ETSU Ben Blackmon

ETSU offensive lineman Ben Blackmon locks up with Western Carolina's Solomon Clark during a three-overtime win last season for the Buccaneers. 

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - Every football coach has a favorite theme or saying that gets the attention of their players.

For Randy Sanders, the second year head coach at East Tennessee State, it is “so what, now what.”

ETSU senior offensive lineman Ben Blackmon had to think about that one for a while and then figured that was a good way to be on the football field.

 “When I first heard it I kind of set back and thought about it for a minute and then I think as a team we embraced it and we took it upon ourselves and we really took to it and used it,” said Blackmon, during the Southern Conference football media days held last month in Spartanburg, S.C.. “We looked at every moment, so what is coming next. What are we going to do next.

 “They scored or we scored or we gave up a turnover, whatever, so what, it happened, it is over so what are going to do next.”

Next for ETSU is the 2019 season which began on Aug. 31 with a 42-7 loss to former Southern Conference rival Appalachian State. The Buccaneers will host Shorter University in their home opener on Saturday at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium, with kickoff slated for 7:35 p.m.

After a remarkable season that saw the Buccaneers win eight games, claim a share of the Southern Conference championship and earn a FCS playoff berth, it’s time to do it all over again.

Not bad for a program that didn’t even have a place to play when the first game back since 2003 arrived in 2015.

 “It is definitely cool. We both got here in 2015,” said the 6-foot-3, 301-pound native of Newberry, S.C., who was joined at SoCon media days by senior linebacker Nasir Player. “We saw it build up from nothing when we were playing in a high school stadium, getting dressed in a high school locker room and practicing on CPA fields to now we have our own stadium, we have our own locker room, we just won our conference championship.

 “It is just crazy to think that we started from nothing and we are where we are now.”

While the quarterback position is still up in the air for the Buccaneers – after Chance Thrasher, Trey Mitchell and Cameron Lewis saw action against Appalachian State – ETSU figures it can depend on a solid running game, led by Quay Holmes and Jacob Saylors, who combined for 1,543 yards and 17 touchdowns for an offense that scored 26.0 points a contest.

Holmes, who earned numerous SoCon postseason honors last season and is mentioned among the elite heading into this season, had 68 yards on 19 carries against the Mountaineers.

The combination of Holmes and fellow back Jacob Saylors will be assisted by a trio of experienced linemen, led by Blackmon, who was moved to center prior to this season. Fellow SoCon preseason honoree Tre’Mond Shorts and Cam Parker will also do their part to give ETSU a much-needed run game in the season ahead.

“He could be, and he is not the only one,” said Blackmon, of Holmes, who some have called the best back in the Southern Conference. “We have got Jacob Saylors, who was doing just as well as Quay was. They are a great complement to each other, they run well, they are hard runners, they are smart runners and they take care of the ball.

 “They take care of everything and really makes our job a lot easier whenever you have two good running backs like that.”

ETSU will begin a three-week homestead on Saturday against Shorter, an NCAA Division II school that has lost 39 straight games dating back to 2015. That will be followed over the next two weeks by VMI and Austin Peay.

woodson@bristolnews.com | Twitter: BHCWoodson | (276) 645-2543

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