HARDING UNIVERSITY: Bisons changing things up

But the Gulf South Conference contains some of the powers in Division II football, and the Bisons must get off to a good start, particularly in conference play.

They will close the regular season at home against perennial D-II power North Alabama.

The Bisons won two of their first three last year before running into a pair of top-10 nationally ranked teams in No. 9 Delta State and No. 3 North Alabama. But they rebounded from the losses with a pair of road wins, including a 21-7 upset of No. 20 Ouachita Baptist — the highlight of the season.  But Harding dropped its next two before celebrating homecoming with a 27-22 win over Henderson State. The Bisons closed out the season with a loss to Arkansas Tech, which advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs.

The Harding defense, traditionally strong, ranked 11th nationally in Division II with 33 turnovers forced. Senior defensive back Josh Jones was a consensus

All-America honoree and snagged eight interceptions, tied for fifth nationally in Division II. His three-interception performance against Southern Arkansas was an individual highlight.

Senior Zac Ross led Harding in both rushing and receiving yards, becoming only the fourth Harding player in history to do so. Quarterback Josh Powell (6-3, 220), who returns for his senior season, started eight games and passed for 1,735 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Senior Kurt Adams (6-4, 195) returns for the 2010 season after an injury-shortened junior year. He played in just two games before falling to a knee injury. He will be counted on as the team’s top wide receiver.

Senior defensive end Jermaine Blanchard (6-1, 220) is expected to be the team’s top defensive player. He moved from linebacker last season and earned honorable mention All-America honors.

The Bisons will shift from a primarily passing offense to a more balanced attack that will include a triple-option facet. With that move, there will be at least a three-man battle for the starting quarterback spot, but at press time, sophomore Chaz Rogers (6-1, 205) topped the depth chart. Other projected starters on that side of the football are junior Kale Gelles (5-11, 195) at running back; junior Jeremy Holt (5-9, 180) and senior Kyle Young (6-0, 225) at the slots; Adams at wide receiver; redshirt freshman Jeremiah Vivio (6-4, 250) at left tackle; junior Garrett Taylor (6-3, 300) at left guard; senior Chris Ross (6-2, 295) at center; sophomore L.J. Tarrant (6-0, 265) at right guard and sophomore Thomas McNutt (6-3, 250) at right tackle.

Defensively, Harding returns experience and speed on the line and in the linebacking corps. The team has focused on improving its speed, a key to stopping the wide-open offensive attacks in the GSC. Harding will be inexperienced in the secondary and will lean on senior cornerback Eddie Russ (6-0, 180) to anchor the backfield.

Other projected defensive starters are Blanchard and senior Marcus Jones (5-8, 220) at the ends; senior John Ikahihifo (6-0, 295) at nose guard; senior Andrew Jackson (5-11, 280) at tackle; sophomore Kennard Henderson (5-7, 200) and senior Jason Thomasson (5-11, 195) at linebackers; redshirt freshman Marquale Pierson (5-8, 185) at strong safety; senior Steve Hudson (6-0, 200) at free safety; sophomore Jasper Bodiford (5-8, 200) at rover and sophomore Dempsey Bonner (5-8, 170) at the other corner.

Harding strengths will be experience at the offensive skill positions, especially running back and wide receiver. Defensively, the team has more depth on the line and at linebacker than in recent seasons.

At least early, the Bisons are unsettled at the quarterback position. Defensively, they will have to replace Josh Jones in the secondary, and they are thin at cornerback.

5 Players to Watch:

Jermaine Blanchard (Sr. DE)
Kurt Adams (Sr. WR)
Kale Gelles (Jr. RB)
Jasper Bodiford (So. DB)
Caleb Simmons (Jr. OL)


Sept. 4    Southern Arkansas
Sept. 16    at West Georgia*
Sept. 25    at Ouachita Baptist*
Oct. 2    Lambuth
Oct. 9     West Alabama*
Oct. 16    at Delta State*
Oct. 23    at Henderson State*
Oct. 30     UA-Monticello*
Nov. 6     Arkansas Tech*
Nov. 13     North Alabama*
* Gulf South Conference game