Tusculum enters season with higher expectations

By MATT HILL
STAR Staff

   TUSCULUM -- The cover of the Tusculum media guide reads "Air Raid 2001, Reload."
   And with Pioneer quarterback Caleb Slover throwing bombs, the operation should be a success.
   Slover threw for over 2,200 yards last season to lead the Pioneers to a 7-4 mark, a five game improvement from the year before.
   The Pioneers look like South Atlantic Conference title contenders, but Slover is not looking that far ahead yet.
   "We've got to take it one game at a time," Slover said. "We can't jump too far ahead. We had some good wins last year, and we had some tough losses last year. We've just got to come back and rebound, and put all those losses to together and get those fixed and come out on top of those."
   The Pioneers finished fourth last year, and is picked to be there again this season. Slover is definitely not satisfied with that.
   "Fourth isn't good enough for us," Slover said. "This is my last run and fourth isn't good enough for the three seniors that are on this team."
   Tusculum head coach and former Furman Paladin star Frankie DeBusk knows Tusculum won't be sneaking up on South Atlantic powers Carson-Newman, Catawba and Presbyterian.
   "I think our days of surprising anybody is over," DeBusk said. "That's actually a little bit of a better taste in our mouth than what we've dealt with in the past. I'd rather have some good athletes and have some people expect us to be a little bit better than we were in the past."
   The Pioneers do like to air it out, and one of the main targets happens to be running back Aaron Claridy. He was second on the team in receptions last year with 29. Claridy also rushed for 853 yards.
   "I think he's one of the best in the league," DeBusk said.
   Tusculum lost its leading receiver from last year in J.R. Wooten, so Kevin Wolcott, Antwain Glenn and Booby Thompson will be expected to pick up where he left off.
   Also expected to get in the mix at receiver is ETSU transfer Ricky Nesbitt.
   "He's right now a little behind obviously coming into a new system," DeBusk said. "He needs to get in a little better shape, but he's definitely athletic enough and talented enough to do it. He's just got to learn our system a little better."
   The leader of the offensive line will be Alan Dunn.
   The Tusculum defense is loaded with stars. Preseason All-Conference defensive backs D.J. Starling and Rashaun Strickland are forces to be reckoned with.
   The only returning starter at the linebacker spot is 2000 SAC Freshman-of-the-Year Craig Pritchett.
   "He'll be the leader of the defense," DeBusk said.
   Chris Jackson and Keno Ward are back to man the defensive front.
   On special teams, Tusculum features an All-American place kicker in Paul Czerniak. He led NCAA Division II football with 19 converted field goals.
   Czerniak believes if Tusculum has a game where they need him to kick a game-winner, he will be ready.
   "That's the time I want to be on the field," Czerniak said. "That's my time to play. That's what I love to do."
   Also a member of the Tusculum squad is offensive lineman Joey Falcone, a former Cloudland standout.
   Overall, DeBusk is feeling good about how this young football program is developing.
   "It's an amazing feeling to be where we stand right now as a football team," DeBusk said. "We've got so many young players that are enthusiastic, and we've got some really, really good football players. We've got more talent than we ever had. It's just hard to describe how far I think we can go."