JSU head coach John Grass facing huge expectations in first year
JACKSONVILLE, Ala. (AP) Jacksonville State's John Grass isn't dwelling on history. He'd rather repeat it. The first-year head coach inherits a team that went to the FCS quarterfinals and is predicted to win the Ohio Valley Conference. The Gamecocks are also ranked as high as sixth in the preseason polls. "The rankings and predictions of winning the OVC, that's all what the 2013 team did," Grass said. "The 2013 team laid us a great foundation to be sitting where we're sitting. That has no teeth. We haven't played anybody yet." The Gamecocks went 11-4 for their best season since 1992 in coach Bill Clark's only year, setting 49 school records, 13 OVC records and three NCAA records. Grass was elevated from offensive coordinator after Clark moved on to UAB. Last year's team gained 6,637 yards of total offense, 1,755 more than the previous school record. The 528 points broke the old mark by 107. 5 things to watch in Jacksonville State's season: QB SURPLUS: Grass said quarterback is the Gamecocks' deepest position. Sophomore Eli Jenkins is a preseason All-OVC pick after passing for 887 yards and rushing for 953. Minnesota transfer Max Shortell started six games last season and Kyle West logged two starts. Georgia transfer Christian LeMay, one of the nation's top prep prospects in 2011, enrolled in January. DAMARCUS JAMES: James is the preseason OVC offensive player of the year after setting a league record with 29 rushing touchdowns. James also ran for a school-record 1,477 yards, eighth-best in FCS, and had at least three touchdowns in a game five times. TOUGH OPENER: Jacksonville State opens against reigning Rose Bowl champion Michigan State on Friday, Aug. 29. Grass said the Gamecocks have no pressure and nothing to lose. "If those (Michigan State) coaches aren't dancing after the game, it's going to be a good thing for the Gamecocks," he said. HIGH EXPECTATIONS: Grass said the high preseason expectations are "right where we want to be. How many teams in the country would love to be ranked in the Top 5 in the nation and picked to win their conference?" FRONT LINES: Four linemen two on each side of the ball are preseason first-team All-OVC picks. Center Max Holcombe has started 37 straight games while guard Blake Burks also received the preseason nod. So did defensive linemen Caleb Lawrence and Auburn transfer Chris Landrum.