For a coach whose program was coming off its best season in 17 years and who had just learned he had been honored by his peers for having the most improved team in the Lone Star Conference this fall, East Central’s Tim McCarty wasn’t in a particularly good mood after the all-LSC North Division awards were released earlier this week.
“We didn’t get enough guys on it,” McCarty said after being informed that he had been named North Coach of the Year and the Tigers — coming off a 5-6 season that included the school’s first-ever North title in its final season in the LSC — had placed nine players on the first or second teams.
“To me, (Coach of the Year) is an award for my team and my coaches,” McCarty said. “Without those guys, I don’t win that award. I think that’s the ultimate team award.
“My name is on it, but it was the East Central football team that won that award,” he added. “It should say ‘Team of the Year’, not ‘Coach of the Year’. I appreciate the award from my colleagues, but I see it as a team award.”
Although ECU’s list of All-Conference players this year was a much longer one than in 2009 (when only two players were named to the first or second team following an 0-11 season), the Tigers lagged far behind Eastern New Mexico (which had 11 first-team selections and 16 first or second-team picks after finishing third in the North standings) and also trailed North co-champion Northeastern (11 first or second-teamers) and even cellar-dwelling UCO (which landed 12 players on the first or second teams despite finishing 1-5 in North play).
Sophomore defensive end Armonty Bryant — the LSC leader in sacks in his first year at ECU — was named Defensive Lineman of the Year, and another newcomer, junior tackle Carlos Savala, was honored as Offensive Lineman of the Year. In an oddity, though, Savala wasn’t named to the first-team offense.
ECU’s defense was easily the best among the seven North teams in division play, surrendering an average of just 324 yards in its six intra-division contests, and the Tigers led the entire LSC in sacks (33), takeaways (28) and Interceptions (17) for the season. But other than Bryant, junior cornerback Dontae Smith — the league’s co-leader in interceptions with six (including two returned for touchdowns) — was ECU’s only first-team selection on either side of the ball.
“They were clearly the best players at their positions in the conference,” McCarty said of Bryant and Smith, who were the only defensive players in the North to earn Player of the Week at least twice during the season. “Their productivity, in my opinion, was unmatched. At Commerce (in a 36-33 victory in Week 10 that gave ECU a share of the North title), they didn’t throw a ball to Dontae’s side the whole game.
“Armonty had 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for losses (which ranked second in the LSC),” he added. “He and Dontae both scored two touchdowns and were Defensive Player of the Week twice. We feel we have a lot of good players, and I wouldn’t trade my players for anybody. The day is coming when a lot of our kids are going to win a lot of honors.”
Four Tigers — linebacker Travis Buchanan, nose tackle Tyler McGrew, linebacker Jameel Whitney and strong safety Norris Wrenn — were named to the second-team defense, and wideout Zack Patteson and running back Charles Opeseyitan earned second-team honors on offense.
Wrenn, a first-team all-North selection as a freshman last season, was ECU’s second leading tackler this fall and was named North Defensive Player of the Week after a 22-19 win over Eastern New Mexico in Week 7; Buchanan, ECU’s only senior starter on defense by season’s end, finished behind only Bryant on the team in sacks with 4.5 and had eight tackles-for-loss among his 32 stops this season; Whitney finished with 34 tackles, including 5.5 for losses and two sacks, as a freshman; and McGrew was the centerpiece in a defense line that helped the Tigers surrender an average of less than 104 yards per game rushing in North play.
Savala — the only Player of the Year at any position in the North or South who didn’t also earn first-team honors — was one of three new starters on an offensive line that improved steadily the during the season. A 6-6, 320-pound left tackle, he was a major reason new ECU quarterback Tyler Vanderzee was able to throw for almost 2,500 yards this fall.
“That’s a terrific honor for Carlos,” McCarty said. “He graded extremely well all year. We felt he dominated his man week in and week out. Carlos being Offensive Lineman of the Year in the conference says a lot about our linemen and the kind of players we have on this team.”
Although ECU’s rushing attack was easily last in the LSC this season (averaging less than 76 yards per game), Opeseyitan — a transfer from the University of Tulsa — was the leader of a second-half surge by the Tigers on the ground. He had three 100-yard games in North play (and gained 97 yards in a 48-21 blowout of Northeastern in Week 9) and finished with 427 yards and three of ECU’s league-low seven rushing touchdowns on 109 carries.
Patteson, an all-conference selection in 2009 as a sophomore, caught a team-high 50 passes this season for 809 yards and three touchdowns. He ranked second among North receivers in yardage and first in yards-per-catch at 16.2.
In addition to Savala and the nine first or second-teamers, 11 other Tigers received at least one first or second-team vote from the North coaches and earned honorable mention.
Vanderzee, freshman tight end Cody Nall and offensive linemen Desmond Ferris, Jon Ramos and Chad Roark were honorable mention on offense, while safety Markell Walker, defensive tackle Lonnell Rice, linebacker Kerell James, linebacker Aerius Ervin and cornerback Austin Daniels earned honorable mention on defense. Walker, ECU’s leader in tackles as a freshman this fall and fourth in the LSC in punt returns, also received honorable mention for his special teams play, as did first-year kicker Matt Berrey, whose 37-yard field goal with one second left sealed the Week 10 victory at Commerce.
“The bottom line is that as a team, we won the conference, and that’s more important than anything else,” McCarty said. “I feel bad for our kids as far as some of the individual awards go but moving forward on the flip side we had an awful lot of kids get mentioned.
“Our players might have lost out a little bit because they are younger (ECU had just one senior starter on each side of the ball in Saturday’s season finale at West Texas A&M),” he added, “and most of the kids picked to the first teams were juniors and seniors.”