After taking the Blinn College Buccaneers to their first bowl game in six years last year, head football coach Ryan Mahon is ready to raise the bar even higher during the 2018 season.
"Coming off a season where we competed in a bowl game sets a really high expectation for this season," Mahon said. "We have improved every single year that I have been here and we want to keep building the foundation and continue the momentum we generated from the previous season."
Last season, the Buccaneers claimed a Southwest Junior College Football Conference (SWJCFC) co-championship, earned their first playoff bowl since 2013, played in the El Toro Bowl and finished the season ranked 12th in the nation.
"We have raised the bar in recruiting, so everyone here knows what we are looking to do," Mahon said. "We have new white helmets and alternate black uniforms like the Buccaneers wore during their last national championship season."
Offensively, the Buccaneers are loaded at every position and bring back many returners familiar with the up-tempo offense that Mahon runs.
Carlos Grace (Crosby, Texas) returns at the tailback position after leading Blinn in rushing yards last season with 1,192 yards on 253 carries. He also led the Buccaneers with 11 rushing touchdowns and ranked third in the nation with 127.3 yards per game. Sophomore Robert Franklin III (College Station, Texas) also returns after playing in nine games last season and rushing for 248 yards and two touchdowns. Adding more depth to the position are redshirt freshman DeCavilon Reese (Garfield Heights, Ohio), who won a state championship with Benedictine-Garfield Heights High School in 2015, and freshman Devin McAdoo (Fresno, Texas).
Returning wide receivers Keric Wheatfall (Cypress, Texas), Corey Smith (Cameron, Texas), Quinton Newton (Houston, Texas) and Kristian Drake (New Braunfels, Texas) bring experience to the offense. Wheatfall was second on the team in receptions last season with 25 for 375 yards, while Smith was second on the team in receiving yards with 536 yards for seven touchdowns. After redshirting last season, Corey Henderson (Shreveport, La.) returns. He caught 20 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns for Blinn in 2016.
Redshirt freshman Eric Peterson (College Station, Texas), freshman Danny Gray (Dallas, Texas), freshman Antonio Gage (Dallas, Texas), freshman O'Shea Clark (Houston, Texas), and freshman Iverson Westbrook (Cameron, Texas) are new to the program, but are expected to add significant value.
"We have good experience at the running back and wider receiver positions and the young guys have shown great promise," Mahon said. "We have solidified the running back position and I've got more depth at wide receiver than I ever have in my career."
Sophomore Daveon Boyd (Humble, Texas) is the only returner at the quarterback position. Last season, he played in seven games and completed four-of-seven passes for 57 yards and one touchdown. Also competing for a spot in the pocket are redshirt freshman Brett Bridges (Houston, Texas), and incoming freshman Brock Landis (Hoschton, Ga.) and Travion Jackson (Dallas, Texas).
"We have four really good quarterbacks that I am really excited about," Mahon said.
The offensive line was an area emphasized in recruiting and will feature many new faces. It will be anchored by freshman sophomore Garrison Tullos (Bryan, Texas), Devin White (Lubbock, Texas), Travis Arroyo (Pflugerville, Texas), Brycen Castillo (Victoria, Texas), Brandon Castillo (Universal City, Texas) and University of North Texas transfer Doro Omerhi (Pearland, Texas).
On the defensive side of the ball, Jaylan Hill (Ennis, Texas) Djuan Matthews (Houston, Texas) and Kirsten Williams (Houston, Texas) return on the defensive line. Hill recorded 11 tackles, Matthews tallied 51 tackles and Williams totaled 34 tackles last season.
"We have a good blitzing team if we need to create some havoc," Mahon said. "Defensively we are going to be really strong."
Colby Peterson (Cedar Ridge, Texas), Tuciano Pope (Houston, Texas) and Mike Garrett Jr. (Magnolia, Texas) return in secondary. Peterson totaled 22 tackles, Pope posted 26 tackles and Garrett Jr. recorded 15 tackles and two interceptions last season. They will be joined by sophomore Deldric Shields (Pittsburg, Texas), redshirt freshman Miles Banks (Missouri City, Texas) and freshman Marco Domio (Houston, Texas).
"Our secondary has done a lot of really great things and our linebackers have shown up in preseason, so I am excited," Mahon said.
"Fans can expect a fun brand of football both offensively and defensively and we will be explosive on both sides of the ball," Mahon said. "We expect all of all our players to be ready when their names are called and play at the high level that we expect."
The Buccaneers are ranked No. 11 in the preseason poll and will open the season against Texas A&T on Saturday, Aug. 25, at 7 p.m. at Cub Stadium.
Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 38 NJCAA national championships since 1987.