JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - Carson-Newman football has been nationally ranked by two preseason publications.
The Eagles check in 23rd in Lindy’s Sports annual preseason college football preview magazine and 25th in the College Football America Yearbook’s annual preseason ranking.
Carson-Newman returns four starters from its offense and defense from last year’s NCAA Playoff team.
The skill players are certainly there offensively, with the return of All-Region selection Braxton Westfield and Romain Kelly at wide receiver.
Westfield was Carson-Newman’s first first-team all-conference and all-region wideout in a decade and the first since Reggie Hubbard earned a spot on the first team in 2009.
Westfield was a big-play threat for Carson-Newman all year. In his second career game as a Carson-Newman football player, Braxton Westfield put his name in the record books. In a week two loss to Wingate, Westfield grabbed three passes, all for touchdowns, for a whopping 169 yards receiving. His scores traversed 81, 53 and 35 yards. The 81-yard catch is the seventh longest reception in school history. His 169 yards are the 10th highest single-game total in school history and the third most of the option era. Additionally, his 56.3 yards per catch are the most of any wide out with three catches or more in a single game and the fourth most among players with two or more receptions. His three touchdown catches are also tied a school record.
For the year, Westfield had 36 catches for 680 yards.
He set an option-era record for receptions with a 10-catch, 139-yard day against Lenoir-Rhyne. Westfield has found the end zone 11 times last season, the second most receiving touchdowns by an Eagle in a single season all-time and the most in the option era.
Meanwhile Kelly grabbed 17 passes for 363 yards - a total that would have led Carson-Newman in receiving five of the last 10 years.
While Harlon Hill Candidate Antonio Wimbush graduates from the offensive backfield, SAC Offensive Freshman of the Year Troy Dendy.
Dendy exploded onto the scene in his first season as an Eagle. The Laurens, S.C., native has rushed for 700 yards on 85 carries, accounting for six touchdowns. He has powered his way to a trio of 100-yard performances, including a 23-carry, 200-yard performance en route to South Atlantic Conference Player of the Week honors at Limestone. The 200-yard day against Limestone registered as the 37th all-time 200-yard rushing performance in Carson-Newman football history, and the first by a freshman.
He also had a seven-carry, 149-yard, two-touchdown day against UNC Pembroke. Dendy broke the 100-yard barrier against Mars Hill on Nov. 2 with 110 yards on 12 carries.
Derrick Evans graduates at quarterback after three straight all-SAC campaigns, however, Tyler Thackerson went 3-1 last year as a starter, including guiding Carson-Newman to its first road playoff win in a decade. Reese Fain is the lone holdover from last year’s senior-laden offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, Carson-Newman must replace its entire secondary, including All-Americans Desmond Fairell and Darius Williams, as well as its interior defensive line as All-Decade team members Brian Bembry and Montel Presley graduate. Carson-Newman is set at its end and fox positions with the return of Wycleff Phanor and Nick Owens. Rondrow Peebles, a preseason All-American, Daniel Dixon-Brooks and Alonzo Houston anchor the linebacking corps.
Carson-Newman opens the season Sept. 3 under the lights of Burke-Tarr Stadium at 7 p.m. against West Georgia.