SPARTANBURG, S.C. – With the 2015-16 football season on the horizon, local and regional media turned out Wednesday to speak to head coaches and players from the Southern Conference as a part of the league’s annual media day at the Spartanburg Marriott.
The conference announced its preseason awards in coordination with the event. Chattanooga was tabbed as the league’s preseason favorite for the second consecutive year, collecting 29 of the media’s 30 first-place votes and 239 points. The Mocs also garnered seven first-place votes from the coaches. Western Carolina nabbed second place in the media poll with 190 points and earned one first-place vote. In the coaches’ poll, Samford edged the Catamounts for second with 40 points and earned the remaining first-place vote.
“The coaches and media think we have pretty good players coming back, and we’re coming off a really good season,” said Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman. “I don’t want to sound egotistical, but it doesn't really surprise me just because of the year we had last year and who we have coming back. There are probably a bunch of teams that can win the Southern Conference this year. It’s the most balanced since I’ve been here, no question about it. Every game is going to be scary.”
Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman took home Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honors. In 2014, the then-junior signal-caller led the Mocs to their first outright conference title since 1984, amassing 2,731 passing yards, 1,009 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns along the way. Huesman was named to the 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List earlier this month and earned SoCon Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2013 and 2014.
“I’ve been fortunate to win the award last year, and it’s all thanks to the people around me,” said Jacob Huesman. “It’s an award given to an individual, but it’s a team thing. My offensive linemen, I couldn't do it without them. I’ve got so many weapons around me at the skill positions, so it reflects on me, but really, it’s all about those guys.”
Samford defensive lineman Michael Pierce was named preseason Defensive Player of the Year. The senior was an integral part of a Bulldogs defense that gave up just 19.7 points per game in 2014. He racked up 35 tackles, including 26 solo stops and five tackles for loss during the 2014 campaign.
“[Michael] is a very good player, and I think one of the strengths of our team is our overall defense,” said Samford head coach Chris Hatcher. “Any time you have a good defense, it’s usually because you have good defensive linemen, so he's very talented. He’s a strong player, and if he’ll work hard this season, I expect him to have the best year of his career.”
The 2015 Southern Conference football season begins Thursday, Sept. 3, when VMI visits Ball State and Samford hosts Central Arkansas. The other six league teams hit the field for their season openers Sept. 5.