MCKINNEY – Tarleton Football is picked to finish atop the conference in the preseason poll and defend its title at the Lone Star Conference Football Media Day at McKinney ISD Stadium, the home of the 2019 NCAA Division II National Championship.
The Texans received 217 votes and 19 first-place votes from the media, head coaches and sports information directors in the conference. It’s the first time since 2014 the Texans were picked first in the LSC preseason poll. The Texans are coming off the most successful season in program history, winning its first outright LSC title and advancing to the NCAA Division II quarterfinals en route to a 12-1 record. Head coach Todd Whitten returns 47 lettermen from last year’s roster, including five offensive starters and eight defensive starters.
“I think expectations are good,” said Whitten. “It’s been a while since we won like that. A year ago we were picked fifth in the preseason poll. But I’ve been coaching a long time and I thought to myself when I saw the preseason rankings go up, ‘I’ve been a part of just about all of those spots 1 through 9 in my career, so I have a good idea about how everyone feels.'”
“We’re thankful we have a really good staff and players. We have a great Athletic Director and our facilities are second to none. We play in the best Division II conference in the country and I really enjoy getting to see these other young men here. Every Saturday when we go out there, it’s a full-speed deal. You’ve got to be ready and we’re very blessed to be here but every team out here can beat us. We have to keep preparing and be ready every Saturday.”
Last season, Tarleton ranked sixth in NCAA Division II with 45 points per game and ninth in points allowed at 16.5 points per game. The Texan offense also ranked fifth nationally with 516 yards per contest while holding teams to 303 yards, which ranked 20th.
The Texans return several key offensive weapons, including senior running back Daniel McCants, who ran for 1,141 yards and eight touchdowns. Wide receiver Zimari Manning is coming off a junior season where he led the team with 947 yards on 44 catches and an LSC-leading 12 touchdowns. J.F. Thomas enters his junior year after a sophomore campaign that featured 539 yards on 23 catches and six TDs. The Texans also have all-conference and four-year starters Noah Perez and Brant Bailey returning for their senior years.
Defensively, the Texans return the majority of its playmakers, including its secondary trio that combined for 13 interceptions. The defending LSC Defensive Back of the Year and All-American, Devin Hafford, will enter his senior year after recording four interceptions and 14 pass breakups. All-American safety Jai Edwards had four interceptions and 88 tackles while All-Region cornerback Prince Robinson led the team with five interceptions and four different touchdowns (interception return, kickoff return, punt return, fumble return).
Behind Tarleton in the preseason poll is Midwestern State, who is picked second with 185 votes and two first-place votes. Texas A&M-Commerce is picked third with 169 votes and one first-place vote. Eastern New Mexico is fourth (130 votes), Angelo State is fifth (122 votes, two first place) and West Texas A&M is sixth (119). The bottom third of the poll begins with Texas A&M-Kingsville, picked seventh with 88 votes. UT Permian Basin received 67 votes for eighth place and for the fourth straight season, the Falcons got a single first-place vote from its head coach. Western New Mexico is picked ninth with 28 votes.
In addition to the preseason rankings was the naming of the league’s Offensive and Defensive Preseason Players of the Year. Midwestern State wide receiver Juwan Johnson was voted the Offensive Preseason Player of the Year while UT Permian Basin’s Chris Hoad was named the Defensive Preseason Player of the Year.
Tarleton will open the 2019 season on the road against Division I Stephen F. Austin on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. The home opener in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium will be against Doane University on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m.