JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — The first day for the 2010 Carson-Newman Eagles was a long one. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., 189 new and veteran players opened their Carson-Newman season, along with their playbooks.
This will be a new-look Eagles team from last season’s NCAA Division II semifinal squad. There are new starters at every offensive skill position. The defense will see three new starting linebackers, two new defensive linemen, and only All-SAC safety Mario Russell (Columbus, Ohio) returning in the defensive backfield.
Needless to say, with so many jobs open, the first practices will be heated.
“It’s probably as challenging as it’s been since I’ve been here as far as lack of experience,” C-N head coach Ken Sparks said. “We’re starting off from scratch with only four or five returning starters. The door is wide open for somebody to come in and impress us right off the bat.”
Sparks is beginning his 31st campaign in command of the Carson-Newman Eagles. Sparks does have one key veteran on offense returning, only he’ll most likely be playing a new position. Preseason All-SAC wide receiver Doug Belk (Valdosta, Ga.) is expected to step back into the quarterback position this season, after spending the last two years as the Eagles No. 3 receiver.
“I put so much hard work and time at other positions, I’m just ready to get started,” Belk said. “This is my opportunity to play quarterback. But I told coach (Sparks) that if he needs me at wide receiver, I’ll play wide receiver. I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team.”
Belk, a fifth-year senior, was recruited as a quarterback, but had to bide his time behind Alex Good. Belk was far too good an athlete to stay on the bench, so Sparks moved him to wideout. Belk thinks the experience on the other side of a pass play will benefit him at quarterback.
“It helped me understand the coverages and schemes teams use against us,” Belk said. “Alex Good and I were best friends. We were like brothers. All I can do is fill in and continue the legacy. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Former Farragut standout junior Marcus Huie (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Jefferson County standout sophomore Christian McFall (Jefferson City, Tenn.) have the inside track on the vacant wide receiver positions.
The Eagles will have their first light practice on Saturday in helmets, jerseys and shorts after a physical test in Burke-Tarr Stadium. First practice in full pads is Wednesday morning and that will begin more than a week of two-a-days. With only three returning starters on the offensive line, two on the defensive line, and one safety, with none at any other position, there are plenty of open slots to fight for.
Former Claiborne High School standout junior Ryan Helton (Tazewell, Tenn.), former Austin East standout senior Anthony McAlister (Knoxville, Tenn.) and senior Allen Jackson (Dalton, Ga.) will all get a shot at the starting linebacker spots. Issac Kinley (Johnson City, Tenn.), Dontaye Hall (Gallatin, Tenn.) and Tarvin Jones (St. Petersburg, Fla.) will have their chance to play alongside Russell in the Eagles defensive backfield.
“That kickoff (of practice) is always exciting,” Sparks said. “We’re about to see who can run down and hit here. These guys come up here with high expectations and want something good to happen in their lives. I can’t wait to see what the Lord wants to do with us this year.”