The Lenoir-Rhyne Football Team was picked to finish second in the league standings this year as voted on by the South Atlantic Conference Coaches while eight players garnered 2014 All-SAC Preseason accolades.
The Bears, the three-time defending conference champions, received four first-place votes and 45 points. Carson-Newman also picked up four first-place votes but edged out Lenoir-Rhyne with 46 total points.
Lenoir-Rhyne finished the year with a 13-2 record and a perfect 7-0 mark in conference action last fall and played in the NCAA Division II Championship game.
The Bears fell to Northwest Missouri State, 43-28, in the finals last December in Florence, Ala. The Bears defeated the Eagles (10-3) twice last year including a 27-20 victory in the second round of the playoffs.
Eight Bears also earned All-South Atlantic Conference Preseason honors including six on the first team.
On offense, the first-teamers for the Bears include senior halfback Jarrod Spears (Bunnlevel, N.C.), senior fullback Isaiah Whitaker (Salisbury, N.C.) and junior offensive lineman Joe Ray (Atlanta, Ga.).
Spears, a two-time First-Team All-SAC honoree (2012-13), led the Bears with 984 rushing yards to go along with seven touchdowns on the ground last year and was the team's top kickoff return man. Spears averaged 23.2 yards per return including a 98-yarder for a score.
Whitaker added 912 yards on the ground with a team-high 11 touchdowns last fall en route to All-American accolades for the second straight years as a fullback. In addition, Whitaker (2,601 career yards) has moved into the top ten on the Bears' all-time career rushing yards list.
Ray was an All-American as well in 2013 and won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, given annually to the top offensive lineman in the South Atlantic Conference. The trio helped Lenoir-Rhyne rush for an all-time NCAA single-season record 5,563 yards last season.
On the first-team all-league defense, the Bears are led by a pair of All-Americans: senior defensive lineman Blake Baker (Bethlehem, N.C.) and senior linebacker Tanner Botts (Lawrenceville, Ga.).
Baker set a school record for quarterback sacks (14.5) to go along with 56 tackles (22 for a loss) while Botts led the team in takedowns (134) for the second straight year.
Senior defensive back O'neil Blake (Kissimmee, Fla.) was a second-team all-league pick last year after finishing with 76 tackles, 12 pass break-ups and three interceptions.
Lenoir-Rhyne also placed two players on the All-South Atlantic Conference Preseason Second Team: sophomore linebacker Rodney Singleton (Hawthorne, Fla.) and senior defensive back Joe Anderson (Lilburn, Ga.).
Singleton was the SAC Defensive Freshman Of The Year in 2013 after tallying 70 tackles while Anderson totaled 78 takedowns, six pass break-ups and an interception. Anderson was also a 2013 Capital One Academic All-American.
Lenoir-Rhyne, under first-year Head Coach Ian Shields, opens the season on Saturday, September 6, at home against Point. Kickoff at Moretz Stadium is set for 7:00 p.m.
2014 South Atlantic Conference
Football Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Carson-Newman (4) 46
2. Lenoir-Rhyne (4) 45
3. Newberry 36
4. Wingate 31
5. Mars Hill 25
6. Catawba 21
7. Tusculum 13
8. Brevard 7
2014 All-South Atlantic Conference
Preseason Football Teams
FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
QB - W.T. Murden, Newberry
RB - Shaikel Davis, Mars Hill
RB - Jarrod Spears, Lenoir-Rhyne
RB - Isaiah Whitaker, Lenoir-Rhyne
WR - Dimitri Holmes, Mars Hill
WR - Justin Houston, Tusculum
WR - Deon Hicks, Tusculum
OL - Denzell Goode, Mars Hill
OL - Joe Ray, Lenoir-Rhyne
OL - Taylor Fender, Catawba
OL - Will Poteat, Wingate
OL - Nick Allison, Mars Hill
TE - Wesley Powell, Tusculum
LS - Dusty Nance, Carson-Newman
P - Kyle Clark, Newberry
PK - Patrick Smith, Wingate
FIRST TEAM DEFENSE
DL - Blake Baker, Lenoir-Rhyne
DL - Javaris Neal, Carson-Newman
DL - Nick Napolitano, Wingate
DL - Jonathan Jean, Catawba
LB - Tanner Botts, Lenoir-Rhyne
LB - Edmond Robinson, Newberry
LB - Michael Gruber, Brevard
LB - Jason Taylor, Catawba
DB - Eien Jacob, Carson-Newman
DB - O'neil Blake, Lenoir-Rhyne
DB - Jon Jimenez, Wingate
DB - Dante Thomas, Carson-Newman
RS - Andre Overholt, Brevard
SECOND TEAM OFFENSE
QB - De'Andre Thomas, Carson-Newman
RB - Kelvin Jeter, Brevard
RB - Andy Hibbett, Carson-Newman
RB - Cary Littlejohn, Catawba
WR - Jordan Berry, Wingate
WR - Anthony Eubanks, Carson-Newman
WR - Byron Dickerson, Newberry
OL - Landon Martin, Newberry
OL - Robbie Ignagni, Carson-Newman
OL - Evan Sobocinski, Newberry
OL - Billy Munker, Tusculum
OL - Mathu Gibson, Wingate
TE - Brandon Ellington, Wingate
LS - Andrew Smith, Newberry
P - Charlie Ray, Carson-Newman
PK - Kyle Clark, Newberry
SECOND TEAM DEFENSE
DL - William Alderman, Carson-Newman
DL - Johnny Maxey, Mars Hill
DL - Alstevis Squirewell, Newberry
DL - Steven Jacobs, Wingate
LB - Rodney Singleton, Lenoir-Rhyne
LB - Jasper Mason, Mars Hill
LB - Taylor McDonnell, Newberry
LB - Wayne Soliai, Tusculum
DB - Joe Anderson, Lenoir-Rhyne
DB - Jakeem Polk, Wingate
DB - LiRonta Archie, Tusculum
DB - Lance Richardson, Newberry
RS - TraShaun Ward, Carson-Newman
Photo CourtesyL Isaiah Whitaker, L-R Athletics