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Ealey bolsters Jacksonville State backfield
Jacksonville State is hoping another Southeastern Conference transfer will make a major difference.
Coach Jack Crowe brought in former Georgia running back Washaun Ealey to significantly beef up the running game for the Ohio Valley Conference favorites.
Ealey’s summer on campus didn’t make him second-guess that decision.
“I think we have enough information that this guy is going to be the lead guy,” Crowe said. “I’d like to get back to a better running football team. Last year, I think we totally lost our ability to run the ball, especially at the end of the year. It primarily boiled down to injury at the end of the year.”
Ealey led the Bulldogs in rushing the past two seasons, gaining 1,528 yards and 14 touchdowns while starting nine games. He set a school record when he ran for five TDs in a win over Kentucky. Ealey received a conditional release in May from Georgia coach Mark Richt, who had twice suspended him.
Another SEC exile, former LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, started for Jacksonville State for two years.
Ealey might provide a key missing piece for the offense. Leadng rusher Calvin Middleton returns, but had a modest 514 yards last season.
Those two backs, Crowe sad, “give us a starting place for a very good backfield and possibly as good as you could have anywhere.”
With a backfield that includes two solid runners and quarterbacks Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard, the Gamecocks are preseason Ohio Valley Conference favorites for the third time in four years. They have fallen short of winning the title since back-to-back championships in 2003 and 2004.
Jacksonville State tumbled from a No. 2 Football Championship Subdivision ranking last season with two season-ending losses but still hosted its first playoff game in 18 years. The Gamecocks lost to Wofford 17-14 in the second round to Wofford to end a season that began with a huge double-overtime upset of Mississippi.
Then-freshman Blanchard polished off that game with a touchdown pass and was the running threat in a platoon with Ivory.
The 6-foot-1, 227-pound Ivory said he had shed 35 pounds entering preseason camp trying to become more mobile.
“Last year, I thought he had a good season, but didn’t finish as strong as he began the season,” Crowe said. “He has taken on a different approach for his senior season and is going to try to be a more complete player at the position.”
As for Blanchard, he “has the talent to make a difference in any game, as it was obvious last year,” the coach said.
On the line, preseason All-OVC Odie Rush and Tori Mobile return at the offensive tackle spots, while Matt Jones is back after missing last season with an injury.
Receivers James Shaw, Alan Bonner and Kevyn Cooper are back.
Defensively, the Gamecocks must replace their leading tacklers Antonio Bonner and Morrell Jones.
But Crowe said the strongest part of the team is the defensive line. Tackle Monte Lewis is the preseason co-OVC defensive player of the year. He’s joined on the line by fellow seniors Jamison Wadley, also a preseason All-OVC pick, and Rodney Garrott.
“Any of these three would be the best that we have had in their positions,” Crowe said. He also calls the current line “the best unit on this football team and the best single unit we have had in the years since I have been here.”
The top returning linebacker is Brannon Byrd. The Gamecocks also start senior cornerbacks A.J. Davis and Jawaan Booker. Safety Jason Horton was third on the team with 65 tackles.
After opening last season against Ole Miss, Jacksonville State starts 2011 with OVC team UT Martin on Sept. 1.
“I think it gives us an August focus that we haven’t had since we are usually opening up against a BCS school,” Crowe said. “It should make us a better football team at the end, which we weren’t last year.”
By JOHN ZENOR, Kentucky.com