BRENTWOOD, Tenn. - Eastern Illinois has been picked to finish second in the preseason Ohio Valley Conference poll released at the league's annual Football Media Day in Nashville. The two-time defending OVC champions will open the season on Thursday, August 28 at Minnesota under first year head coach Kim Dameron.
The Panthers posted a 12-2 record last year advancing to the NCAA FCS playoff quarterfinal round while being ranked No. 4 in the final national rankings. The Panthers return 14 starters from that team with seven of them earning preseason All-OVC honors.
Shepard Little, Adam Drake, Jeff LePak and Collin Seibert represented the offense. Dino Fanti, Robert Haynes and Jourdan Wickliffe were selected on the defensive side of the ball. Little was tabbed as the league's preseason return specialist.
Jacksonville State was picked first in the league race collecting 10 of 18 first place votes and 118 total points. Eastern Illinois was second with 110 points and four first place votes. Tennessee State was third with 107 points and the final four first place votes. The remainder of the preseason poll was Eastern Kentucky, UT Martin, Murray State, Tennessee Tech, Southeast Missouri and Austin Peay.
EIU has won 12 straight Ohio Valley Conference games dating back to the 2012 season. EIU will open OVC play at home against Austin Peay on Sept. 20. The home opener is Sept. 6 against Southern Illinois. Season tickets are on sale by calling 217-581-2106 or online at www.eiupanthertickets.com
Little rushed for 1,548 yards last season, the second highest single season total in school history. He had 15 rushing touchdowns adding two touchdown receptions and two punt returns for touchdown. He was a first team All-OVC selection last year at running back and second team selection at return specialist. Little was recently named to the preseason Walter Payton Award Watch List.
Drake hauled in 85 passes for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns. Drake was a second team All-OVC selection at wide receiver last year earning third team All-American honors by Sports Network.
LePak was among the nation's top pass receiving tight ends with 51 catches for 723 yards and eight touchdowns. He was a first team All-OVC selection and third team All-American by Sports Network.
Seibert was a first team All-American last year as part of one of the nation's top offensive lines. A starter at guard he helped the Panthers rank first in the nation in scoring offense and total offense setting several school and OVC single season records. He has been a two-time first team All-OVC selection.
Fanti returns on the defensive front after leading the Panthers with 14.5 tackles for loss. He was a second team All-OVC selection last year making 45 tackles with three fumble recoveries at defensive tackle.
Haynes was the Panthers second leading tackler at linebacker last season finishing with 79 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. He had two sacks as he earned second team All-OVC honors.
Wickliffe led the Panthers defense in tackles earning first team All-OVC honors at safety. He recorded 91 tackles with three interceptions and four forced fumbles.
Jacksonville State running back DeMarcus James was named the OVC preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Tennessee State defensive lineman Anthony Bass was named the OVC preseason Defensive Player of the Year.