East Tennessee State defensive lineman Nasir Player looks to sack the Mars Hill quarterback during the Buccaneers’ 28-7 win over Mars Hill last August at Greene Stadium in Johnson City, Tenn.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - With a name like Player, you had better be good.

Nasir Player certainly is, having been chosen as the Southern Conference preseason defensive player of the year, a nice honor of the East Tennessee State senior defensive end.

He is a key cog in what should be a potent defense in the season ahead.

“We have got nine people back actually,” said Player, during the recent SoCon football media days in Spartanburg, S.C. “We have pretty much everybody that is going to play this year has already played so we already have that experience, we already have that chemistry together.

“It is just going to be a big year, it is just going to be fun to be out there with this group and I am excited for it honestly.”

ETSU football, which went away in 2003 and returned in 2015, has certainly come a long ways since the 6-foot-5, 271-pound Player landed in Johnson City from Columbia, S.C. He was on the same official visit as senior offensive lineman Ben Blackmon.

“We came on the same official visit and there was a big old hill where the stadium is right now,” Player said. “There was a hill right there and they said that is where they going to put the stadium.

“I was like ‘where are you going to put it,’ but one day the hill wasn’t there anymore and you saw the ground getting dug up and then the stadium was just there one day. You are like ‘Dang, this is why we committed, this is what they told us it was going to be like’ and now it is here.”

All going a combined 11-22 in the previous three campaigns, the Buccaneers won eight games, earned a share of Southern Conference title and made an FCS playoff appearance.

Player admits to not initially understanding what the Bucs had accomplished last season, having been upset that the Bucs had to share that SoCon title with Wofford despite losing to the Terriers 30-17.

“At the moment it didn’t (occur to me) because I was just kind of upset that we had to share the conference championship, but when I set back and thought about it, I was like that is kind of huge that we did that,” he said.

Player is a definite key for the Buccaneers, having recorded 43 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, six sacks, 11 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles for a defense that will look to improve on allowing 26.4 points per game.

“Nasir has been around, he has played a lot of football and he is a good football player. Not only is he a good football player, but he has been a great leader,” ETSU second year head coach Randy Sanders said. “In the 18 months I have been around him he has been nothing but a pleasure to coach. He is a good guy to have out there on Saturdays...

 “We have a number of guys on defense that have played a lot of football.”

ETSU was certainly entertaining for fans at Greene Stadium last season, claiming six of its eight wins by three points or less, including rallying from a 21-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Furman and surviving a three-overtime thriller with Western Carolina.

 “The fact that we won so many close games is just a testament to what Coach Sanders tells us every time, you just play the next play, no matter what is going on,” Player said. “There were a lot of games where we were down. Going into the fourth quarter at Furman, we were down 21 points so you have just got to play the next play.”

They did last season, and expect the same in the year ahead, which begins with a trip to old Southern Conference rival Appalachian State on Aug. 31.

 “You have always got to win the next play, look at what is next, don’t look at the scoreboard, just keep on playing because at the end of the day you have to play 60 minutes,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are losing by 21 or winning by 21, if there is still 15 minutes left on the clock, you have got to finish the game so just knowing how to finish added a lot to our success.” | Twitter: BHCWoodson | (276) 645-2543

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