ASHEVILLE, N.C. — East Tennessee State University football coach Randy Sanders likes the competition he sees within the team.
He’s hoping those battles equate to success on game days, where the Bucs look to improve on last season’s 4-2 record. The Bucs return all 22 starters, even two at quarterback from a team ranked No. 24 in the final FCS coaches poll.
There is plenty of competition at quarterback. Tyler Riddell finished 50-of-82 passing for 575 yards in three games, while Brock Landis was 46-of-92 for 436 yards and two touchdowns in the other three. However, Landis proved to be more of a threat running the ball.
When it comes to running backs, All-Southern Conference selection Quay Holmes had 640 yards and eight touchdowns. Jacob Saylors added another 257 yards on the ground with offensive lineman Tre’mond Shorts leading the way.
Other strengths are at linebacker and defensive back as the Bucs held opponents to 18.8 points per game. Their conditioning was evident in the fourth quarter when ETSU outscored its opponents by a 34-14 margin.
Sanders took the time during Monday’s Southern Conference football media day to answer some of the questions surrounding the team.
WHERE DO YOU STAND WITH THE QUARTERBACK POSITION AT THIS POINT?
Sanders: “I’m excited to have two guys who started three games each. I think Cade Larkins is an outstanding prospect whenever he’s ready to return. I was pleased with a lot of things that Tyler Riddell did and a lot of things that Brock did. They certainly have areas to improve, but we went 2-1 with each of them.
“We’ve proven we can win and we can lose with both of them. It’s nice to see them making progress and to have two choices. Going into 2020, I was concerned about it. I felt better in the spring with what I saw and feel much better now.”
STAYING ON OFFENSE, HOW ABOUT THE ROLE OF QUAY HOLMES AT RUNNING BACK?
Sanders: “The great thing about Quay is he shows up every week ready to perform and ready to play. The fact we’ve had Jacob Saylors and what he’s done has helped Quay quite a bit. He’s been able to stay strong. We need Saylors to stay healthy through the season.
“We have a couple of other young guys in the room that I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do. The thing we’ve been able to do at so many positions is create competition. We didn’t have competition at nearly enough positions when I got here three years ago.”
HOW DOES THE COMPETITION HELP?
Sanders: “It doesn’t guarantee you anything, but if the first teamer doesn’t work, we have someone to put in there to get it done. That’s a good position to be in. I was always used to having 85 full scholarships and now we’re at 63, so I’m always figuring out where to recruit players to create competition.
“I like the direction we’re heading and where the program is going. Our guys are looking forward to the season because they like playing and enjoy competing. I want that competitiveness and that eagerness to be out in the arena.”
HOW GOOD CAN THE DEFENSE BE WITH JARED FOLKS LEADING THE WAY AT LINEBACKER?
Sanders: “Our defense was obviously really good for us the last two years. We have eight seniors on the football team and they’re all on defense. We have more juniors on defense than offense. We’re young on that side, but we’re fortunate with Jared Folks the defensive player of the year in the spring.
“We have Donovan Manuel at linebacker, Tyree (Robinson) and Alijah Huzzie who also received (preseason) all-conference. It’s good to have that kind of experience and skill level. When you have four guys with all-conference recognition, you expect them to be good. Coach (Billy) Taylor and our defensive staff do a good job getting our guys prepared. Then our guys execute the plan and play well.”
HAS THE GAME CHANGED WITH DIFFERENT LINEUPS ACCORDING TO WHO YOU’RE PLAYING?
Sanders: “There’s no question. Go back and look at our six games. There were some games we started with two receivers, a tight end and two running backs. Some we started with three receivers, a tight end and running back. Some games we start with two tight ends in a game.
“That’s part of coaching, game planning, where you match up well and where do you take advantage of where you have the advantage and minimize where you have the disadvantage. That’s a fun part of coaching, but it still gets down to how well you can teach your guys to do what they’re supposed to do. Sometimes you have the best ideas, but if your guys can’t execute that play, it doesn’t matter.
“It is a fun part of the game, but it’s not as fun as seeing the guys grow, develop and get better. You look where they started three years ago and where they’re at now. That’s the part that is rewarding.”