Coaches and players from all seven football programs from the Brentwood-based Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) gathered at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs on Tuesday for the official kickoff and media day for the 2022 season.
Tennessee State was voted fourth with 46 total points, including one first-place vote, in the preseason poll which featured ballots from the league's coaches and communication directors.
The Tigers finished fourth last season as well. In former Tennessee Titans and Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George's first season at the helm, TSU finished 5-6 overall with a 3-3 record in conference play.
TSU tied defending champions UT-Martin with a league-high eight players on the preseason all-conference team. On offense, the dynamic backfield of quarterback Draylen Ellis and running back Devon Starling both made the first team.
Ellis, a transfer from former OVC foe Austin Peay, was named the league's Co-Freshman of the Year in 2020 and earned second-team All-OVC and Sophomore All-American honors last season after passing for a league-best 2,626 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Ellis left Austin Peay, who is headed to the Atlantic Sun this season, to replace the graduated Geramy Hickbottom.
Starling, an Antioch native, was the other Co-Freshman of the Year alongside Ellis in 2020. Last year, the former Cane Ridge star was named to the second-team All-OVC and earned Sophomore All-American status following a season in which he compiled 1,112 total yards.
Starling transferred from Memphis after he redshirted his freshman season. At Cane Ridge, he was named the 2018 Class 6A Mr. Football as a senior thanks to a 2,159-yard, 25-touchdown season.
Wide receiver Zaire Thornton and offensive lineman Robert Lacey also made the preseason team on the offensive side of the ball. Thornton earned second-team honors in 2021 after catching 26 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns. Lacey was a first-team selection who played an integral part in TSU's robust rushing attack.
Three Tigers defenders were named to the preseason all-conference team. TSU players earned both defensive tackle slots with Teray Jones and Tadarrius Patterson, while linebacker James Green also made the team.
Jones was a second-team all-conference selection in 2021, notching 28 tackles and three sacks. Patterson compiled 30 tackles and a team-best 5.5 sacks.
Green was a first-team all-conference performer last season. The redshirt senior led the team with 77 tackles and added one sack, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
On special teams, Dayron Johnson followed his first-team all-conference season with a spot on the preseason all-conference team as a return man. In 2021, he totaled nearly 500 return yards and ran back a kick 90 yards against SEMO. The Springfield, Tenn. native also added 311 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver.
Finally, Ohio State transfer K'Vaughn Pope was one of seven players named a newcomer to watch. Pope, a linebacker, suited up in 33 games for Ohio State, tallying 19 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, five passes defensed, and two interceptions before being dismissed from the team three games into the 2021 campaign.
Defending champions UT-Martin were picked first in the preseason poll with 70 total points and 10 first-place votes. Although the Skyhawks lost OVC Offensive Player of the Keon Wallace at quarterback, they return preseason Defensive Player of the Year John H. Ford II, a graduate senior linebacker.
Southeast Missouri and preseason Offensive Player of the Year running back Geno Hess took second with 59 points and three first-place votes, while Murray State placed third with 51 points heading into their final OVC season.
Tennessee Tech placed fifth with 29 points. The Golden Eagles will be led by former Austin Peay quarterback and Brentwood Academy star Jeremiah Oatsvall. Oatsvall, who led the Eagles to a pair of state titles, spent last season at Memphis after four with the Governors. In 2017, he was named the OVC Freshman of the Year.
Eastern Illinois (20 points) and new member Lindenwood (19 points) brought up the rear in sixth and seventh place, respectively.
You can watch the full media day, including interviews with the coaches and players on hand, on ESPN+.