Bucs hope their time has arrived

GREENVILLE, S.C.- Like a floor that has just been mopped, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers think that this year might be their time to shine on the football field.
   With Furman and Georgia Southern rebuilding, the race for the Southern Conference crown has all of a sudden become a wide-open scramble.
   Appalachian State is the overwhelming favorite, but many of the media members attending this week's Southern Conference Rouser said two-through-five was hard to pick.
   Georgia Southern and Furman were still picked second and third, but the margin between second and fifth was very close in both polls. Western Carolina was highly thought of, and so were the boys from Johnson City.
   ETSU wound up fourth in the coaches poll and fifth in the media poll, but some preseason polls have the Bucs finishing as high as second.
   Street and Smith's, one of the top-selling football magazines in the country, picked the Bucs as the No. 8 team in Division 1-AA football.
   ETSU wide receiver Cecil Moore thinks this could be the year of the Buccaneers.
   "I think this year is better than any," Moore said. "The conference is wide-open. The last couple of years, the conference has had the three powerhouses. But this year we feel that our name should be mentioned with all the other schools."
   The expectations are high in Johnson City this year, but this group of players know it's going to take a lot of hard work to bring a championship to East Tennessee State.
   One of the hardest workers on the team is defensive lineman Brandon Calton. Calton thinks there's a still a ways to go, but progress has been made.
   "We've got a long way to go," Calton said. "We've got everybody back on defense. Offense is really wanting to work hard. The guys are really, really hungry to go out and play. We have 65 guys right now that have come up in June and July to work out and run. Everybody's really hungry to go get a championship."
   Some coaches at the SoCon Rouser downplayed their teams high expectations. Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore was joking about being picked first by the coaches and the media.
   Paul Hamilton, the East Tennessee State head football coach, sees it as a positive for his team to have those great expectations.
   "I really feel like the expectations by polls and media are certainly I think positives for the program," Hamilton said. "But I think our players and certainly our coaching staff understand that we have more expectations within as far as what we hope to be, and what we've tried to get to at East Tennessee State. I think we've developed a level of consistency as far as winning year in and year out, and now we've worked hard to get to a point where maybe we can accomplish some of those things as far as being one of the top-level teams in the conference, and hopefully get to a point where we win this thing."
   If the Bucs are going to make noise in the Southern Conference race, it will most likely be because of a stout defense.
   The Bucs put five players from the defensive side of the ball on the All-Southern Conference preseason team.
   Those players include Calton on the line, Marco Bryant at linebacker, and defensive backs Tony Tiller, Gerald Sensabaugh and Montreal Harkley.
   Throw in Travis Williams on the line and linebackers Scott Brumet, Justin Reiner and Lamar Beam, and the Bucs can maybe boast the best defense in the Southern Conference.
   But Calton is being very cautious about playing the defense up.
   "I wouldn't say it's great," Calton said. "We had a lot of problems last year with third and long. We always seem to do good on first and second. I think we've got a long ways to go on defense still yet. We have a lot more work to do on technique. We need to work on the small things more than anything."
   Everything's not all rosy for the Bucs on offense, as receivers Tim Turner and Charvin Clark and center Lonnie Nettles have quit the team.
   And for the second year in a row, the Bucs are caught up in a quarterback controversy. Last year Matt Wilhjelm edged out Jatavis Sanders for the job, but both struggled.
   This season, Dashannon Gamble looks like the man to beat, but Sanders and Jason Davis are still battling for the top job.
   According to Hamilton, it looks like Sanders has the best chance to dethrone Gamble.
   "I don't think we can rule Jatavis Sanders out," Hamilton said. "Jatavis came on and really learned our offense this spring. He's a very talented player. He's a 4.5 40-yard dash guy, and he's got a very strong arm. It's obvious why N.C. State recruited him, and why he was there. I don't think you can rule out Jatavis, and I think Virginia Tech transfer Jason Davis is going to be a very good football player, too.
   "But right now the thing that separates Dashannon Gamble is the guy makes plays. When you go and you scrimmage, and the sticks go down and you've got to make first and ten, he makes something happen. I'm very excited about coaching Dashannon and seeing what he can do."
   If the Bucs can live up to the billing on defense and answer the question marks on offense, it could be a special season in Johnson City.
   Hamilton believes the league is more balanced this year, and he hopes this will mean the Bucs will have a chance to finish in the top of the league.
   "The thing that everybody sees this year is when you look around there's not as many named players that have been playing for three or four years, and there is a chance for more balance. Our approach at ETSU is that we know we're going to have to play every week this year, because all the teams are going to be good. We know that week in and week out, there's not going to be any givens. But I think it will be a real interesting year in the league. I think a lot of things can happen this football season."