Union football ready to turn the page, tackle 2019 season

Published 1:49 pm Thursday, August 29, 2019

BARBOURVILLE — The Union College football team had high hopes in 2018, especially coming off a 5-5 campaign and looked poised to compete for the Mid-South Conference (MSC) Appalachian Division title. But things did not go according to plan, resulting in a 2-8 overall mark.

Entering the new year with a new outlook, the Bulldogs are looking to reverse their fortunes.

“I feel like we are ready to do things and to get this program to be a constant winner, and I want this group to be the start of it,” said head coach Andre Linn, who enters his third full season at the helm.

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A lot of fresh faces dot the Union roster, as the team graduated and lost a number of players, especially at the skill positions. Still, Linn is encouraged by how the Bulldogs have responded and performed during the preseason.

“The coaching staff has done a great job of preparing the players,” the Bulldog coach said. “Athletically speaking, we some guys that are comparable to what we lost. Of course, experience means a lot, and that’s something we’re not going to have (heading into the season) at several positions.

“The one thing I can say about this team is that I feel like we are closer than any team that we’ve had as far as all in one accord,” he continued. “There aren’t any individuals. It’s all for the team.”

The Bulldogs return experienced players at two key spots on offense at quarterback and on the offensive line.

Kendrick Furness returns for this senior season and looks to be the Bulldogs’ signal-caller. Union used a trio of quarterbacks last season, but Furness produced the best with 1,424 yards passing and 12 touchdowns. He completed 57.1 percent (105-of-184) of his passes with only five interceptions.

“He’s grown a lot from last year,” Linn said of Furness. “His experience is settling to the offense. He’s calm, cool, and collected. With Coach (Bart) Elam coming in and bringing a different type of offense, I’m excited to see where Kendrick leads us.”

Four of the projected starters on the offensive line saw considerable playing time in 2018. Anchoring the front are seniors Zach Shinn and Chandler Love with sophomores Colter Barker and Nick Shinn.

“Unfortunately, we had to play everyone last year,” Linn said. “But the dividends should pay off this year as all of our returners have game experience.”

Freshman Tre Stuart is penciled in as the starter at right tackle.

Furness will have a lot of new faces to target. The top three returning receivers combined to haul in 29 passes and three touchdowns. Dalton Edwards leads the way with 15 catches for 120 yards and a score, while Jermaine Buchannon caught seven passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Ke’Yondre Bledsoe also had seven receptions for 88 yards.

The backfield will be ran by committee as Linn noted the Bulldogs have four quality running backs they can turn to at any time.

“Last year, we primarily got the ball to only one guy. This year, we have a stable full of running backs,” he said. “We have a group where we are rolling four deep, and we have confidence in all four.”

Defensively, the Bulldogs will be young up front but welcome back a wealth of experience in the secondary. Defensive backs Triquece Ware and Terran Cox have seen numerous snaps from the secondary, while junior linebacker Jay Brown is the team’s top returning tackler.

“That’s the one position where experience is more beneficial because they see everything, different types of routes,” Linn said of having so much experience back in the secondary.

Ware recorded 25 total tackles and had one interception and seven pass deflections. Meanwhile, Cox made 23 stops, intercepted two passes, and broke up three other passes. Joining them in the secondary are senior Jerold Evans (27 tackles in 2018), and red-shirt sophomores Mario Black and Malik Watt.

Brown leads the linebacking corps, having made 70 total tackles in 2018. He also had 2.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, and one fumble recovery. Demonte Bell (17 tackles in 2018) is slated to start alongside him with freshmen Cohen Perry and Kodie Robinson backing up.

“Upfront, we are going to be young,” Linn said of the defensive line. “We’ll have a lot of freshmen, red-shirt freshmen, a sophomore lining up for us on the line.”

Sophomore nose guard Tobias Dillard is the lone defensive lineman with any collegiate game experience. In seven games last season, he recorded 13 total tackles with 0.5 tackle for a loss. He will be joined up front by freshmen Matt Masson, Brennon Julio, and Jakobe Robinson as well as Dayvon Moore, who Linn said has really stood out in camp.

“We’re doing a lot of things that are simple upfront so that they can use their talents the best they can,” the Bulldog coach added.

“The thing about our defense is they’re going to play all out,” Linn continued. “There’ll be nine, 10 guys to the ball on every play.”

Sophomore Seth Burke will be looked upon to handle the majority of the kicking duties. Last season, he was 15-of-21 on PATs and connected on both of his field-goal attempts with a long of 30 yards. This season, he could be tasked with punting as well.

“There’s not one moment when you have to worry about what he’s doing,” Linn said of Burke. “He’s constantly working on his craft.”

Josh Smith is also battling for the punting responsibilities.

On kick return, expect to see Buchannon, Rasheed Holloway, and Immanuel Dawsey back to receive. Linn noted all three have the opportunity to go the distance is they get their hands on the ball.

Edwards and Za’Quan Clyburn are the favorites to return punts.

“They are sure-handed. They’re not scared to get up in there and go through people to catch the ball,” Linn said.

The Bulldogs have an 11-game slate on tap for 2019, beginning with NCAA Division I Morehead State University (Ky.) on Thursday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. in Morehead, Ky. The home opener is set for Sept. 14 against St. Thomas University (Fla.) at 12 p.m.

Union is picked to finish fifth in the MSC Appalachian Division and begins divisional play at Bluefield College (Va.) on Oct. 5.