With just three weeks left before the season opener, there are still question marks on the Colonels’ depth chart at several positions — on both offense and defense.
That’s to be expected after losing 13 seniors, almost all of which were high-impact performers, from a team that won eight games last season.
Still, there is no question which players have emerged as the leaders of what will be a relatively young and inexperienced squad.
“Our front seven is pretty good,” EKU coach Dean Hood said of his team’s defensive linemen and linebackers.
Those two positions feature the by far the most veteran and battled-tested group of Colonels.
Five of the projected starters at those seven positions are seniors.
The returning players at those positions combined to start 54 games last season and three of them earned preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference honors this year - linebackers Ichiro Vance and Anthony Brown, along with defensive end Shawn Shupperd.
They set the tone for the defense and the rest of the team, on and off the field.
“Those guys, they know how to practice,” Hood said . They led the guys this summer. Heck, on the first day of camp you are not allowed to do anything football-related so we filled out a bunch of paperwork, got fitted for our helmets and went over policies and procedures. Then the next morning we went out there at 6:45 a.m. and it looked like it was practice No. 13 or something. Nobody jumping offsides. No one lined up wrong defensively. That’s just attributed to senior leadership - guys like Ichiro (Vance), Anthony (Brown), (Shawn) Shupperd and David Carter.”
Shupperd, Carter, Anthony Shoemaker (defensive end), Brown and Vance are all seniors, while sophomore Bryce Krebs started every game at defensive tackle last season.
Vance and Brown are both two-time All-OVC selections and Shupperd was a Second-Team All-OVC selection in 2012.
“We’ve got a lot of experience and we are veteran guys,” Vance said.
Shoemaker and junior linebacker Tyrelle Johnson are the only projected starters who did not start a game last season. Still, they combined to play in 14 games, even with Johnson missing most of the season.
While not the most vocal or flashy group of players, the EKU front seven has happily embraced leadership roles.
Especially, the soft-spoken, but very intense Vance.
“I’m still learning. I’m learning from the young guys,” Vance said. “Every day you just have to take it in stride and learn from your mistakes and pass on what we’ve learned to the younger guys.”
Vance, Brown and Sheppard were all among EKU’s tackle leaders last season.
Brown has been named a preseason All-American by several publications and led the Colonels in tackles-for-loss last season (12.5). Vance has started every game the past two seasons and had 159 career tackles and 14.5 career tackles for loss.
“We’ve got Ichiro back and he’s played a ton of football,” Hood said. “He’s had a ton of tackles. He calls the defense. To have a veteran guy there is really, really good. Then you have Anthony Brown too. You’ve got two really veteran guys.”
Shupperd had 56 tackles last season with a stunning 16 quarterback hurries.
Carter, like Shupperd, has played in every game the past two season and had 27 tackles last year.
“Carter and Shupperd have also played a ton. Krebs started all year long,” Hood said. “So, that front seven is really good.”