UWA relying on plenty of new faces as 2015 kickoff looms

Tight end Ty Morgan (25) is one of UWA's top returners this season, helping to provide leadership for a team that will be largely reliant upon new faces.

Tight end Ty Morgan (25) is one of UWA’s top returners this season, helping to provide leadership for a team that will be largely reliant upon new faces.


Special to The Watchman

When Brett Gilliland arrived at the University of West Alabama in the fall of 2000, he was locked into a quarterback battle with Bakari Bryant and Keith Trimew.

Trimew was eventually named the starter for their season opener against the Stillman Tigers but Gilliland also played in that game and became a part-time starter for the remainder of his freshman season. So it’s pretty ironic that 15 years later the guy now known as UWA Football Head Coach Brett Gilliland finds himself in a similar position headed into another season opener against Stillman.

Who replaces record-setting quarterback Kyle Caldwell?

A few months ago, the answer might have been Labaron Anthony, a 2014 signee and last season’s backup quarterback.

Anthony, however, transferred to Georgia Southern during the summer.

His departure means that Gilliland will choose between two other 2014 signees in Dezmond “Dez” Huntley and Harry Satterwhite as well as, Tennessee Tech transfer Trent Thompson.

True freshman Gabe Tiller is in the mix as well, but he may ultimately sit out this season to learn the system.

With his offense focused on the option, Gilliland could also choose to install a two-quarterback system like UWA football teams have often done in the past.

Most recently, it was effective when Caldwell spent the first three years of his collegiate career splitting playing time with Gary Johnston.

UWA has that luxury again with dual-threat quarterback Huntley and two strong pocket passers in Satterwhite and Thompson.

The transition for the Tigers’ new quarterback won’t be easy, however.

Last season, running back Javae Swindle was expected to be a key part of the offense and improve upon his 2013 break-out performance of a Gulf South Conference leading 1,296 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Instead, the 5-4 speedster from Thorsby played through nagging injuries and rushed for only 480 yards, which led the team in that category.

One positive was the emergence of freshmen running backs Tyler Rogers and Rashaad Lee. Both will likely receive a lot of carries this upcoming season.

Barring any injuries, the addition of transfer Dominique Swope could potentially rank the UWA rushing attack amongst the best in Division II football.

Swope, the Southern Conference freshman of the year in 2011, was coached by Gilliland at Georgia Southern and is returning to football after an off-the-field incident led to his dismissal from the team.

He also sat out the 2013 season due to shoulder surgery.

Swope will be a player to watch after rushing for a combined 2,269 and 23 touchdowns in just two seasons for the Golden Eagles.

In all fairness, Gilliland inherited a team that returned five full-time starters. None of those starters were offensive linemen.

Dustin Tubby had previously started on the junior college level and John Marx had started some games at UWA. Mistakes and growth were expected.

This time around, offensive line coach Adam Ross has a unit, led by senior Marx and junior Jess Allen, that should be the most improved position on the team. They return every starter except Tubby and have more depth.

At the wide receiver and tight end position, Chad Toocheck is gone but second-leading receiver Daryl Collins, sophomore Randy Satterfield and senior Ty Morgan return.

The receiver position, similar to last season, will also feature a host of new faces. Among them is Coach Lamont Seward, who was a surprising hire from the Army football coaching staff. He rejoins Gilliland after the two coached together at Georgia Southern. Seward is also no stranger to the GSC. He coached at West Georgia from 2008 to 2009.

While the offense has questions to answer, the UWA defense should be the team’s strength.

Tirelle Cullen, Justin Wright, Sony Theodate, Martaze Jackson, Frank Richardson, Rashad Greene and leading tackler Fred Barnes are all gone.

Cullen was the team’s only returning full-time defensive starter from the 2013 season.

What also made him a special player is that the Tiger defense was built around transfers during the Will Hall era.

Cullen was a part of a 2010 recruiting class that featured 16 transfers and nine high school players. He and fellow signee Alfonso Irby were the only ones who stayed until their senior season.

That’s one reason why high school recruits like Quinton Harton, Jherron Jones, DeQuante Shockley, Martez Reaves, Dwight Herlong and Ashton Derico are important to the success of UWA football.

Derico and Herlong will rotate to replace Cullen on the defensive front.

Nose tackle Jones will start as well. The redshirt junior played in all 11 games (starting several) and tallied 10 total tackles (seven solo) and three sacks during his sophomore campaign.

Jared Washington also joins the defensive line starters.

Washington, a senior from Lanett, was one of just seven unanimous selections on the 33-man GSC preseason all-conference team.

He finished the 2014 season with 31 tackles (20 solo), 10 tackles for loss and three sacks.

Senior linebacker Harton earned his first opportunity to start last season and took full advantage. He finished second on the team in tackles with 54 total (39 solo).

Junior Shockley will move over to the bandit position to replace Jackson. Shockley’s shift means Brandon Keel becomes the starter at Mike linebacker.

The UWA secondary will be a combination of youth and transfers.

Last year’s starter at free safety, Brandon Lilly, was switched to the Rover position to replace Frank Richardson. That means sophomores Taderion Myhand, Riley Logan Taylor and Breland Massey will compete to become the team’s new starter.

Sophomore Jeremy Caldwell-Fabregas seems to be the favorite to start at strong safety. As a freshman, he saw playing time in 10 games and recorded 18 solo tackles.

Weber State transfer Felix Woods led the Wlildcats with 84 tackles in 2014.

Now the Florida native arrives in Livingston with hopes of causing even more damage in the GSC. He will challenge someone for playing time and that person appears to be Caldwell-Fabregas.

Woods played linebacker for the Wildcats. However, at 5-11 and 195 pounds a move to add depth at the safety position seems likely.

Duke Leland and Chris Davis battled for playing time at the cornerback spot when both arrived on campus last year.  Davis was ruled academically ineligible at Troy. Leland transferred from Northeast Mississippi Community College. The battle continues on for this upcoming season.

Replacing Greene at the other cornerback spot is former Tennessee Volunteer and Gordo native Izauea Lanier, who joined the team last year after three years away from football.

With all the talk around campus about Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, Lanier has the strongest chance to join him in the NFL. Lanier shook off the rust to record 26 total tackles (21 solo) a season ago.

Redshirt freshman Greg Thomas and true freshman Tanner Henton will also be ones to watch as the season progresses. They will be strong candidates to start at cornerback in 2016.

Lanier also informed the coaching staff about a desire to return kicks.

Special teams coach Max Thurmond was certainly given something to consider when Lanier showcased his speed while returning an interception 100 yards for a touchdown.

Markeyus “Cheeto” Johnson was the team’s primary kick returner in 2014. With Johnson gone, Thurmond will be looking for someone new to takeover return duties. The special teams unit will be aided by the return of place kicker Mark Grant and punter Jordan Ikner, who was granted a medical hardship after suffering a season ending knee injury.

Grant, a redshirt junior, was the team’s other preseason all-conference selection. He has converted 110-of-111 point-after-touchdown kicks and is 22-of-31 in field goal attempts during his playing career at UWA.

Also returning to the team is Ryne Smith, who will coaching kicking specialists. Smith was the Tigers’ place kicker from 2010-12. He set the NCAA Division II and Gulf South Conference records for consecutive field goals made with 24 over two seasons.