We are less than four weeks away from the NAIA kicking off the college football season.
The Faulkner Eagles, of the Mid-South Conference, will be doing just that on the first night of the season on Aug. 25. The Mid-South has sometimes drawn comparisons as the SEC of the NAIA. In the recent past, the conference was considered a super conference with three separate divisions.
Now in 2022, it has went back to its roots with majority of the conference residing in Kentucky and Tennessee. This conference often sends multiple teams to the NAIA playoffs. This year, it may be a challenge since it’s no longer a super conference.
So let’s get down to business and preview the Mid-South. As we go through these, remember the NAIA is difficult to preview with limited news outlets. Those listed as returning were all-conference players from last season.
2021 Record: 1-8
Key Player(s) Returning: OL Lane Bottoms
Key Player(s) Leaving: RB De’Anta Sipp – 974 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, 5.1 yards per carry
The Campbellsville Tigers are led under the direction of Perry Thomas, who is entering his 15th season. Coach Thomas has a lot of experience in the head coaching role, and won a Mid-South championship in 2014. 2021 was a disappointing season for the Tigers as all of their losses were blowouts. Yet, 2022 is a new season, with new opportunities. To open the season, there are two winnable games against St. Andrew’s and Union. The Tigers will only have to leave the state of Kentucky once in 2022. If the offense can come around, the Tigers have a chance to be competitive as the defense returns a lot of personnel.
2021 Record: 3-7
Key Player(s) Returning: RB Treylon Sheppard – 386 rushing yards, three touchdowns, 3.2 yards per carry
Key Player(s) Leaving: RB James Christian – 467 rushing yards, three touchdowns, 5.1 yards per carry
DL Jace Capps – 53 tackles, 12 sacks, two forced fumbles, two pass breakups
DB Champ Leddon – 79 tackles, two sacks, interception, three pass breakups
The Cumberland Phoenix are one of the most historic NAIA programs. Often remembered for the historic 222-0 blowout loss to Georgia Tech, not many know that it has historic wins against Alabama, Georgia and Florida State among many others. Head coach Tim Mathis is entering his fifth season leading the program, and 2021 did see some bright spots. The Phoenix were able to defeat then No. 21 The University of the Cumberlands. The offense featured a lot of sets from double slot and trips. Although the Phoenix only return one all-conference player, they do have a lot of support coming back. If the Phoenix can start out hot in manageable games against Point and Webber, 2022 could be be an improvement.
2021 Record: 4-6
Key Player(s) Returning: (No all conference selections returning)
Key Player(s) Leaving: DB Christohper Dublin – punt return touchdown
The UPIKE Bears are led under the direction of Corey Fipps who enters his second season. Fipps comes from an air raid background, and plans to strike predominantly through the air. In 2021, the UPIKE offense had a 2-to-1 ratio in passing yards compared to rushing yards. In 2021, the Bears finished the season red hot, defeating Cumberland (TN) and Thomas More. In 2022, they will have an opportunity to start hot with a winnable opening game against Kentucky Christian. Most of the defense is slated to return.
2021 Record: 5-5
Key Player(s) Returning: LB Del Thomas – 87 tackles, forced fumble, interception, pass breakup
DB Colton Sandhas – 52 tackles, three interceptions, six pass breakups
P Elgin Phillips – 42.3 yards per punt, 71 long
Key Player(s) Leaving: OL David Sandlin
DL Dominic Valentino – 32 tackles, seven sacks
LB Peyton Van Horn – 101 tackles, interception, three pass breakups
Thomas More is gearing up to transition to NCAA Division II. While Thomas More was competitive at a .500 record last season, there were upgrades to the staff. Longtime assistant Brad Zink was promoted to defensive coordinator, while former Division III head coach Bryan Moore will take over as offensive coordinator. These two have groundwork to build on with a few all-conference selections returning. Thomas More will play FCS Duquesne just weeks after Duquesne plays FBS Florida State. For an NAIA school, that’s pretty cool.
2021 Record: 6-4
Key Player(s) Returning: RB Martize Smith – 573 rushing yards, 5.5 yards per carry
OL Jackson Norton
OL Logan Stephens
DL Kumi Sarpong – 36 tackles
DL Kendall Adams-Young – 41 tackles
DB Walker Dunn – 46 tackles, forced fumble, two interceptions, two pass breakups
P Harlin Brown – 41.5 yards per punt, 53 long
Key Player(s) Leaving: WR Brandon Stuckey – 37 catches, 653 yards receiving, seven touchdown catches, 17.6 yards per catch
Longtime Georgetown defensive coordinator Shan Housekeeper is now head coach of the Cumberlands Patriots. He is leaving one Mid-South darling to captain another. The Patriots haven’t had the success they’ve been used to, but that could be about to change. They return a host of all-conference players, and are a very attractive pick to maybe even win the conference. They also return a number of solid role players. Cumberlands opens with Union.
2021 Record: 7-4
Key Player(s) Returning: WR James Dixon – 1,116 receiving yards
TE Quashawn Ford – three touchdowns
OL Jarious Abercrombie
LB Jakobe Griffin – 102 tackles, nine forced fumbles, two pass breakups
DB Devious Christmon – 37 tackles, forced fumble, five interceptions, five pass breakups
Key Player(s) Leaving: QB Nolan Chowbay – 3,232 passing yards
RB De’Ontay Tate – 1,098 rushing yards
OL Cole Lyles
DL Jared Gentry – 29 tackles
DB Vonte Bates – 99 tackles, forced fumble, three interceptions, two pass breakups
The Wildcats of Bethel are led by Bethel legend and former Buffalo Bill “BIG” Mike Jasper. While they are losing their starting all-conference quarterback Nolan Chowbay, his replacement will have a host of talented receivers to throw to. Most of the defense for the Wildcats returns, including defensive back Devious Christmon, who grabbed five interceptions last season. Bethel starts off the season against one of the NAIA’s newest programs, Arkansas Baptist. We will know how good Bethel is after it plays Reinhardt in Week 2.
2021 Record: 8-2
Key Player(s) Returning: P Kaden Davis – 37.6 yards per punt, 50 long
Key Player(s) Leaving: WR Jalen Browder – 936 receiving yards
OL Tyler Pritchett
LB Antonio Gurley – 46 tackles, interception, pass breakup
DB Alex Dawson – 70 tackles, three interceptions, two pass breakups
DB Malik Meadows – 42 tackles, four interceptions, five pass breakups
K Alvin Renteria – 6-for-12 field goals, 41 long
In 2021, the Faulkner Eagles tied their best season in school history, according to winning percentage. Coach Rob Gray and his staff are ready to achieve more, compete for a conference title, and make the NAIA playoffs. While they lose a lot of all-conference selections, they return most of their defensive production. Coordinator Blaine Miller is a coach to keep an eye on, as he had the Eagles’ defense rolling at times. We will know how good Faulkner is as it opens the season with state border rival Reinhart on a Thursday night to open the NAIA season.
2021 Record: 8-2
Key Player(s) Returning: WR Aaron Maggard – 391 receiving yards
OL Boots Ellett
*LB DJ White – 45 tackles, four forced fumbles, interception
LB Chad Holleran – 71 tackles, two interceptions
*DB Rob Sheffield – 24 tackles, four interceptions
Key Player(s) Leaving: QB Brandon Burgess – 1,853 passing yards
*WR Darius Barbour – 373 receiving yards
WR Jake Johnson – 466 receiving yards
*DL Marcus Omosule – 28 tackles, forced fumble, interception
K Joshua Edwards – 5-for-9 field goals, 41 long; 38.7 yards per punt, 60 long
Chris Oliver left Lindsey Wilson after turning that program into a powerhouse, and is now at one of the most recognizable NAIA football programs in the nation. He is inheriting a program coming off an 8-2 season and consecutive playoff appearances. Quarterback Brandon Burgess will be sorely missed, but the Tigers lose little else.
2021 Record: 12-1
Key Player(s) Returning: *TE Jaleel Warren – 270 yards receiving, five touchdown catches, 10.4 yards per catch
*OL Eli Cross
*OL Joe Gressette
*DL David Hylick – 29 tackles
DL Cam Thurman – 21 tackles, forced fumble
LB Darius Hylick – 42 tackles, forced fumble, interception
DB Cashawn Beasley – 38 tackles, four interceptions
*K/P Ian Sauter 7-for-9 field goals, 35 long; 40.4 yards per punt, 55 long
Key Player(s) Leaving: *QB Cam Dukes – 2,439 yards passing, 27 touchdowns, four interceptions, 63.7% completions, 8.3 yards per attempt; 342 yards rushing, nine touchdowns
*RB Jaylen Boyd – 1,217 rushing yards
RB Darius Clark – 434 rushing yards
*WR Josh Lewis – 774 receiving yards
OL Dawson Oliver
*LB Luke Bowman – 73 tackles, two forced fumbles, two interceptions
*DB Robert Carter – 39 tackles, eight interceptions
It’s amazing to think that Lindsey Wilson is a program that started in just 2010. It is still fresh off a national championship during the 2020-21 spring COVID-19 season. The Blue Raiders lose the best player in school history in Cam Dukes, and the best running back in school history in Jaylen Boyd. They do return two anchors on the offensive line with Eli Cross, and Joe Gressette. Phil Kleckler takes over the reigns in his first year as head coach, hoping to continue a legacy. The Blue Raiders are known for an odd front on defense and they return majority of their defensive personnel.
Darkhorse: Thomas More