FREELAND, MICH. -- The Trine University football team was picked to finish as the favorites in the 2018 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Preseason Coaches Poll.
Trine received all but one first-place vote to finish first in the poll with seven points. Hope (Mich.) College was second with 13 points and the other first-place vote. Adrian (Mich.) College rounded out the top-three schools with 20 points.
The Thunder are coming off of an impressive season in 2017 in which Trine posted a perfect 10-0 (11-1 overall) record during the regular season and were the MIAA Champions. It marked the third time in program history that Trine posted an undefeated regular season (2017, 2010, 2008) and a fourth MIAA Championship (2008, 2009, 2010, 2017). The Thunder also made their fourth appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament and advanced to the second round.
Trine returns the majority of its starters from a year ago both on offense and defense. On offense, the ground game will again be led by Lamar Carswell (Toledo, Ohio/St. Francis DeSales). Last season, Carswell recorded his second straight season with 1,000 yards or more (1,500 yards) and had a league-leading, and single-season school record, 22 rushing TD during the regular season (25 overall). His 1,500 rushing yards were the second most in a single season in program history. At the end of the regular season, he ranked in the top-five in the MIAA in several statistical categories including yards (3rd - 1,344), rushes (5th - 166), yards per game (3rd - 134.4), yards per rush (2nd - 8.1) and touchdowns (1st - 22). He had seven straight games, dating back to Oct. 7, with 100 yards or more rushing, including three games of 200 yards or more. Carswell is 10th nationally in rushing yards and fourth in rushing TD (25). He also set school single-season records in total points scored (162), total touchdowns with 27 (25 rushing and two receiving). For his career, Carswell is currently second all-time in rushing yards with 3,079.
The offensive line returns a host of experienced players, led by three returning starters that includes All-Region performer Andrew Hagar (Millersburg, Ind./Fairfield). During the regular season, the Trine offense led the conference in total offense (4,891 yards), yards per game (489.1) and rushing yards (3,403). Overall, the Thunder ranked as the 14th best offense in the country (475.0 ypg.), including having the fourth-best rushing attack with an average of 329.6 ypg. As a unit, the offense set school records for rushing yards in a season (3,964), rushing TDs (48), rushing attempts (624), yards per rush (6.34) and rushing yards per game (329.6). Trine rushed for over 300 yards in all but three games during the season and surpassed 400 yards on the ground three times with a season-best 428 yards against Monmouth (Ill.) College on Nov. 18.
Jeffery Barnett will be the leader of the wide receiver corps. In 2017, Barnett earned first-team All-MIAA honors after posting 38 receptions for 830 yards and nine TD. He ended the regular season with 709 receiving yards to finish fourth in the MIAA and his nine TD catches were second most. He also ranked in the top-five in yards per game (4th - 70.9) and yards per catch (2nd - 20.9). He also garnered All-Conference honors, and All-Region accolades, as a returner after leading the conference in return average at 30.5 yards per attempt during the regular season and had one return for a touchdown that came via a 95-yard return against Albion on Oct. 7. His 95-yard TD return tied him for the third longest kickoff return in program history. Overall for the season, Barnett averaged 29.5 yards per return in 20 attempts for 590 total yards.
Trine will have to replace Evan Wyse at quarterback who graduated in the spring, but will look to senior Andrew Duckett (Niles, Mich./Brandywine) to step into the starting role heading into preseason camp. In 2017, Duckett saw playing time in 10 games and completed seven-of-10 passes for 83 yards. He also carried the ball 36 times for 137 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and had one TD.
On defense, Trine returns one of the best secondaries not only in the MIAA, but also the nation as all four starters return, including Marcus Winters (Toledo, Ohio/Central Catholic) who earned All-American status following the 2017 campaign. As a group, the defensive secondary set a school single-season record for interceptions with 23 and were tied for sixth nationally. Winters, the 2017 MIAA "Defensive Player of the Year," helped lead a Trine defense that led the nation in total turnovers with 37 (23 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries), were third in turnover margin (1.50) and ranked 55th in total defense (315.3 yards allowed per game). Individually for the season, Winters made 26 tackles (20 solo and six assists), including a half tackle for loss, in addition to a forced fumble, and was second on the team in interceptions with six. In addition to his role on defense, Winters was also the team's leading punt returner who averaged 16.8 yards per return for 218 yards and had one return for a TD.
Joining Winters in the secondary, will be Cayleel Hill (Owings Mills, Md./Owings Mills) who also received first-team All-MIAA honors following a 2017 season that saw him lead the MIAA in interceptions with a school single-season tying high eight picks. He had one game in which he picked off two passes that came against Concordia-Chicago in late September. Hill totaled 23 tackles (19 solo and four assists) and broke up a team-best eight passes.
Trine returns a veteran linebacking corps that includes Simeon Washington (Toledo, Ohio/Central Catholic) who was a first-team All-MIAA selection last season. Washington stepped forward in 2017 as one of the top defensive players in the conference in only his second season with the program. He led the team in tackles with 78 (31 solo and 47 assists) and was second in both tackles for loss (7.0) and sacks (2.5). He had three games of 10 or more tackles during the season with a season and career-high 13 stops against Adrian. In addition to leading the team in tackles, Washington recovered a fumble and forced a fumble.
Up front, the Thunder return two starters on the defensive line in Ryan Potts (St. Joseph, Mich./Stevensville-Lakeshore) and Mason McFarland (Berrien Springs, Mich./Berrien Springs). Potts led all returning linemen in tackles last season with 47 (14 solo and 33 assists) and had 3.5 tackles for loss. McFarland tallied 20 tackles (seven solo and 13 assists) to go along with a tackle for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery in 11 games.
The majority of the place kicking duties will again be the responsibility of Lucas Garza (Syracuse, Ind./Wawasee). A year ago, Garza converted 65-of-69 extra point attempts, and made four field goals, to end the season third on the team in scoring with 77 points. His 65 PAT's were the second most by a kicker in a single season.
Robert Riley will be the team's starting punter again this season in addition to his starting role as a safety. Last season, Riley averaged 32.8 yards per punt in 33 attempts. He had a season-long kick of 47 yards and had five punts land inside the 20-yard line.
Trine will begin the 2018 season with its traditional matchup against Manchester University in the season opener on Thursday, Aug. 30 at Fred Zollner Athletic Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
2018 MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll
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