Spring football fever heats up at Eastern

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Spring football fever heats up at Eastern

Junior quarterback Jalen Whitlow, passes the ball during the Eastern men’s football team’s game vs Tennessee Tech on Oct. 25, 2015.

Junior quarterback Jalen Whitlow, passes the ball during the Eastern men’s football team’s game vs Tennessee Tech on Oct. 25, 2015.

Chynna Miller

Junior quarterback Jalen Whitlow, passes the ball during the Eastern men’s football team’s game vs Tennessee Tech on Oct. 25, 2015.

Chynna Miller

Chynna Miller

Junior quarterback Jalen Whitlow, passes the ball during the Eastern men’s football team’s game vs Tennessee Tech on Oct. 25, 2015.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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Though they may not be playing any games right now, the Eastern football players have been busy the last few weeks, beginning spring practices on March 25.

The Panthers finished the season with a 5-7 record last season, and will begin the 2015 regular season at Western Illinois on September 3.

The Panthers’ offense returns two all-Ohio Valley Conference selections, including red-shirt senior running back Shepard Little and red-shirt senior center Nick Borre. Little earned first team all-OVC honors after compiling 1,551 yards last season and 15 touchdowns.

Little led the Panthers’ rushing attack with 797 yards last season, despite being hampered with injuries. Little will be joined in the Eastern backfield season by a pair of Division I transfers. Red-shirt sophomore Devin Church, a transfer from Illinois, joins Little in the backfield, after playing in 11 games for the Fighting Illini last season.

Church started one of those games, a 28-24 victory over Minnesota.

Also transferring in from Division-I play is sophomore Korliss Marshall, who arrives after a stint with Arkansas. Marshall also spent time as a kick returner for the Razorbacks, and scored on a 97-yard kick return against Northern Illinois last season. He ran for 119 yards on 25 carries for the Razorbacks, as well.

The atmosphere is different at the quarterback position, as the Panthers return senior Jalen Whitlow, who won the starting job after the fifth game of the season. Whitlow set school records for rushing yards by a quarterback and consecutive passes without an interception.

He ran for 900 yards and 12 touchdowns on 140 carries and completed 185 passes for 2,075 yards, while playing all but one game last season.

Another experienced area of the Panthers will be their defense. The Panthers are playing in its second year under defensive coordinator Kane Wommack and head coach Kim Dameron. Red-shirt junior defensive linemen Dino Fanti and Fedney Delphonse both return for Eastern.

Fanti led all defensive linemen with 64 tackles last year, while Delphonse followed with 54. Delphonse played a big role for the defense last week with a stop on fourth down near the red zone, during a scripted scrimmage last week.

Seniors Kamu Grugier-Hill and Jourdan Wickliffe also return for the Panthers this year. Grugier-Hill, a linebacker, led the Panthers with 97 tackles and three interceptions in 2014. Wickliffe, on the other hand, led the Eastern secondary with 62 total tackles, as well as four interceptions for 49 yards.

The special teams unit also has players returning, most notably kicker Nick Bruno. Bruno earned All-American honors last year as a freshman, and ranked 10th in the nation in field goal percentage.

One of the Panthers’ biggest losses came on the offensive line. Eastern lost two seniors to graduation, including two-time All-American Collin Seibert. The aforementioned Borre will also miss spring practice, but should be available for the regular season. A total of three offensive linemen will be returning for the Panthers, including red-shirt sophomore Jimmy Lowery, red-shirt sophomore Evan Kanz and freshman Louis Vailopa.

Eastern will hold its annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 25.

Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].