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April 19, 2024

Ready For Battle

Delta State football focused on going further in 2023

By Andy Collier

Sports Editor, The Bolivar Bullet

The Delta State University Statesmen had a huge year last season on the gridiron. 

In 2022, Delta State went 11-2, won a share of the Gulf South Conference Championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs. Last year’s performance has DSU preseason picked to the win the GSC and preseason ranked No. 10 in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 poll.

The Statesmen are hoping to be back in the playoff hunt this year. 

Delta State Head Football Coach Todd Cooley said the players have come to fall camp with the attitude exemplary of a winning program. 

“The guys want to be good, and they want to be better,” said Cooley. “At this point in time, I really can’t complain as far as that goes.”

Cooley said the players really showed their commitment to success during the summer. 

“We had 103 guys show up here voluntarily during the month of July,” said Cooley. “They did workouts here and did drills on their own in the afternoons. That kind of helped. I think we’re in better condition at this point now than we were a year ago overall as a team.”

Cooley will be entering his 11th year with the program which gives him the longest tenure of any active Head Football Coach at their respective schools on the collegiate level at a four-year university in Mississippi. 

Cooley, who is a three-time GSC Coach of the Year, expressed his feeling about his long tenure at DSU. 

“Right now, I’m feeling tired,” said Cooley with a laugh. “I”m worn out,but It’s fine. It’s a good place to go to work. We’re still building something here. We’ve all gotten our program better, and we want to keep taking steps forward and not go backwards so that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”

In both of DSU’s losses last year, the Statesmen led going into the fourth quarter. 

Cooley hopes the year’s team is hungrier and ready to go deeper in the playoffs. 

“Time will tell,” said Cooley. “They’re kids. Everybody is always wanting to pat them on their back all the time, but we’re just trying to go back to work. This year’s team is different. This year’s team hasn’t won a game, and they haven’t done anything. I feel like they want to get back to where they were and want to go further. I do feel that way, but time will tell if we handle the day-to-day grind in this and do it the right way.”

On offense, the Statesmen have plenty of players returning off a team that averaged 41.2 points per game last season which was second in the GSC. 

Quarterback Patrick Shegog, Jr., who is a graduate student in his sixth year with the program, will be back behind center one more time. He earned GSC Offensive Player of the Year honors and was named first-team All-Super Region Two last year. He was also a Conerly Trophy nominee which goes to Mississippi’s Top Collegiate football player at a four-year university. Shegog earned Preseason All-GSC honors heading into this year. 

Junior Cole Kirk and red-shirt junior Austin Davidson, who both saw action last year, will be expected to see some valuable playing time again at quarterback. 

The Statesmen also have some experienced running backs with juniors Christian Malloy, Kelvin Smith and Alfonso Franklin. Sophomore Tamaj Hoffman, who red-shirted last year, will be another one of the backs running the ball for the Statesmen. Red-shirt junior Jared Singleton, who saw action last season running the ball, could also make a huge difference for the Statesmen. 

The top wide receivers returning are red-shirt junior Calvin Lockett, senior Todd Lee Battle, junior Jaylen Green and red-shirt senior Robbie Evans.

At the tight end position, Katerian LeGrone, who was injured last year and played in six games in 2021, will be back this season. 

On the offensive line, senior Keshawn Jennings, (6-2, 320), junior Jaelon Brown (6-5, 340), junior Braidron Hodo (6-2, 305) and red-shirt sophomore Gabe Schweitzer (6-4, 305) are looking strong for the team. Jennings is a preseason All-GSC selection and a two-time All-GSC selection earning first team honors last season and second team honors in 2021. 

Cooley said there is still competition going on to fill one or two more spots on the offensive line. 

“Our biggest thing there is to find some tackles to step up,” said Cooley. “We’ve got a lot of good candidates that are competing well to get that done. Losing Nic Melsop and Damon Moore were big blows to our offense. The standard is high at that position. We’re enjoying those competitive battles going on at camp and watching guys get better everyday.”

Defensively, the Statesmen have their share of returning players off a squad that gave up just 23.1 points per game last season, which was second in the GSC in scoring defense. 

“I thought we were a very underrated defense a year ago,” said Cooley. “I thought our defense was really good. We had a very good red zone defense and a lot of tackles for loss.”

Cooley was really pleased about the team’s potential on the defensive line this year. 

“Upfront, we’ve got some talent on the defensive line,” said Cooley. “We’ve got some guys returning.”

The top returners on the defensive line are senior Lamarcus Faulkner, graduate student Timaje Porter, junior and preseason All-GSC selection Demario Martin, junior Joe Barton and senior Demetrius Swilley. Porter was a first-team All-GSC selection last season. 

At the linebacker positions, graduate student Adrian Hill, red-shirt sophomore William Carter and red-shirt junior Chris Sehring are three experienced players that will be counted on to do big things. 

In the secondary, junior defensive back Marlon Windham, senior defensive back Malik Jones and red-shirt senior defensive back Tyrell Goldsmith are three returning players that DSU will rely on heavily. Jones was a first-team All-GSC selection last year, while Windham was second team all conference. 

“I feel good about our defense,” said Cooley. “I think we’ll put out a really good defense once again on the field.”

In the kicking game, DSU has junior place kicker Nick Herber and junior punter Parker Burleson returning for another year. Last season, Herber, a Preseason All-GSC selection this year, went an impressive 19-of-20 in field goal attempts with a long of 41 yards and was 66-of-68 on PAT kicks. Last season, Herber was named first team All-GSC, first team All-Super Region Two and first team All-American. He was also a finalist for the Fred Mitchell Award which goes to the most outstanding kicker in college football. Burleson averaged 40 yards a punt with 19 punts landing inside the 20-yard line and seven punts of over 50 yards. He earned second team All-GSC in 2021. 

Junior Conner Mantelli, who is in his third year with the team, will also see duties at place kicker. 

Red-shirt junior Jack Dunphy is a retuner at long snapper, and sophomore Wade Cannon, a transfer from Itawamba Community College, is a newcomer that will also get a chance to see some long snapping duties. Evans, who is a preseason All-GSC selection on the special teams unit, will return punts for the Statesmen. 

DSU will open the year on Aug. 31 when the Statesmen travel to Rolla, Mo. to play Missouri S&T in a 6:00 p.m. showdown.