The Skyhawks find themselves sitting in the middle of the OVC preseason poll. And that’s a pretty good sport since there are some question marks surrounding UT as the start of fall camp looms on the horizon.
A snake-bitten team a year ago, the Skyhawks competed deep into virtually each of their games and finished with a 3-4 record during the spring season.
What is telling is that three of those four setbacks came by a combined 11 points proving that coach Jason Simpson’s team has some playmakers up and down the roster.
“We’ve got a talented team,” the dean of OVC coaches said. “But every other team (in the OVC) is also talented.”
That may be true.
But other than preseason favorite Murray State, perhaps no other team returns as many starters as does UTM, which welcomes back nine starters on each side of the ball.
Headlining that list of talented Skyhawks are a pair of pass catchers who were both named to the preseason all-OVC squad.
Tight end Rodney Williams II (6-4, 235, graduate) and Colton Dowell (6-3, 215, RS-Jr.), a wide receiver, provide Simpson’s squad two of the most talented players in the league.
Williams began his college career as a wide receiver before switching to tight end where he earned All-American honors last season.
“I think we underachieved last season,” Williams said. “We are excited about returning such a talented group of guys who can catch the ball. There are no egos in the group … we all want to see all of us succeed.”
Matthan Hatchie (6-2, 310, Jr.) is expected to anchor the offensive front for the Skyhawks, who open the season Sept. 2 at Western Kentucky. Tech will play Samford at home the following weekend before back-to-back road games at Northwestern State (Sept. 18) and Jacksonville State (Sept. 25). The Gamecocks handed UTM its most lopsided loss last season in a 17-point victory over the Skyhawks.
Keon Howard (6-1, 215, graduate) has transferred from Tulane and will be pushed for the No. 1 spot at quarterback when fall camp opens.
Dresser Winn (6-3, 215, RS-Jr.), Stewart Howell (6-1, 200, RS-Fr.) and Trey Fisher (5-11, 180, Fr.) are also expected to be given every opportunity to earn the position before tangling with the Hilltoppers.
The Skyhawks’ defense was represented on the preseason squad by cornerback Jay Woods (5-9, 185, graduate) and Deven Sims (6-2, 200, RS-Jr.) and Simpson will take that experience but cautions opposing offenses.
“Having two great players in the secondary is certainly nice,” he said, “but with the added depth we have put together we should be even more salty.”
Whoever responsible for drawing up the OVC schedule for the 2021 did not do UT Martin any favors as the Skyhawks play each of the three teams ranked ahead of them within the first four weeks of the season.
Good thing all three of those games will be played at home.
The Skyhawks open conference play Oct. 9 against preseason favorite Murray State in a Homecoming game in Martin. After taking to the road to tangle with Eastern Illinois the Skyhawks return home to play SE Missouri and Austin Peay on back-to-back weekends.
Worst Case: If UTM cannot garner a win in at least one of those three games the season could take on the look of a season that will never end.
Best Case: There appears to be plenty of optimism in and around the Martin program as the new season prepares to get underway. If the Skyhawks can win two of those games against any of the team ahead of them in the preseason poll the OVC race is going to very, very interesting down the stretch.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.