Goals set high for Pioneers

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   TUSCULUM -- A few years ago, the Tusculum College football team was a squad that just wanted to have a winning season.
   Now the goals for the Pioneers have been set a little bit higher.
   "National Champions," All-Conference tailback Aaron Claridy said when asked about the Pioneers' expectations this year. "Our expectations are nothing less."
   The Pioneers were ranked No. 14 in one Division II poll, and have been picked second in the South Atlantic Conference. The last couple of seasons have probably played a part in the high expectations.
   Tusculum has won 15 games the last two seasons, which includes an 8-2 mark from a year ago. Tusculum head coach Frankie DeBusk knows times have changed for the Pioneers.
   "When we first came we were in a situation where if we were going to win any games we were going to sneak up on people," DeBusk said. That no longer exists. We're finally getting some respect and some recognition. Our kids have worked exceptionally hard. The coaches have worked exceptionally hard. We wanted to get here, we wanted to get to a level of success. We're here and now we've got to find a way to maintain it."
   The Pioneers have 13 seniors and nine All-SAC preseason picks in the fold, but one familiar face is missing from this year's team.
   Caleb Slover, Tusculum's strong-armed quarterback, has moved on to the Arena League 2 ranks. His replacement is still up in the air.
   Sophomores Carson Bradley and Tony Colston are both 1-AA transfers. Bradley came from Northern Arizona, while Colston started out at Tennessee Tech.
   DeBusk hopes to stick with the one he decides to go with in the preseason.
   "Our mentality is to find us one that we can go with, and as long as things are going well stick with him," DeBusk said. "I don't want to get into a dual-quarterback role. I don't want to get into a rotation to be quite honest. I think it's very important for that position to feel comfortable for the good and the bad and get in there and get into a rhythm. That's what our mentality is going into the season."
   Bradley thinks he has a good idea who the starter might be.
   "Coach DeBusk told me after the spring that it was my job to lose," Bradley said. "As of right now I'm taking most of the one snaps. But it's not a bad situation having two quarterbacks that can play. Tony's going to get in there sometime. Tony's a good quarterback, too."
   The quarterback situation may be a little up in the air, but there is no question who the starting tailback will be for Tusculum.
   Aaron Claridy has gone from walk-on to being a stellar runner for DeBusk. Claridy rushed for 696 yards, and led the league in scoring with 14 touchdowns last season.
   DeBusk is expecting even bigger things out of Claridy this season.
   "I think Aaron Claridy is the best running back in the conference," DeBusk said. "He doesn't get the respect he truly deserves. He's small in stature (5-6, 185), but huge in heart. He's strong as a bull. He does phenomenal for us on and off the field. He's a hard man to bring down. The opponents have a tough time getting him on the ground, because his center of gravity is so low to the ground. But he's definitely one of the best players in this league."
   Kevin Wolcott, Bobby Thompson and Antwain Glenn are key members on one of the South Atlantic Conference's best receiving corps.
   "That has to be one of our strengths," DeBusk said. "We've got eight or ten receivers right now that can really play the game for us. Coach Bobby Rhodes, our receiving coach, has done a great job with those kids. And this is a fun offense for receivers, and they've really worked hard to catch the football as much as they have. It's definitely a strength of ours right now."
   Defensive back D.J. Starling and linebackers Craig Pritchett and Walter Johnson are among the All-SAC preseason picks on defense.
   Donald Amaker is an All-American return specialist, and he will also play in the defensive backfield.
   "I think we're going to be a whole lot better on defense," DeBusk said. "I think last year we were solid, this year we've got a chance to really be special. We've got a lot of upperclassmen over there, and we've got a lot of kids that can run fast. I think that's the key to what we do defensively is get to the football. We're two or three deep on that side of the ball, and that's going to help us when we get late in the season."
   All the ingredients are in place for this team to have a special season, something that seemed unimaginable just 10 years ago when football was brought back to life on the Greene County campus.
   "It is so hard to say that I expected all this right here this early," DeBusk said. "It's just a great time to be a part of Tusculum football."