By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (July 27, 2016) — Bubba Tandy is glad to begin his senior season representing Tarleton State at Lone Star Conference Football Media Day, but don’t expect the talented receiver to pay much attention to the preseason polls when they are unveiled at MGM Grande Fun Dome in Odessa Thursday.
Tandy will be joined by Stephenville product and junior defensive end Chase Varnado, as well as Tarleton head coach Todd Whitten, who is beginning his third stint leading the Texans and is already the winningest football coach in school history.
Tarleton is not expected to be highly ranked in the poll after going 3-7 and finishing last in the nation in total defense last season.
But Tandy doesn’t care about polls.
“I’m not going to get too much excited about media days, or polls or anything like that,” he said Tuesday as he and teammates enjoyed hot dogs and watermelon following an evening conditioning workout at Memorial Stadium. “I mean, I’m glad I get to represent my team and my school, but I don’t get caught up in all that.”
The Hopkinsville, Kentucky native is, however, caught up in creating himself a bright future, and that’s why he’s returning from Tarleton after first planning to leave following an injury-plagued junior season. He even took part in senior day recognition at the final regular season home game last fall.
It made sense. Tandy, now 23, already had his bachelor’s degree, and would be returning to a team undergoing a head coaching change and facing more questions than answers entering 2015.
But the opportunity to obtain a master’s degree in kinesiology while also reaching some lofty goals on the field were ultimately too much for Tandy to walk away from.
“I wanted to come back and finish my master’s and finish off what I came here to do,” said Tandy of his 180-degree turn that should bolster the Tarleton offense this season. “I always have wanted to go pro, and this is my best chance to do that, so I want to stay healthy and give it my best shot.”
Division II athletes hoping to reach the NFL face long odds, but Tandy, 6-2, 190, has had the look of a candidate for NFL camp when he’s been healthy.
The former Kentucky Player of the Year was a USA College Football, Inc. 2015 Preseason All-American at two positions – receiver and return specialist. Tandy had numbers to back the hype, having hauled in 45 receptions for 830 yards and four scores in 2014, when he also returned 10 punts for 206 yards and six kicks for 94 yards. That’s 1,130 all-purpose yards on 61 touches.
Just as he looked ready to have an explosive junior campaign, the 2015 season turned as sour for Tandy as it did for the Texans. He suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung against West Texas A&M in a Lone Star Football Festival contest at AT&T Stadium. It was the second game of the season, on September 19, and despite competing in eight games and hauling in 32 passes for 365 yards and a pair of touchdowns, he still has not fully recovered.
“Right now we’re still just waiting on one rib to heal, but I feel great though,” said Tandy, who has caught 77 passes for 1,195 yards in his Tarleton career. “After that one rib heels, everything should be good by September.”
Tandy believes Whitten and staff, which includes key holdovers such as offensive coordinator Mason Miller and receivers coach Jonathan Beasley, have eased the transition for players returning in the wake of the head coaching change.
“The coaching staff is great, everybody is just happy,” said Tandy. “I like how it’s been going, everyone happy and smiling. Everyone is bonding more; it feels like more of a team this year.”
About 40 players were on the field for conditioning Tuesday evening, and Tandy says that numbers are growing quickly as more players, returning and new alike, make their way to campus.
“Everything is good, more and more of the guys are coming in by the day, and as long as we get everyone here and ready, we’ll be good to go,” he said.
Tandy hopes a journey to a pro career will include helping Tarleton turn back in a positive direction this season.
“I want to turn the program around to a winning record this year and compete for the championship in our conference,” he said.
And maybe even break a few records along the way.
“I want to break every record Nardy has,” said a chuckling Tandy, referring to past teammate Le’Nard Meyers, who finished 2015 as Tarleton’s all-time leading receiver. “That’s the thing, he set some records up there for me to break so I’m going to try and break those as much as I can.”
Clearly, Tandy also plans to have fun in his senior season.
“It’s great to have one more year and get the chance to turn the program around and make it part of the excitement here at Tarleton,” he said. “Tarleton has been a great place for me. There’s been a lot of change here in the last three years, but it’s the type of place I like and I’m cool with it.”
And he’ll still be cool with it after LSC Media Day.
Regardless where the Texans are ranked.