Jacksonville State junior quarterback Zerrick Cooper and Southeast Missouri State senior linebacker Zach Hall were named the 2019 OVC Preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in a vote of by the league’s head football coaches and communications directors. Murray State snagged all three specialist spots.
Jacksonville State led the way with seven total preseason selections, while Southeast Missouri followed with six picks, Tennessee State had four selections, Eastern Kentucky, Murray State and UT Martin had three apiece, Austin Peay had two picks and Eastern Illinois had one. Returning players who were first-team All-OVC selections last year (15 in total) were automatic selections to the preseason team this year. The squad also included eight players who were second-team picks in 2018. Of the 29 total selections, 26 were seniors and three were juniors.
The offensive unit was led by Cooper, a first-year All-OVC selection a season ago who earned Sophomore All-American honors from HERO Sports. In his debut season with the Gamecocks Cooper passed for 3,416 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for 371 yards and six additional scores. His 32 passing touchdowns were the third-most in OVC single-season history while his 3,787 yards of total offense ranked sixth.
The offense also included Southeast Missouri senior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina (2844 passing yards, 28 touchdowns; 178 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns), Austin Peay senior running back Kentel Williams (831 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns; 17 catches, 1 receiving touchdown), Eastern Kentucky senior running back Daryl McCleskey Jr. (651 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns; 12 catches, 2 receiving touchdowns), Jacksonville State senior wide receiver Josh Pearson (67 catches, 1123 yards, 17 touchdowns), Southeast Missouri senior wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson (61 catches, 894 yards, 14 touchdowns), Tennessee State senior wide receiver Chris Rowland (57 catches, 727 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Jacksonville State junior tight end Trae Barry (32 catches, 503 yards, 1 touchdown). The offensive line included Tennessee State senior center Thomas Burton and senior guard Raekwon Allen, Jacksonville State senior guard Darius Anderson and senior tackle Hunter Sosebee, Austin Peay senior tackle Kyle Anderton and UT Martin senior tackle Terry Fultz.
The defensive unit is led by Hall, who was named the winner of the 2018 Buck Buchanan Award, given by STATS to the National Defensive Player of the Year, and the FCS ADA National Defensive Player of the Year award. He finished the season with 168 tackles, the most of any FCS player and a new Southeast Missouri single-season record. In helping SEMO to its second-ever playoff berth, Hall was the leader of a defensive unit that currently ranks first nationally in turnovers gained (36), turnover margin (+1.85/game) and interceptions (23) and ranked third in defensive touchdowns (5). He also added 12.0 tackles-for-loss, 4.0 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two pass breakups, six quarterback hurries, a blocked kick and a safety. Hall was also 13th nationally in forced fumbles (0.31/game) and 50th in interceptions/game (0.3/game).
In addition to Hall, the linebacker group included Southeast Missouri senior Justin Swift (114 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 4 INT, 9 QBH, 4 FF, 3 FR) and Jacksonville State junior Jalen Choice (88 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 1 INT, 5 QBH). The defensive line included Eastern Kentucky senior Aaron Patrick (53 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 15 QBH), UT Martin seniors Julian Crutchfield (41 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Austin Pickett (36 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks), Southeast Missouri senior Clarence Thornton (36 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 QBH) and Eastern Illinois senior Terrell Greer (48 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 FR). The team was rounded out by four defensive backs in Jacksonville State senior Marlon Bridges (69 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 1 FF), Southeast Missouri junior Bydarrius Knighten (88 tackles, 1 INT, 9 PBU, 1 FF), Tennessee State senior Dajour Nesbeth (58 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 4 INT, 7 PBU) and Eastern Kentucky senior Leodis Moore III (48 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 5 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR).
Each of the specialists selected to the preseason team were from Murray State. That included senior kicker Gabriel Vicente (15-of-19 FGs, Long of 50, 34-of-36 PATs, 79 points), senior punter Steve Dawson (42.1 average on 54 attempts, Long of 66, 16 inside opponent's 20-yard line) and senior return specialist Malik Honeycutt (35.2 yards/kickoff return, 1 TD; 27.0 yards/punt return, 1 TD).
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Zerrick Cooper (QB), Jacksonville State
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Zach Hall (LB), Southeast Missouri
QB - Zerrick Cooper, Jacksonville State *
QB - Daniel Santacaterina, Southeast Missouri *
RB - Kentel Williams, Austin Peay *
RB - Daryl McCleskey Jr., Eastern Kentucky
WR - Josh Pearson, Jacksonville State *
WR - Kristian Wilkerson, Southeast Missouri **
WR - Chris Rowland, Tennessee State **
TE - Trae Barry, Jacksonville State *
C - Thomas Burton, Tennessee State
OG - Darius Anderson, Jacksonville State *
OG - Raekwon Allen, Tennessee State **
OT - Hunter Sosebee, Jacksonville State **
OT - Kyle Anderton, Austin Peay
OT - Terry Fultz, UT Martin
DL - Aaron Patrick, Eastern Kentucky *
DL - Julian Crutchfield, UT Martin **
DL - Clarence Thornton, Southeast Missouri **
DL - Terrell Greer, Eastern Illinois
DL - Austin Pickett, UT Martin
LB - Zach Hall, Southeast Missouri *
LB - Jalen Choice, Jacksonville State **
LB - Justin Swift, Southeast Missouri **
DB - Marlon Bridges, Jacksonville State *
DB - Bydarrius Knighten, Southeast Missouri *
DB - Dajour Nesbeth, Tennessee State *
DB - Leodis Moore III, Eastern Kentucky *
K - Gabriel Vicente, Murray State *
P - Steve Dawson, Murray State *
RS - Malik Honeycutt, Murray State *
* - 1st team All-OVC team in 2018
** - 2nd team All-OVC team in 2018