By Joe Garcia
Newness is the theme in 2016 for the Texas State football team.
Everett Withers will head his first game for the program, which went 3-9 in 2015. He leads a young group into Athens, Ohio in the first-ever meeting between Texas State and Ohio University in a battle of Bobcats.
Texas State will start nine freshman or sophomores with 14 freshman or sophomores as backups on the two-deep roster. And there are only 32 players (of 107) on the Bobcats’ roster who have played in an FBS game before.
The youth movement is apparent on offense with sophomore running back Stedman Mayberry getting the start along with fellow second-year players Mason Hays and P.J. Anderson at wide receiver. The veterans of the receiver corps are juniors Elijah King and Eric Luna.
Defensively the Bobcats will start freshman Jordan Mittie and sophomore Ishmael Davis to rush the edges.
While they may be young, Withers is enthusiastic about the players’ development.
“I’m really excited about where we’ve come from,” he said. “I always go back to January the nineteenth, the first team meeting, to where we are now. I’m not saying we’ve gone far enough, but we are a long way from it. Guys have responded really well.”
There are many new names and faces on this Bobcat team, but senior quarterback Tyler Jones may be the one familiar player – or coach for that matter – Bobcat football fans recognize. He will be protected by the most experienced unit on the team. The stalwart offensive linemen include Giuliano Cattaneo (C), Ryan Melton (LT), Tryston Mizerak (RT) and Felix Romero (RG).
Ohio head coach Frank Solich led the other Bobcats to an 8-5 campaign last season, including a 31-29 loss to Sun Belt opponent Application State in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
The 12-year Ohio coach spoke about the Withers-led Texas State team earlier this week.
“Well you look at where he was at previously and obviously (James Madison) they did a great job there and we’ve studied quite a bit of film from that end of it, you study a lot of Texas State film just to look at personal and from that you put together your game plans and it is a little bit of a guessing game,” Solich said. “Anytime a new coach comes in, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to stay with what they’ve done in the past at the previous school so I’m sure there will be a few surprises that we’ll have to adjust to on the field but it is what it is; I know Coach Withers is a coach who is very much a guy who zeros in on the little fine points of being a good offensive team, defensive team, special teams.”
A 21-point favorite, Ohio vaunts a deep roster on both sides of the ball. Last year Ohio averaged 27.5 points and 413.1 yards per game.
The Bobcats return most of their defenders in the well-coached front seven and returns four of its top five defenders from last season, including junior linebacker Quentin Poling who led Ohio with 69 tackles and four interceptions last season.
Also on the field for Ohio will be the team’s top rusher and receiver from 2015. Junior running back A.J. Ouellette (691 yards, 6 TD) and senior wide receiver Sebastian Smith (770 yards, 7 TD). Senior quarterback Greg Windham will be under center for Ohio.
“I think he’s got a pretty good team this year,” Withers said of the Mid-American Conference foes. “They are a competitive, tough and hard-nosed football team. They are going to play hard. That’s (Coach Solich’s) trademark.”
Withers said expectations are that each unit plays 90 minutes of football as hard as you can play. Win or lose he will rate his team based on toughness, discipline, relentlessness and focus.
“That’s what we grade on,” he said. “That’s how I’m going to judge our football team.”
Everett Withers returns to the Buckeye State, where he was co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State for two seasons under Urban Myer. Several other staff members have ties as well including assistant coaches Parker Fleming and Adrian Mayes were graduate assistant coaches for the Buckeyes, and director of operations John Streicher was a member of the equipment staff before becoming a student assistant coach.
In addition, Texas State’s director of player personnel, Mike George, was on the football staff for the Ohio Bobcats for six years.
“It will be neat to go back to the state of Ohio,” Withers said. “It was a neat time for me when I was there with coach Urban Myer. It will be fun to go back.”
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.