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GWU less than week away from season opener
The countdown has begun towards the kickoff of a new Gardner-Webb University football era.
It’s less than a week before new Runnin’ Bulldog head coach Ron Dickerson, Jr., sends his team into Spangler Stadium/Norman Harris field for a non-conference engagement with Brevard College (6 p.m. , Saturday).
Dickerson inherited a team with 16 starters back. Big South Conference head coaches and media tabbed the ‘Dogs fourth in the preseason.
A new system is in place as GWU intends to be more physical style up front in its pro-style attack.
Sophomore quarterback Chandler Browning (6-3, 225.) enters his second season at the helm. He’s being pushed by junior college transfer Exavier Johnson and redshirt Lucas Beatty with freshman Jordan Paul also in the picture.
There is plenty of experience in the receiving corps led by James Perry III, who needs only 22 catches to break the Big South’s career receiving mark. He has plenty of veteran talent around with Lyndon Leslie and Marquis Sanders (10.7 speed/100 meters).
Richard Jules and Keenan Grissett plus newcomers Stanley Fleurant and Carlton Heard could factor in as well. At tight end, James “Pork Chop” Dugas returns with Treymaine Schley another big target.
Up front, the ’Dogs are noticeably bigger and stronger. The projected starting five averages 6-foot-5, 289 pounds. The group includes Harrison Martin (6-6, 285, RJr.), Jamie Dunaway (6-4, 290, Jr.), Austin Sargent (6-3, 290, Jr.), Jeff Harris (6-2, 291, RSo.) and Steve Demilio (6-5, 290, RJr.). There’s also some quality depth on hand.
GWU will now utilize a true fullback in its offensive set. Luke Stein, on the defensive line the past two seasons, is in line for duty with converted linebacker Jonathan Langston also helping out.
The running back combo of Kenny Little, hurt on the second series of last season’s opener, and sophomore Juanne Blount give the Bulldogs a variety of weapons. Converted cornerback Ricky Rhodes is also a talented open field runner.
GWU ranked No. 15 nationally in total defense last season among NCAA Division I FCS programs. It has an experienced front seven back.
Up front, veterans Jordan Woods, Matt Goods and Preston Pemasa set the tone. Goods returns after redshirting last season. The trio earned preseason all-league honors. Pemasa (2010) and Goods (2009) are the league’s last two Freshmen of the Year.
Dylan Taylor has worked into a starting role and converted offensive lineman Tyler Hough-Jenkins (6-4, 275) adds size. Depth will come from Hudson Smith, Maurice Bryan, Maurice Dickson, Zach Shelton and Josh Dula, all who have playing time under their belt from last season.
Preseason All-America pick Marty Patterson (6-3, 235.) spearheads the linebacking group. Patterson missed the entire 2010 season with injury.
Devin Johnson, Lyndrez Leslie, Garrett Trusler and Brian Wittenberger provide more experience. Leslie stepped in for the injured Patterson last season.
A player to watch could be Bulldogs’ prized recruit Tanner Burch (6-3, 230), Georgia’s Class 1A Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.
The secondary lost three starters. Safety Gianni Olivas is back after starting 11 games as a freshman (four interceptions). Strong candidates for playing time at safety are Burns product Keron Phelps and South Carolina transfer Alonzo Winfield.
Cornerbacks Sean Davis and Keon Williams emerged in spring practice after reserve stints last season. Junior college transfer Kamar Morrison and rookie Ivan Toomer could also compete for playing time.
GWU brought in All-State kicker Trever Austin from Crest to handle that duty for his hometown team.
Graham Purvis and Bo Lindsey return as punters, with Purvis leading the league in that category last season. Long snapper Hudson Smith is a preseason All-America pick in that crucial role.