Georgetown College’s football team starts fall practice ranked No. 4 in the preseason NAIA poll released earlier this week.
Storied coach Bill Cronin enters his 16th season at the helm of the Tigers. He has a 145-35 record in his 15 seasons with 11 Mid-South Conference titles and two national titles.
The Tigers (12-1) advanced to the semifinals last year for the first time since 2004. Returning under center is sophomore sensation Neal Pawsat.
As a rookie the Maysville native was thrust into the starting role after All-America senior quarterback Kaelin Ammons suffered a season-ending injury against Shorter University.
“We had a solid offensive line last year, anchored by Kyle Pettit, our first-ever Rimington award winner,” said offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Craig Mullins. “That allowed me to really unfold the offense as Neal was ready for it. He progressed very well over the course of the nine games he played.”
Pawsat was accurate on 61 percent of his passes, 177-of-291, with just five interceptions and 22 touchdowns. His 2,406 yards was 207 shy of making the Top 10 for season yardage.
The rookie did crack the record books in three categories – average yards per pass, eighth with 8.2; pass completion percentage, fifth with 61 percent; and pass efficiency, seventh with 151.8 rating.
It helped to have a veteran corps of receivers. His top three wide receiving targets are back – Chris Gohman, Rob Maden and Brandon Burdette. Adam Schmitz and Randy Doss were also favorite targets out of the back field.
The Tigers return top rushers in Logan Osborne, 466 yards, and Zach Sowder, 455 yards. The tandem had four touchdowns between them.
Schmitz was the next highest with 255 yards, and he led with six touchdowns. He also had two receiving touchdowns for a team-high eight.
Defensively, Georgetown was ranked inside the Top 5 nationally for most of the season. All-America defensive back Zach Goebel is gone, but defensive coordinator Shan Housekeeper has a lot of his guys returning.
“It was a step in the right direction to being the Tiger defense we take pride in,” Housekeeper said. “We have a lot of strength and speed coming back. Losing a leader such as Zach is tough, but the great thing is we aren’t just led by one person. They are all groomed to be leaders.”
Doug Key is back to guide a defensive line that finished third in the country in sacks. Jake Conner and Brock Messina were a part of that core from which Housekeeper will expect a lot.
Winston Hines returns in the defensive back slot. The senior was just behind Goebel in total tackles in 2011 with 69. He led the team in pass break-ups with eight and also had two interceptions. Brandon Lawson and DaVon Pitts are also back in the slots, making it tough for opponents to throw the ball.
Georgetown will start the season with a pair of games against new opponents. Bluefield College is restarting its football program after 69 years off. The Rams will play University of Pikeville before having to tangle with the nationally ranked Tigers on Sept. 1.
The home opener will be Sept. 6 under the lights on the new iHigh Field as GC takes on Faulkner University for the first time ever. Georgetown is looking to pack the stands for the Thursday night game where it unveils the new turf surface.
The Tigers travel to Columbia, taking on third-year program Lindsey Wilson College. The Blue Raiders were right behind GC a year ago in the East standings. While no longer in the same division, this game could have huge ranking implications.
Kentucky Christian University and Bethel University come to Georgetown the following two weeks. KCU, which is the homecoming opponent, also starts GC’s attempt to defend the divisional title for a third season.
October starts with a road game at Campbellsville University, followed by four divisional games to finish the season. Georgetown will host University of the Cumberlands and Union College and hit the road for University of Pikeville and University of Virginia College at Wise in a five-week span.
Of GC’s 10 opponents, three are in the preseason Top 25 – Bethel (tied No. 11), Cumberlands (No. 19) and Campbellsville (No. 25) – while Lindsey Wilson is receiving votes.