Texan Football lands 11 on Phil Steele’s FCS Preseason All-Independent Team, Thomas named Preseason Offensive Player of the Year


STEPHENVILLE – The reputation of Tarleton Texan Football precedes itself as the Texans had 11 players named to the Phil Steele 2020 FCS Preseason All-Independent Team Friday morning – the most of any of the four FCS Independent programs recognized.

The Texans are coming off back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and Lone Star Conference Championships as a member of NCAA Division II. Tarleton has boasted an overall record of 23-2 over the last two years and will now venture into the ranks of Division I FCS competition. Leading the way will be 11 Preseason All-Indy Team selections, including the Phil Steele FCS Independent Preseason Offensive Player of the Year J.F. Thomas.

“This is an excellent start to our FCS journey,” said head coach Todd Witten. “I would like to thank the staff for the Phil Steele publication who put so much effort into learning about our program and the talented players we have here. I know it means a lot to these young men. Hopefully they get the opportunity to showcase their talents at the Division I level very soon.”

The Phil Steele FCS All-Independent Team recognizes players from four difference Division I programs around the country. Tarleton’s 11 players led the way while Presbyterian (7), Dixie State (7) and Robert Morris (5) accounted for the remaining 19 spots on the award team.

Highlighting the list was senior wide receiver J.F. Thomas, the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.

Thomas is coming off back-to-back All-Lone Star Conference seasons – a second-team nod in 2018 and a first-team honor last year. The senior wideout from Dallas has starred in 25 games over the last two seasons and hauled in 59 passes for 1,276 yards and 12 touchdowns as part of one of the most dangerous offenses in the nation in NCAA Division II. His overtime touchdown reception against Midwestern State in 2018 vaulted the Texans to their first of back-to-back LSC crowns.

Joining Thomas on the All-Independent Team from the offensive side of the football is running back Khalil Banks and offensive linemen, Kendall Dearth and Zach Perry.

Dearth and Perry were all-conference linemen for the Texan offense that ranked No. 2 in the nation in total offense (531.7 ypg) last season. The duo also helped Tarleton to a No. 4 national rank in scoring offense (45.0 ppg), as well as top-25 rankings in tackles for loss allowed and sacks allowed per game. Dearth was an All-LSC Second Team OL while Perry earned honorable mention All-LSC recognition.

Banks returns to the Tarleton backfield following a nine-game junior season in 2019 where he split time with All-American Daniel McCants and still accounted for 644 yards and nine touchdowns on 112 rushes. Banks welcomed himself to the Texan faithful with a 168-yard rushing performance on 11 carries in last year’s home opener against Doane.

Tarleton dominated the defensive side of the Preseason All-Independent Team with Texans securing half of the recognized spots. The defensive side honored 12 total student-athletes and the Texans placed six on the All-Independent defense – DL Chris Radford, DL Jordon Wells, LB Ronnell Wilson, LB Erick Willis, DB Benjie Franklin and DB Devin Hafford.

Wells and Radford return as mainstays from the defensive front. Wells was named the LSC Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2019 on his way to becoming a Don Hansen All-American Third Team selection while Radford looks to bounce back from an injury that cut his final Division II season short. Wells was fifth on the team last season with 50 tackles, including 19.0 for a loss and 6.0 sacks, while Radford made six tackles in four games before his season was cut short. Radford was an All-LSC Second Team defensive end as a junior in 2018.

The linebacking duo of Wilson and Willis each head into their fifth season with the Texans – both coming off career years as juniors in 2019.

Wilson has been a star on the Texan defense since his freshman season and was rewarded with All-America recognition in 2019, in addition to all-region and all-conference first team status. The senior from Abilene made 81 stops as a leader for last year’s top-10 nationally-ranked defense. In his career, Wilson has accounted for 214 tackles, including 13.0 for a loss, and three interceptions. Meanwhile, Willis enjoyed a breakout season in 2019 with a career-high 10.0 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks.

Rounding out the defensive honors are award-winning members of the Texan secondary, Franklin and Hafford.

Franklin stepped into the starting safety role last season and made an immediate impact. The junior from Houston was an All-LSC and D2CCA All-Region Second Team recipient after starting all 12 games and making 38 tackles and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. With Franklin leading the way, Tarleton had the No. 2-ranked pass efficiency defense (91.64) in the country last season.

Meanwhile, Hafford looks to bounce back from a season-ending injury that cost him his final year of NCAA Division II football. Now, the former All-American will have the chance to play his final season at the highest level. After starting every game of his career from 2016-18, Hafford earned All-American honors in 2018 from Don Hansen, D2CCA and the Associated Press. He was also named a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award and the LSC Defensive Back of the Year. In his illustrious career, Hafford has played in 37 games and made 168 tackles, including 119 solo, while forcing six interceptions and defending 39 passes.

The final Texan on the All-Independent Team is long snapper Stephen Reeves. Reeves has been the starting long snapper since arriving on campus as a freshman in 2017. Despite battling through injuries, Reeves has started all 29 games that he’s appeared in during his career while making four special teams tackles.

As of today, Tarleton is scheduled to make its NCAA Division I FCS debut September 5 at Sam Houston State in Huntsville. Stay tuned to TarletonSports.com for updates as they come regarding the status of football season.

Phil Steele is nationally known as one of the best football analysts in the entire country. His superior knowledge of the game has landed him on the voting committee for every major postseason award, including the prestigious Heisman Trophy. Steele annually produces Phil Steele’s College Football Preview Magazine which recognizes preseason all-conference teams from all over the nation.


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