BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Birmingham-Southern College football is heading into its ninth season under Head Coach Eddie Garfinkle and the program is looking to build success from a balance of core upperclassmen leading the newcomers.
"Our returning players have really worked hard since January," said Garfinkle. "They've had great attitudes, and great work ethic. We have probably more speed and athleticism than we've ever had. So that's one thing we're excited about. Cause in football, having a lot of speed and quickness, to me, is the name of the game."
Birmingham-Southern returns six of its offensive starters; four seniors and two juniors. Senior quarterback Austin Martin will continue to lead the squad. He appeared in all 10 games last season, earning eight starts, and finished nationally ranked in six categories. Battling Martin for the starting QB spot this season will be junior Kerrigan Pennington. The former defensive back appeared in all 10 games last year. One of their primary targets will be Southern Athletic Association Special Teams Player of the Year Jamal Watkins. The wide-out appeared in all 10 games, earning nine starts, and finished nationally ranked in five categories, leading the team in receptions, receptions per game, and receiving yards. Balancing out the pass game will be senior tailback Samir Usman. Named to the 2015 All-SAA Second Team, he was nationally ranked and led the team in four categories, including total rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Garfinkle expects sophomore Kyler Jackson to provide the 1-2 punch in the backfield with Usman. Other key offensive returners will be seniors Daniel Lopera, Cody Costley and Jesse Handlon; along with juniors Jonathan Scaringe and Damian Mitchell.
Six defensive starters return for the Panthers, highlighted by senior safety Matt Franks and senior corner Sidarius Gotell. Franks, a second-team all-conference selection, finished second on the team with 64 total tackles, 43 solo, and two interceptions. Gotell finished with 31 total tackles, 22 solo, and defended six passes. Justin Woolfolk, who rotated at tailback last year, moves to the corner position in 2016. Other key contributors in the secondary are senior Christian Burlock and sophomore Sy Butler. Seniors Jonah Schoeb and Paul Hadaway will be looking to disrupt play in the trenches on the line.
Sophomores kicker Ryder Andrews and long snapper Trent Rigby return after strong freshmen campaigns. Andrews finished the year ranked nationally in field goals per game, going 4-for-6 on the season. Watkins will continue to also be a force in the Panthers return game.
Saturday Night Lights
BSC opens the 2016 season with back-to-back night games. Their first action will be at home Sept. 3 against LaGrange, before hitting the road to face Huntingdon College on Sept. 10. Both contests kickoff at 6 p.m.
The Panthers brought the Wesley Cup back home after defeating Huntingdon 35-34 in the home opener on Sept. 12 last year. The Wesley Cup is named after John Wesley, widely considered to be the founder of the United Methodist Church. BSC leads the all-time series 4-2.