By BRAD KEITH
ODESSA (July 28, 2016) — Tarleton State is picked to finish seventh in the Lone Star Conference, according to the official preseason poll unveiled by league representatives at LSC Media Day Thursday.
The Texans were represented by head coach Todd Whitten, junior defensive end Chase Varnado and senior wide receiver/return specialist Bubba Tandy at MGM Grande Fun Dome, where Texas A&M-Commerce was tabbed to repeat as LSC champ.
But polls don’t matter to Whitten.
“No, they don’t mean anything at all,” said Whitten, who is beginning his third stint atop the Tarleton program and is already the winningest football coach in school history. “I’m just focused on learning more about the team, about our guys. I’m anxious to get started with training camp, get the pads on and work through the first couple weeks of the season then seeing where we’re at.”
It was no surprise to see Tarleton seventh on the list after going 3-7 last season and finishing last in the nation in total defense. Two of those wins were against Oklahoma Panhandle State, picked ninth of 10 in the poll, while one was against Texas A&M-Kingsville, picked sixth.
Varnado, a Stephenville native and Maxpreps Little All-American as a defensive end on the 2012 3A Division I championship team from SHS, said the poll could have some meaning, but that it has to be viewed in the right context.
“I mean, polls matter to an extent, but the only reason is they either hurt your feelings, give you confidence or motivate you. But like one of the coaches said, once you walk out of here today, the preseason poll doesn’t mean anything anymore,” Varnado said. “It’s just an expectation based on what you’ve done before really, but like everything else in life, it’s all about how you react to it. You can be upset about it or you can be motivated and go out and build on it, and that’s what we have to do.”
Tandy said before the event that while he was proud to represent Tarleton, he did not get too excited about media days or preseason polls, and he backed that up, hardly taking a second look at the preseason poll when it was unveiled. He was courteous enough, but kept his answers brief when interviewed on stage.
“I’m not one to do much talking, I like to see action more than anything,” said Tandy. “We all like to look at it and see what people think, but nothing in a poll or at media day is going to affect our season.”
The Texans begin preseason camp on Aug. 12 and open the regular season with a tough trip to Division I McNeese State (La.) on Sept. 3. The home opener is Sept. 10 against Southwest Baptist (Mo.) and conference play begins Sept. 17, also at home, against Angelo State.
“We’ll find out a lot about ourselves with that tough test at McNeese, and then we’ll come back home and learn some more against Southwest Baptist,” said Whitten. “Those first two weeks are big for us, because we need to have everyone in the right place and be gelling when we get conference play started in week three.”
The head coaches, sports information personnel and designated media voting in the LSC poll were largely unaware of many new names on teams’ preliminary rosters that were unveiled Thursday. That’s especially true at Tarleton.
“We’re still looking to see who we have as much as anyone else. I don’t even know who all is coming in yet, so how could anyone else really know where to pick us,” Tandy asked, rhetorically. “I’ve been watching from workouts and 7-on-7 and I’m sure we are going to have some good surprises for people, and we have more who still aren’t here yet, so we could be full of surprises.”
Whitten believes Tarleton has a chance to turn some heads in his first year back at TSU and in the LSC since 2004.
“I think we have a chance, but we’ll see,” he said. “We’ll have a lot of new faces, and some old ones, too,” he said. “I’ve seen some teams go from average to really good in a hurry in this league. Texas A&M-Commerce did that just a couple years ago, I believe, and got pretty good, and we’ve seen it before. There isn’t really one team that’s just dominated the league for several years, it’s gone back and forth, and that’s part of what makes it such an exciting conference.”
All the Tarleton delegates were proud to represent Tarleton at the event.
It’s always cool to represent the school and stuff, and this is definitely a sign the season is really almost here,” said Tandy. “When I woke up this morning, it was like waking up in a hotel on game day, and that’s a feeling that I’ve missed since last year. It felt great.”
“It’s great to represent your school and your town, especially being from Stephenville,” said the hometown product. “To be here and mingle with these other athletes is great. When we’re on the field we’re not always friends, so this is a nice great for sure.”
Whitten was glad to have Varnado and Tandy by his side.
“These are two great football players and even better young men who are both great ambassadors for Tarleton,” the coach said. “They will be key leaders on our offense and our defense, and they are the type of players we have confidence in. They play the game hard, the way you’re supposed to play it, and they’re pretty talented, too.”
The complete LSC Preseason Poll is below, with polling points followed by (first-place votes):
1. Texas A&M-Commerce 269 (19)
2. Midwestern State 254 (8)
3. Angelo State 211
4. West Texas A&M 182
5. Eastern New Mexico 181
6. Texas A&M-Kingsville 141
7. Tarleton State 121
8. Western New Mexico 66
9. Oklahoma Panhandle State 66
10. Texas-Permian Basin 49 (1)