ETSU searching for new leader

By MATT HILL
STAR Staff

   JOHNSON CITY-- If Regis Philbin wants to trick somebody out of a million dollars, he could ask one of his contestants who's going to be the starting quarterback at East Tennessee State.
   There is not a definite answer right now.
   N.C. State transfer Jativis Sanders and former Science Hill standout Matt Wilhjelm are battling it out to replace Todd Wells, who guided the Bucs (4-4 conference, 6-5 overall in 2000) for four seasons.
   "We'll play it through this preseason," ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton said. "Then when we make that decision, we're going to live with the decision we make."
   The battle was knocked down to two players when redshirt freshman DaShannon Gamble was declared academically ineligible early in the summer.
   That leaves it between Wiljhelm and Sanders. Wiljhelm is a fifth-year senior that is looking for his breakthrough after sitting behind Wells for four years.
   "I've got a shot," Wiljhelm said. "I've put in my dues here and I've worked hard. Knowing that Todd was going to be the quarterback through my first four years, I knew the fifth year was my year to contribute and be productive on the field. I'm excited that this chance has finally come."
   Sanders, who saw limited action at N.C. State, likes the competition.
   "I like the challenge," Sanders said. "We're pushing each other."
   Whoever wins the quarterback position will be fortunate to have a lot of talented receivers as targets.
   Junior Cecil Moore, who caught 58 balls in 2000, will be the split end. He will be joined in the receiving core by speedsters Tim Turner and Charvin Clark. Both players will see considerable playing time.
   "I think we're the best receiving core in the Southern Conference," Moore said. "I think we are the key to the offense."
   Turner had a promising freshman season, while Clark is a blazing runner that is returning to the team after being academically ineligible last year.
   "I'm really happy to have Charvin back," Hamilton said.
   Clark is ready to contribute after being out for a year.
   "The year I was out, it hurt me so bad," Clark said. "I feel like I've got something to prove. I've got to show everybody that I deserve to be here."
   Nick Hendrickson is a solid tight end that can make the key catch when needed. He returns for his senior campaign, and could be All-Conference before the season is out.
   Junior Scott Carter will start at fullback, but Jermaine Gamble and Nick Spearman could also see some action at that position.
   Corey Carter moves over to tailback from fullback, a switch that Hamilton believes he will have no trouble adjusting to.
   "I think he's in the natural position that he needs to be at," Hamilton said. "He started at fullback last year because he did too many things in the preseason not to get him on the field. But he's enthused about playing tailback."
   Left guard Josh Kerr, center Lonnie Nettles, right guard Leon Buchanan, left tackle Mike Martin and right tackle Chip Pearson are the starters on a very talented offensive line, though Mitch Hughes is pushing for a starting slot at one of the tackle positions.
   Kerr, the strongest player to ever play at ETSU, is very confident about the line.
   "We've got a lot of experience returning," Kerr said. "We've got the makings to be one of the top lines in the Southern Conference."
   The defense is young, but left tackle Travis Williams believes that will not stop them from being good.
   "Our defense is going to be better than it ever was," the former Tennessee High standout said.
   Joining Williams up front will be fellow sophomores Bill Fells at nose guard and Brandon Calton at right tackle.
   Kai Schreckenburg, Chad Hyder, Andrew Simmons and Frank Hopper will also see action on the line.
   "Physically, I like the way our defensive front looks," Hamilton said. "They've got good size and they can run."
   The linebackers are also a very young group. Freshman Scott Brumet and junior Marco Bryant are the outside linebackers. Junior Justin Reiner will be at one inside linebacker slot, while Mike Corengay and Andrew Forester are currently battling it out at the other inside linebacker position.
   Ocasio Cofield returns to the strong safety position. The senior was a preseason All-Conference pick after having a strong junior campaign.
   "He's been a great leader from day one in our program," Hamilton said.
   The cornerbacks that have to replace standouts Denario Smalls and Keyandre Fenn will be sophomore Tony Tiller and freshman Allen Davis. Tiller moves over to corner from wide receiver.
   The special teams look to be solid once again this season. Con Chellis returns at place kicker. His most memorable moment last year was kicking the game-winning field goal over conference powerhouse Furman.
   Scott Salmons will be kicking off for the Bucs, with the punting duties going to Aaron Bass.
   Former Elizabethton High standout Adam Howell returns as the long snapper.
   Nuckolls and Kareem Coffin will return kickoffs. Coffin could also see some action at cornerback.
   Tiller will be the main punt returner for the Bucs.
   The schedule is brutal for Paul Hamilton's squad. The Bucs have to travel to Pittsburgh for their season opener, a team that has the potential to be in the top 25 of Division 1-A football before the season is done.
   ETSU also has to travel to Southern Conference powerhouses Furman, Appalachian State and Wofford. In addition, the Bucs have to play Division 1-AA champion Georgia Southern, but that one will be in Memorial Center.
   "In my opinion we may have the toughest schedule in 1-AA football," Hamilton said.
   The Bucs were picked fifth by the media and the coaches at the recent Southern Conference football rouser. That didn't sit well with the Bucs, as they're expecting big things this season.
   "I believe we will have the last laugh on that one," Kerr said about the predictions. "I believe we're going to surprise some people."