NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team has been selected fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason polls, based on votes by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.
The Skyhawks received 78 points in the preseason poll, while Eastern Illinois was chosen as the preseason favorite with 122 points. The predicted order of finish was announced at OVC Football Media Day, held at Holiday Inn West End.
UT Martin returns 61 players – including 12 starters – from last season’s squad who went 8-3 overall (including a win at Football Bowl Subdivision member Memphis) and tied a program record with six OVC victories. The Skyhawks’ overall .727 winning percentage last year was the best in the OVC and the second-highest in the program’s Football Championship Subdivision era behind the 2006 squad (9-3).
Two of UT Martin’s returning starters – Ben Johnson and DJ Roberts – were honored as preseason All-OVC selections today. That duo joins junior linebacker Tony Bell (78 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four sacks), senior safety J’Vontez Blackmon (76 tackles, two interceptions, five passes defended), senior defensive back Camaren Harris (29 tackles, one interception, five passes defended) and redshirt senior Thad Williams (44 tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defended) as returning starters on defense.
A 6-2, 235-pound redshirt senior linebacker, Johnson has been named a Preseason All-American by four different media outlets (Phil Steele Publications, Lindy’s Sports, Sports Network, Beyond Sports Network). That comes after a 2012 campaign which saw Johnson tally an OVC-best 131 tackles (11.91 per game), which ranked sixth in the nation. The Primm Springs, Tenn. native also accumulated five tackles for loss and four sacks on the season on his way to All-OVC first team accolades.
Roberts, a redshirt senior defensive lineman out of Knoxville, Tenn., earned All-OVC second team honors in 2012 after ranking third in the league with 11.5 tackles for loss. Overall, the 6-2, 245-pounder registered 53 tackles, 11 quarterback hurries, 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Returning starters on the offensive side of the ball include redshirt junior right guard Mathew Axline (21 career starts, including all 11 games last season), senior wide receiver Jeremy Butler (51 receptions, 750 yards, 10 touchdowns), redshirt senior wide receiver Dylan Davis (23 receptions, 293 yards), redshirt senior center Tyler Eady (33 consecutive career starts), redshirt junior left guard John Johnson (10 career starts, including nine last season) and redshirt junior left tackle Charles Sweeton (21 consecutive career starts).
Also returning for UT Martin is punter James Satterfield (2012 All-OVC second teamer, 42.5 yards per punt) and return specialist Kevin Barfield (24.5 yards per kick return in 2012).
The Skyhawks open fall camp on Friday, Aug. 2 in preparation for their 2013 season-opener at Chattanooga on Thursday, Aug. 29. Kickoff time from Finley Stadium is set for 6 p.m. CST.