.
DB Demaris Freeman Charleston Southern Sr.
DB Denzel Rice Coastal Carolina Sr.
SPECIAL TEAMS SCHOOL YR
PK Alex Catron Coastal Carolina Sr.
P Austin Cain Coastal Carolina Sr.
LS Cannon Jordan Presbyterian College Sr.
KR Devin Brown Coastal Carolina Soph.
PR Jeremiah McKie Presbyterian College Sr.
PRESEASON OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Alex Ross, Jr., QB, Alpharetta, Ga.
PRESEASON DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Quinn Backus, Sr., LB, Greenwood, S.C.
2014 Preseason Poll (first-place votes) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Points
1. Coastal Carolina (14) 14 4 -- -- -- -- 104
2. Liberty (4) 4 12 2 -- -- -- 92
3. Charleston Southern -- 2 10 3 3 -- 65
4. Gardner-Webb -- -- 5 12 1 -- 58
5. Monmouth -- -- -- 3 8 7 32