NEW ORLEANS – App State amassed a league-high seven first-team selections, including preseason offensive player of the year Zac Thomas, as the Mountaineers were picked to win both division and conference titles in the preseason All-Sun Belt football honors announced Tuesday by the league.
Preseason all-conference awards were voted upon by the Sun Belt's 10 football head coaches and selected media representatives.
App State, which claimed a fourth straight Sun Belt title in 2019 and has won each of the first two Sun Belt Championship Games, was named the overall favorite for the league after the Mountaineers received nine of 10 first-place votes in the East Division. Louisiana registered seven first place-votes in the West Division.
App State's 10 selections on the two All-Sun Belt teams tied for the league lead, and it accounted for nearly one-third of the 22 spots reserved for first-team offensive and defensive players.
The first-team selections were Thomas (QB), Corey Sutton (WR), Noah Hannon (OL), Baer Hunter (OL), Cooper Hodges (OL), Demetrius Taylor (DL) and Shaun Jolly (DB). Thomas Hennigan (WR), Ryan Neuzil (OL) and Shemar Jean-Charles (DB) are part of the second team.
The Mountaineers return 13 of their primary 22 starters on offense and defense from their 13-win team in 2019. There are 12 returning offensive players and 13 returning defensive players who started at least one game in 2019, plus four scholarship players who spent time at running back last season and combined for 1,217 rushing yards while averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
Under the direction of first-year head coach Shawn Clark, App State is scheduled to open the 2020 season at home against Charlotte on Sept. 12.
The Mountaineers return 13 of their primary 22 starters on offense and defense from their 13-1 team in 2019. There are 12 returning offensive players and 13 returning defensive players who started at least one game in 2019, plus four scholarship players who spent time at running back last season and combined for 1,217 rushing yards while averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
Thomas, the Sun Belt's offensive player of the year in 2018 and PFF College's first-team All-Sun Belt quarterback in 2019, accounted for 35 touchdowns (28 passing) and 3,158 total yards (2,718 passing) last season. Hannon, Hunter, Neuzil and Hodges are returning starters for an offensive line that helped App State rank in the top 20 nationally in both rushing yards per game and fewest sacks allowed, while Sutton and Hennigan are tied for fifth and seventh, respectively, on the school's career touchdown receptions list.
Defensively, Taylor and Jolly are both candidates for a pair of national defensive player of the year awards, while Jean-Charles joins Jolly in forming one of the nation's top cornerback tandems. With a combined three touchdowns from Taylor and Jolly in 2019, App State tied for the FBS lead by scoring six times on defense.
The 2019 defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in touchdowns scored, third-down conversion percentage, turnovers forced, interceptions, sacks, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, tackles for loss yardage, yards allowed per play, total defense, rushing TDs allowed, fumble recoveries, rushing defense and TDs allowed.
2020 Sun Belt Football Coaches Predicted Championship Game Winner
2020 Sun Belt Football Coaches Predicted Order of Finish
First-place votes in parentheses
1. App State (9) - 49 pts
2. Georgia Southern - 36 pts
3. Troy (1) - 32 pts
4. Georgia State - 20 pts
5. Coastal Carolina - 13 pts
1. Louisiana (7) - 47 pts
2. Arkansas State (2) - 40 pts
3. South Alabama (1) - 22 pts
4. Texas State - 21 pts
5. ULM - 20 pts
2020 Sun Belt Conference Preseason Football Teams
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Zac Thomas, (App State, Senior)
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Carlton Martial (Troy, Junior)
First Team Offense
QB - Zac Thomas, App State
RB - Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana
RB - Josh Johnson, ULM
OL - Noah Hannon, App State
OL - Baer Hunter, App State
OL - Cooper Hodges, App State
OL - Jarrett Horst, Arkansas State
OL - Shamarious Gilmore, Georgia State
TE – Josh Pederson, ULM
WR – Corey Sutton, App State
WR – Jonathan Adams, Arkansas State
WR – Kaylon Geiger, Troy
First Team Defense
DL – Demetrius Taylor, App State
DL – Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina
DL – Raymond Johnson III, Georgia Southern
DL – Will Choloh, Troy
LB – Rashad Byrd, Georgia Southern
LB – Joe Dillon, Louisiana
LB – Carlton Martial, Troy
DB – Shaun Jolly, App State
DB – Kenderick Duncan Jr, Georgia Southern
DB – Corey Straughter, ULM
DB – Dell Pettus, Troy
First Team Special Teams
K – Blake Grupe, Arkansas State
P – Rhys Byrns, Louisiana
RS - Wesley Kennedy III, Georgia Southern
Second Team Offense
QB - Levi Lewis, Louisiana
RB - Trey Ragas, Louisiana
RB - CJ Marable, Coastal Carolina
OL - Ryan Neuzil, App State
OL - Jacob Still, Arkansas State
OL - Max Mitchell, Louisiana
OL - O'Cyrus Torrence, Louisiana
OL - TJ Fiailoa, ULM
TE – Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
WR – Thomas Hennigan, App State
WR – Cornelius McCoy, Georgia State
WR – Reggie Todd, Troy
Second Team Defense
DL – Forrest Merrill, Arkansas State
DL – C.J. Brewer, Coastal Carolina
DL – Dontae Wilson, Georgia State
DL – Zi'Yon Hill, Louisiana
LB – Teddy Gallagher, Coastal Carolina
LB – Trajan Stephens-McQueen, Georgia State
LB – Riley Cole, South Alabama
DB – Shemar Jean-Charles, App State
DB – Antonio Fletcher, Arkansas State
DB – Quavian White, Georgia State
DB – Eric Garror, Louisiana
Second Team Special Teams
K – Massimo Biscardi, Coastal Carolina
P – Anthony Beck II, Georgia Southern
RS - Eric Garror, Louisiana
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