The Jacksonville State football team has been picked to win its fifth-straight Ohio Valley Conference title, while Marlon Bridges leads a group of six Gamecocks on the 2018 Preseason All-OVC Football team.
Bridges, a junior safety from Lanett, Ala., was voted the OVC's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year by the league's head coaches and sports information directors, who also picked JSU in the annual preseason poll. The Gamecocks had 14 of the possible 16 first-place votes and had 126 total points, ahead of second-place Austin Peay's 112 points.
(Hear from junior safety Marlon Bridges, senior center Tyler Scozzaro and head coach John Grass in the featured video.)
Bridges is joined on the Preseason All-OVC Defense by senior defensive lineman Randy Robinson, while seniors Tyler Scozzaro and B.J. Autry and junior Darius Anderson were named to the Preseason All-OVC Offensive Line. Senior kicker Cade Stinnett also made the preseason team.
The preseason honors were released on Monday at the OVC's annual Football Media Day, which was held at the Embassy Suites in Nashville. If the predictions hold true, JSU would become the first school in conference history to win five-straight league titles.
The Gamecocks also enter the season chasing some FCS history. With 32-straight conference wins, JSU holds the longest active conference win streak in Division I, as well as the longest conference win streak in school and OVC history. The mark is the second-longest in FCS history, seven behind Duquesne's 39-straight Metro Atlantic wins in the late 1990's.
Bridges was picked to win the same honor by the league's panel of media voters on Friday before the official league predictions came out Monday. He enters his junior year following a redshirt sophomore season that saw him named a Buck Buchanan Award Finalist. He was a 2017 Preseason All-American and Preseason All-OVC selection going into 2017. He finished his second year of action with 79 tackles, 6.0 tackles for a loss and three interceptions. Following Jacksonville State's fourth consecutive title run, Bridges was deemed an All-American by the Associated Press, STATS, Walter Camp, Phil Steele and HERO Sports.
Robinson was a second team selection on the All-OVC squad as a junior in 2017 after grabbing first-team honors in 2016. The Lovejoy, Ga., native had 35 tackles as part of a deep rotation on the JSU defensive line. He also made 5.5 tackles for a loss, had five quarterback hurries and blocked three kicks last season. In June, he was named to HERO Sports Preseason All-America Team.
The offensive line trio of Autry, Scozzaro and Anderson are the three returning starters off of a line that placed all five starters on the All-OVC Team for the second-straight year in 2017.
Autry was also a Preseason All-American by HERO Sports after a dominant junior campaign that saw the Prichard, Ala., native grab First-Team All-OVC honors after transferring from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. He graded out at almost 90 percent in his first year on the JSU offensive front.
Scozzaro was also a First-Team All-OVC pick last year and was an All-American by Walter Camp in what he thought was his final season. The Bessemer, Ala., native took over the starting center position in 2017 as a senior and started every game, snapping the ball over 700 times for one of the top run games in the nation. He graded out at over 85 percent and then was granted a sixth year of eligibility before spring practice due to time missed with injuries early in his career.
Anderson was a Second-Team All-OVC performer in 2017, despite missing time early in the season with an injury. The native of Jonesboro, Ga., and transfer from East Carolina graded out at over 86 percent as a sophomore. He was third on the team in knockdowns, even after missing time early in the year.
Stinnett grabbed Second-Team All-OVC honors in his junior season and is picked to repeat on the team in 2018. The native of Enterprise, Ala., was second on the team and second in the league in scoring with 77 points, just one behind JSU running back Roc Thomas. Stinnett was 13-for-18 in field goal attempts, including 9-for-11 from within 40 yards. He also made a career-long 50-yard field goal at Eastern Illinois, making him just the seventh player in school history to kick a field goal of 50 yards or longer.
The Gamecocks will report for fall camp on Thursday and begin practice on Friday, preparing for the Aug. 25 season opener vs. North Carolina A&T in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff in Montgomery, Ala., on ESPN. For ticket information on the opener and for JSU's five home games, contact the JSU Ticket Office at (256) 782-8499 or visit www.JSUGamecockSports.com/Tickets.
2018 OVC Football Predicted Order of Finish
(Selected by OVC Head Football Coaches and Communications Directors)
Order of Finish, Points
1. Jacksonville State (14 first-place votes), 126
2. Austin Peay (4), 112
3. UT Martin, 95
4. Eastern Illinois, 73
5. Eastern Kentucky, 69
6. Tennessee State, 64
7. Southeast Missouri, 62
8. Murray State, 24
9. Tennessee Tech, 23