McCray back to lead Gardner-Webb
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a 12-week series looking at the opponents for the 2013 Marshall Thundering Herd football team.
HUNTINGTON — Gardner-Webb football coach Carroll McCray is returning to his alma mater to lead the program in 2013.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs have been running in place over the past few seasons with no season better than 6-5 in the last seven years.
McCray inherited a lot of returning talent from last year’s team that finished 3-8 after losing its first five games.
Leading the charge is junior quarterback Lucas Beatty, who passed for 2,483 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing 13 interceptions in 2012.
His favorite target is 6-foot-4, 216-pound Kenny Cook, who caught 48 passes for 666 yards with seven touchdowns — all team highs.
Cook has been nominated to College Football Performance Awards Watch List at wide receiver for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and is a big end who isn’t afraid to go over the middle or take opposing defenders deep.
In addition to Cook, receiver Deonte Swinton returns 41 catches for 467 yards and tight end Seth Cranfill also returns.
Cranfill is on the CFPA Watch List for tight ends in FCS after a 2012 campaign when the 6-4, 235-pound junior caught 37 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns.
In terms of the rushing attack, Gardner-Webb will have to replace Kenny Little, who accounted for nearly 70 percent of the team’s rushing yards and seven of the 15 rushing touchdowns in 2012.
Juanne Blount returns to the backfield after complimenting Little’s output by rushing for 489 yards and six touchdowns last year. J.J. Hubbard also returns to the backfield.
Up front, the Runnin’ Bulldogs lost three of five starting offensive linemen to graduation, meaning several young players will have to step up into the fray quickly.
David McConnell returns to the left tackle position and right guard Dylan Hopper is also back.
The most pressing replacement will have to be at the center position where Austin Sargent is gone after graduation.
Of the nine offensive linemen listed on the Gardner-Webb spring roster, there is only one senior (Jeff Harris) and one junior (McConnell).
Defensively, Gardner-Webb will be solid across the front despite losing sack leader Maurice Dickson.
Three-year starter Preston Pemasa returns at defensive end, along with 6-foot-7, 235-pound pass rusher Shaquille Riddick. The interior of the line will be anchored by Matt Goods while Tyler Hough-Jenkins will also see time on the interior.
At linebacker, Tanner Burch and Bradley Taylor return after the duo led the Runnin’ Bulldogs in tackles last season. Burch finished with 113 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. Taylor had 53 tackles. On the outside, the team replaces Brian Wittenberger, but Azziz Higgins and Chad Geter will step into the mix.
The secondary will be led by Lonnie Johnson, who took over as the starting strong safety midway through 2012. Brandon Swayze was solid in his six games of action last season and will likely return to the free safety spot. Drew White and Tiko Thompson are the leading returnees at cornerback.
In an interesting note, the Runnin’ Bulldogs do not have a punter or placekicker listed on their roster. Punter Bo Lindsey graduated after averaging 42.8 yards while placekicker Trever Austin would be going into his junior year, but he was not listed on the current roster.
Gardner-Webb competes in the FCS and is a member of the Big South Conference.
When the teams meet in Huntington on Sept. 7, it will be the first-ever meeting between the schools.
2013 Marshall football opponents
Sept. 7: Gardner-Webb, Joan C. Edwards Stadium
Nickname: Runnin’ Bulldogs
Conference affiliation: Big South Conference (Football Championship Subdivision)
Location: Boiling Springs, N.C.
2012 record: 3-8
Head coach: Carroll McCray (first year)
Key returnees: QB Lucas Beatty, LT David McConnell, LB Tanner Burch, WR Kenny Cook, RB Juanne Blount, LB Bradley Taylor, DE Preston Pemasa, TE Seth Cranfill
Key losses: DE Maurice Dickson, RB Kenny Little, C Austin Sargent, P Bo Lindsey, LB Brian Wittenberger, DB Gianni Olivas, RT Steve DeMilio
Gardner-Webb football schedule
Aug. 31 Furman
Sept. 7 at Marshall
Sept. 14 Richmond
Sept. 21 at Wofford
Sept. 28 Point
Oct. 5 at Charlotte
Oct. 12 at Coastal Carolina
Oct. 26 Liberty
Nov. 2 Warner
Nov. 9 at VMI
Nov. 16 Charleston Southern
Nov. 23 at Presbyterian