Tigers feel slighted despite honors

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 11:58pm

James Webster had a mixed reaction to the preseason predictions released at Tuesday’s Ohio Valley Conference Media Day festivities at LP Field.

The Tennessee State football coach was happy to see recognition coming in for his players. Four Tigers were placed on the All-OVC preseason team, including cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is collecting his fair share of preseason recognition.

In addition to Rodgers-Cromartie, quarterback Antonio Heffner, running back Javarris Williams and defensive end Shaun Richardson were also named to the team.

But while Webster was pleased for that foursome, he was left scratching his head as to how TSU was picked to finish fifth in a poll of the league’s coaches and sports information directors. Last year, the Tigers jumped to 6-5 overall and 5-2 in the OVC. They even had a shot at the league title heading into the final week of the regular season. It was a four-game improvement from the year before, Webster’s first coaching the Tigers.

But despite those strides, TSU fell short of getting the total respect of the OVC.

“Whether they pick me last or pick me first, I’m still going to have the same fire in me to win,” Webster said when asked if he felt slighted by the prediction. “I think it’s important for this football team to know I have confidence they can win.”

Webster said it might be best the team was picked in the middle of the pack, but he thought the logic behind putting Heffner and Williams on the All-OVC team and then having low expectations didn’t make sense.

“The quarterback is the most important position and the coaches have acknowledged that Heffner is the better quarterback,” Williams said. “Javarris is the all-conference running back preseason. But you have to take into consideration we lost 12 starters, including a majority in the line. So we do have some holes to fill.”

Thanks to a continually emerging Rodgers-Cromartie, cornerback is not a concern. Rodgers-Cromartie is already a preseason All-American according to The Sporting News. He led the OVC last year with six interceptions.

At 6-2 and with elite speed (Rodgers-Cromartie was a star for the TSU track and field team), he seems poised for a monster senior season.

“He is probably the most-popular name guy in athletics in the OVC,” Webster said. “He also ran track. He’s a very talented young man. I’m just glad we’ve got him for this year.”

Rodgers-Cromartie attended an offseason defensive backs camp run by former NFL legend Darrell Green. Webster said Rodgers-Cromartie had a positive experience at the camp.

“Everybody on offense the last couple years were kind of young, but they weren’t together yet,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “But I feel like this year the offense is up to our level.”

YORK TROPHY: The Nashville Sports Council and the Ohio Valley Conference announced the formation of the Sergeant York Trophy on Tuesday at OVC Football Media Day at LP Field. The trophy will be vied for by the four OVC teams from the Volunteer State — Austin Peay, Tennessee-Martin, Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State.

The team with the best combined record between those four will be presented the trophy. The award is just the second college football traveling trophy involving more than two teams – the other being the Commander in Chief’s trophy.

The award is named for Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated soldiers during World War I, who then devoted his life to improving education in the state of Tennessee.

The four schools participating in the hunt for the Sergeant York Trophy said the chase would spark interest among area fans.

Austin Peay was a long-time rival of TSU before leaving the OVC and dropping football following the 1996 season. But APSU reformed the program last year and will return to the OVC for the upcoming season.

“I think it is great that the OVC has added to the excitement of the competition for the OVC football title,” TSU coach James Webster said. “It is my belief that you must win the Alvin York Trophy if you have aspirations to win the conference championship.”

Besides competing for the Sergeant York Trophy, there are other subplots that will play out between TSU and its in-state rivals this season. Tennessee-Martin is the defending OVC champion and Tennessee Tech has a familiar new coach in Watson Brown, who coached at Vanderbilt and Alabama-Birmingham.

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