WILBERFORCE, Ohio – After an offseason of hard work, Central State University will kick off the 2016 season under the lights of Welcome Stadium this Saturday at 7 pm when the team makes the short trip to take on the University of Dayton.
Coming off a 5-5 mark last season, Central State enters Saturday returning 14 starters from 2015, including four Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s preseason all-conference selections in linebacker Deonate Gary, defensive back Clim Robbins, safety Nehemiah Coward and offensive lineman Aliou Diouf.
Gary, Robbins and Coward highlight a Marauder defense that ranked among the conference’s best in sacks, interceptions and turnovers. A new look defensive line includes transfers John Franklin and Andre Pate while senior Artrell McMillan looks to get back to his 2014 All-SIAC form after missing the last four games of 2015. The CSU linebacking corps will rely on its senior leadership in Gary, E’Donovan Stewart, Okoye Bozeman and Anthony Hamm. Gary, who led CSU with 105 tackles last season, talked about motivation leading up to the opening weekend.
“We have all worked extremely hard and look forward to a great season,” Gary says. “For me and the rest of the seniors, we want to go out on a high note. We have had great practice sessions competing against one another and look forward to the start of the season. We were 5-5 last season and let a few games get away from us. Falling short in some of those close games serves as our main motivation to start this year out strong and work even harder to fulfill our potential.”
Robbins and Coward lead a Marauder pass defense projected to be one of the top units in the conference. Other key members defending the pass include seniors Lindley Reid, Dashad Tucker and William Isabell. Named to the All-SIAC preseason team as a defensive back and punt returner, Robbins will try to maintain his high level of play going into his senior season.
“We are ready,” Robbins says. “This team has an opportunity to do great things this year and we all have to continue to play together and come into every game prepared to perform to the best of our ability.”
On offense, the Marauders will feature a new signal caller in Lavon Meeks. Meeks, a junior transfer from Arkansas Baptist, has the ability to move the ball with his arms and with his legs. Meeks talked about the adjustment to a new school, coaches, teammates and the system.
“The Central State community has been very welcoming to me and I feel right at home. I thank the coaches for giving me an opportunity to lead this team,” Meeks says. “As an offense, we are capable of doing great things in this system. The coaches have surrounded me with playmakers and an offensive line that I trust. I’m really looking forward to helping this team win.”
Meeks’ pass catchers include last year’s opening day starting quarterback Marquis Wells and a host of new faces including Martell Clark, Tyrone Jones and Jahlil Woods. Arguably the area on the team with the most depth is the CSU backfield. Moses Vines and Isaiah Grooms return to the team while newcomers Darian Nelson, Terraris Saffold and De’Michael Jackson will all have a chance to make a significant impact on the field. Paving the way for the offense will be an offensive line led by seniors Diouf and Devon Radcliffe, who returns after missing all of 2015 due to injury.
Head coach Cedric Pearl, who enters his third season at the helm of the program, expressed the importance of senior leadership and preparation leading up to the season.
“Having been in our system for three years, we rely on our seniors to help mentor our younger guys. Our staff continues to preach focus, discipline, commitment and consistency in every drill, workout and team meeting,” says Pearl. “The ultimate goal is to continue to work and get better every day in all three phases of the game. I like the progress our freshmen have made so far and we are confident in their abilities to help this team take the next step. We play a strong team to start the season in the University of Dayton and look forward to the challenge.”
Dayton was 10-2 overall in 2015 under head coach Rick Chamberlin. UD was the Pioneer Football League co-champions with a 7-1 conference record. It was the Flyers’ 12th PFL crown in the 23-year history of the league. The Flyers went on to make their first appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
UD returns 18 starters from last season. Dayton is led by a trio of redshirt senior captains – linebacker Christopher Beaschler, tight end Ian Palin and center Shane Toub. Six Flyers were named First Team Preseason All-Pioneer Football League, including junior Christian Searles, who was named both as a cornerback and a kick returner.
Saturday will be the eighth meeting between Central State and Dayton. The first meeting was back in 1974 with CSU winning 28-25. The teams last played in 2011 with Dayton topping the Marauders, 17-7.
Central State competes as a NCAA Div. II program and a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Dayton is part of the NCAA Div, I Championship Subdivision and a member of the Pioneer Football League.
Fans can listen to Central State University’s coverage of the game on the Gem City Sports Network (http://www.gemcitysports.com/radio-1/).
The Central State University Dayton Alumni Chapter is hosting a pre-game tailgate beginning at 4 pm. The tailgate will be held on the northwest end of the Welcome Stadium parking lot.
Tickets to Saturday’s game can be pre-purchased on the University of Dayton’s website.