CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Austin Peay State University football coach Rick Christophel is entering his sixth season at the helm of a program that has struggled to earn 18 wins in his tenure. And entering this year, his coaching cohorts chose Austin Peay to finish ninth in the league, not forecasting much promise for the upcoming season.
“Well to be honest I did not even know until Brad (Sports Information director Brad Kirtley) told me this morning. And I have told our players and coaches this before,” Christophel told ClarksvilleNow.com, “we are not going to get respect in this league until you become consistent, and it not something we have been able to do yet. We have won some games, and beaten some really good football teams, and played well at times, but we have not done it on a consistent basis to earn respect. Do I think our team and our players are better than that (the ninth place ranking), absolutely, and hopefully the league can find that out during the season.”
You can tell that when you talk to Christophel, his expectations for the Governors are much higher than a last place finish in the league. The Governors are returning 60 letter winners back from last season’s squad that went 3 and 8 overall, and 2 and 6 in Ohio Valley Conference play.
In those six conference losses, Austin Peay found itself in the contest, but unable to make the final push to gain the victory. The Govs fell to Eastern Kentucky by just 6, Tennessee State by only 3, Southeast Missouri by only 4, and Eastern Illinois by 9. Losses are just that, defeats for your team, but strides have been made a program that just seven years ago participated in the non-scholarship football, and, matching the tenure of Christophel, are marking just their sixth year back in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Christophel knows that strides have to be made on the offense side of the football to improve an offense that averaged just 18.8 points per contest last season. Senior quarterback Jake Ryan returns for his fourth season as a starter, finishing last season with 1,476 yards and 12 touchdowns, while missing 2 and half game last season with a lower body injury. The offense will have to replace the rushing numbers from the graduated Ryan White, who rushed for 1100 yards last season, averaging 100 yards per contest.
“Going into this season, Wes Kitts (Sr., 6-0, 220) will be our starter,” Christophel continued, “but we have to get him over the injury bug. Wes played the last three games of last season with broken ribs, but that never stopped him. But we have a great collection of guys that are going to compete for playing time. Ean Pemberton (R-So., 5-3, 160) had a great spring for us, and have some people coming in, such as Reco Williams (R-Fr, 6-1, 250, Northeast High School), and with Dontavious Brown (R-So., 5-10, 170) coming back off knee surgery after he had a great start to the fall last year before his injury, Cody Tucker (Sr., 6-0, 240) had an incredible spring for us, we will have a lot of different avenues to go down with all the different types of runners we have.”
Having a senior quarterback like Jake Ryan (R-Sr., 6-2, 210) is a real advantage to Coach Christophel. “Having Jake back there is like an extension of my staff on the field, he knows the terminology, he knows where everyone is going on each play, and I am going to put a lot more on him this season.” Ryan is ready to get his senior season going, and knows what is expected of him this season. “This is the most athletic group of receivers I have had, and the expectation for them are high, and we have a group of running backs that are going to have to learn on the fly this season, “ said Ryan during his media day interview, “ but I am going to have to take care of the football, and the last few years I have had some interception issues, but it is my job to get the ball where it is supposed to go, and I have been keying on that aspect of the game so far. I sometime try to fit the ball in where it will not go, and that hurts the team more than it helps. I will take a check down more now, and try to keep the drive going”
Austin Peay’s defense last year gave up an average of 36 points per game last season, including 56 to Murray State and 49 to Tennessee Tech over the last two games of the season. With 10 starters returning to the defensive side of the football this season, Christophel says he is “Cautiously Optimistic” about the strides that unit has made, but knows the biggest change for the upcoming season has to come on that side of the football.
“We cannot ask our offense to drive the football 80 and 90 yards every time they touch it, so we have got to stop the other team’s running game, and create some turnovers for ourselves. We are going to have to do that in this league, with the quality of offenses we are going to see,” Christophel continued, “we have placed a big emphasis on getting a pass rush out of our front four, and our secondary is really good and well tested, so if we can get them some help from our guys up front, with the experience we have inside, we can improve defensively like we need to, and I am excited about that.”
Senior Antwaun Majors (5-10, 180) is the leader of the defensive unit this season, leading the team in tackles last season with 88, ranking him 8th in the Ohio Valley Conference. Majors feels that the hardest working group so far this off season may be the group that needs to be the most productive in 2012, the defensive line. “I feel that those guys have been working the hardest all summer, and will be one of our strength this season,” said Majors, the defensive representative for the Govs at OVC Media Day. “That pass rush, and a couple of moves we have made with some personnel to different positions to maximize speed on the field that we can, and the experience we now have, it will make the difference. We have to be more ready for anything. Last year we knew what we had to do in our own position, this season, we know more what the guy next to us has to do, what the unit as a whole is doing, and we can do a better job of filling in the holes.”
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