It’s game day for Panthers
LAGRANGE – It’s showtime for the LaGrange College Panthers.
LaGrange College’s football team, looking to bounce back from a 2-7 season in 2015, will kick things off with a road game against Birmingham-Southern today.
The Panthers, who are heading into their third full season under head coach Matt Mumme, are a veteran team, with numerous starters returning on both sides of the ball.
Nine starters return on offense, including junior quarterback Connor Blair, who averaged nearly 300 yards per game last season while throwing 19 touchdowns.
Seven starters are back on defense, and that includes a trio of defensive backs in Brandon Penn, Jordan Daniels and Darius Jordan who were among the top players on that side of the ball last year.
Leading the way are 18 seniors, most of whom arrived at LaGrange College in 2013, the same year Mumme started as offensive coordinator.
“The commitment that each one of these guys has given, it is unbelievable,” Mumme said earlier this summer. “A lot of these young men that are going to play for us this year, especially on the offensive side of the ball, they’re going into their fourth season as starters. And those are reps that you can’t replace. These are reps that these guys have gotten over the last three years that will help them be successful.”
Once again, LaGrange College will feature a pass-oriented offense under Mumme, and all the weapons are in place for the team to put up some big numbers.
In addition to Blair, who thrived in his first season as a starter, senior wide receivers Ervens Oge, Marsalis Jackson and Josh Hardrick are each putting the wraps on remarkable collegiate careers.
Oge has been a productive player since he was a freshman, and he has 146 catches and 10 touchdowns in three seasons.
Jackson has 104 receptions in three years, and he had 12 of his career 21 touchdowns as a freshman when he averaged 19 yards a catch.
Hardrick had his most productive season a year ago when he had 59 catches and five touchdowns, and he has hauled in 116 receptions since 2013.
Also back is senior Lavell Meeks, who had 28 catches and four touchdowns in his first season at LaGrange College last fall.
Hardrick, Oge, Jackson and Meeks had a combined 166 catches and 17 touchdowns last season.
In addition to those players, Mumme said there are a number of other receivers who can contribute as well, which is critical in an offense where so many players get involved.
“To sit here going into the 2016 season to know that we’re two deep at every spot at receiver is powerful,” Mumme said.
LaGrange College’s top three running backs are also back.
Jamarkis Holmes, who ran for 203 yards with two touchdowns last season, is the top returning running back, and Nick Searcy ran for 192 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
Drew Lewiski was a productive player as a freshman with 141 yards and a touchdown.
Leading the way is a veteran offensive line.
“These guys all came in last year and played for us when they were sophomores,” Mumme said. “We did have one senior on last year’s offensive-line group. They’ve worked together and they’ve done it. So now they see where they need to take their game to this year for us to be successful, so we’re really excited about having them back.”
On defense, LaGrange College has plenty of experience as well.
One of the players coming back is defensive lineman Demetrius Rodgers, who led the team with 13.5 tackles for loss last season.
Mumme said newcomer Edward Wright will also be a force on the defensive line.
“He’s 6-1, 290 and can move around,” Mumme said.
The coach added that “it’s tremendous what he can do to two offensive linemen.”
At linebacker, Mumme said junior Khary Paige “can run you down from anywhere on the field.”
LaGrange College’s top returning tackler is Penn, who had 63 tackles from his defensive-back position, and he also had three interceptions.
Daniels had 30 tackles and two interceptions, and Jordan had 26 tackles with a pair of interceptions as well.
“Our defense is very much aggressive,” Mumme said. “They’re definitely going to have a huge attack mentality to them. Coach (Earl) Chambers has done a great job with them.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports