BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Birmingham-Southern football team is coming off its best finish in over five years and plans to use the momentum to propel them to the top of the Southern Athletic Association.
"This is the year, year three," said Head Coach Tony Joe White. "We're hoping that we get a corner turned. The guys expect to go into every game and compete. It's exciting."
The Panthers will have a fully loaded offense. They return nine starters from last season. Two-year starting quarterback Trevor Oakes (Somerville, Ala./Hartselle HS) is coming off a historic year. In 2018, he set program records in passing yards, completions, and pass attempts.
"This will be Trevor's third season to operate in our offense and work in our schemes," said White. "He's got a lot of playing time and a lot of valuable minutes. He is going to be very valuable to us this coming season."
Oakes will have three experienced targets this year. SAA Newcomer of the Year Gentry Neese (Franklin, Tenn./Franklin HS) returns at receiver along with Wells Smith (Jackson, Tenn./University of Jackson) and Cole Marell (Bonifay, Fla./Holmes County HS).
"Having those three guys back should pay big dividends for us," White said. "Gentry showed great athleticism, great ability to catch the football, and making people miss. Cole had a couple of record breaking games last year so we're excited about him. And we expect Wells to have a good year."
Tight ends Ford Hirsch (Cumming, Ga./Lambert HS) and Mike Benning (Chattanooga, Tenn./Baylor School) will also provide additional targets and support on the line. Balancing out the Panthers aerial assault will be Zack Seay (DeFuniak Springs, Fla./Freeport HS) and Robert Shufford (McKenzie, Ala./McKenzie HS) on the ground. Seay had a breakout year in 2018. He led the team in rushing yards and touchdowns, averaging 62.8 yards per game. Shufford finished second in total yards at 490 in 91 carries.
"Both of these guys have two different styles and two different dynamics," White noted of the backs. "Makes us difficult to defend in the run game."
BSC's offensive line has dominated up front in the trenches. Paving the way for the ground game will Austin Lewter (Tanner, Ala./Tanner HS) and Spencer Scofield (Collierville, Tenn./St. George's Independent School). The pair anchor an offensive line that averaged less than 1.5 sacks allowed per game last year.
Five starters return from the Panthers defense. Led up front by Corey Robinson (Alabaster, Ala./Kingwood Christian School), BSC's defensive line will be the catalyst for takeaways this season.
"The D-line is going to be very athletic and very strong this year," said White. "Those guys creating havoc up front and putting pressure on quarterbacks and being physical run stopping guys, will be crucial to the success we have defensively."
Despite losing captain and defensive powerhouse Sy Butler to graduation, the Panthers are still stacked at the linebacker position. They welcome back two all-conference selections in Myles Myers (Alpharetta, Ga./Johns Creek HS) and Garrett Stevens (Social Circle, Ga./Eastside HS). Myers set a single-season tackles for a loss record last year. And Stevens finished second on the team in tackles just behind Butler with 86. In the secondary, Ivan Villageois (Montgomery, Ala/Saint James School) and DJ Albright (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton HS) will be manning the deep ball. The pair combined for 52 tackles last season.
After losing just 14 lettermen, BSC welcome 53 new Panthers to the Hilltop to compliment an experienced core of returners.
"The recruiting class this year is very diverse, very talented," said White. "There are several guys we feel that physically can come in and contribute early. And that's exciting."
BSC opens the 2019 season on the road at LaGrange College on September 7. Their home opener will be the 11th Wesley Cup battle with Huntingdon College on September 14. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. in Krulak Stadium.
White noted that, "the game against Huntingdon is always an instate rivalry game that sets the tone for the rest of the season." The Panthers SAA opener will be against Sewanee the following weekend. Homecoming is October 19. BSC welcomes three-time defending SAA champion Berry College for a 6 p.m. kickoff. The Panthers close out the year at home against Millsaps College on November 16 with senior day.
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