Six players earn All-OVC honors

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Six players earn All-OVC honors

Red-shirt senior defensive back Jourdan Wickliffe recorded 68 tackles. one sack and five interceptions on the season for the Panthers.

Red-shirt senior defensive back Jourdan Wickliffe recorded 68 tackles. one sack and five interceptions on the season for the Panthers.

Jason Howell

Red-shirt senior defensive back Jourdan Wickliffe recorded 68 tackles. one sack and five interceptions on the season for the Panthers.

Jason Howell

Jason Howell

Red-shirt senior defensive back Jourdan Wickliffe recorded 68 tackles. one sack and five interceptions on the season for the Panthers.

Blake Nash, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Eastern football team’s success on the field drew attention from the Ohio Valley Conference this season. The Panthers finished the year 7-5 and 7-1 in OVC play and advanced to the FCS playoffs as an at-large bid before being eliminated by Northern Iowa last week 53-17.

For seniors Dino Fanti, Jourdan Wickliffe, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Dylan Chatman the 2015 season was their last season and all four were rewarded with postseason honors by the OVC. Red-shirt junior running back Devin Church and offensive tackle Jimmy Lowery were also named to All-OVC teams.

Fanti was the centerpiece of an Eastern defense that ranked in the Top Five in all categories in the OVC, including second in scoring defense. He began the season as a preseason all-conference selection, after recording 42 tackles, 14.5 for loss and four sacks. He not only recorded more tackles than he had the previous two seasons, but also etched his name into the school’s record book.

In a 34-20 victory at Murray State in October, he recorded his 54th tackle for loss breaking the record set by Pete Catan in 1980. He also went on to set the single-season record for TFL’s in a season with 21.

Following a loss to Jacksonville State, the Panthers needed to win their final two games to gain consideration for a postseason berth. Fanti ended up recording 12 tackles, 6.5 TFL’s and three sacks in both those victories, leading the Panthers to the playoffs. He was recently named the OVC defensive player of the year.

It was the first time that Fanti was named to the All-OVC first team, but the same cannot be said for senior linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill.

Like Fanti, Grugier-Hill was named a preseason All-OVC selection, after earning first team accolades the previous season. He recorded 62 tackles, which ranked third on the team and sacked opposing quarterbacks 5.5 times. Grugier-Hill missed two games with an injury, but made his return to the Panthers’ defensive huddle against Northern Iowa.

He posted eight tackles, including two for loss, and one sack in his final game wearing blue and black. The OVC awarded him with All-OVC first team honors.

Another Eastern player that earned multiple first-team honors was senior safety Jourdan Wickliffe.

Wickliffe missed the first three games, but made an impact when he returned to the lineup for OVC play. He caught five interceptions, including a game-winning pick in an overtime victory at Tennessee State. He had three interceptions in his final two OVC games, earning All-OVC first team honors.

Wickliffe also recorded double-digit tackles in four games this season. He had a season-high 11 tackles in victories over Southeast Missouri and Murray State. At Northern Iowa he recorded 10 tackles and forced a fumble. He was named first team All-OVC for the third consecutive season.

Church, a transfer from Illinois, arrived at Eastern in the spring with two other transfer running backs. Church split carries with red-shirt senior Shepard Little and red-shirt sophomore Malik Harrison, but became a force on the ground and in the air.

He led Eastern with 708 rushing yards eight touchdowns, averaging 63 yards in OVC games. He had a season high of 125 yards and two touchdowns at Tennessee State, his second game with at least 100 yards. Church also caught a team high 26 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown.

He was named to the All-OVC second team and newcomer team.

Fellow offensive teammate Lowery earned All-OVC second team honors. The red-shirt junior tackle was part of an Eastern offensive line that ranked fifth nationally in sacks allowed. Eastern did not allow a sack in its final seven OVC games.

He started all 11 games for the Panthers this season.

Playing OVC opponents on the football field was a little different for red-shirt senior cornerback Dylan Chatman. The former Eastern basketball player walked onto the team during the spring and was grouped with the second and third string secondary unit throughout camp.

But during the beginning of the season he earned the starting job, leading him to All-OVC second team and newcomer team selections. He finished tied for second on the team in interceptions with four. This was the final year of his eligibility.

 

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