The Tyler Riddell era begins Saturday for the East Tennessee State football team. It will be up to him how long it lasts.
Riddell has been anointed the Bucs’ starter thanks to being more consistent than his competitors throughout fall practice and winter workouts.
On Saturday, Riddell and the Bucs will return to the football field for the first time since November 2019 when Samford invades Greene Stadium for the first game in what surely will be a unique season.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
The game begins an eight-game “spring” season in which the Bucs will play only Southern Conference opponents. They get the following Saturday off as a bye week before returning to action on March 6 and playing for the next seven Saturdays.
Riddell, who saw limited playing time as a freshman in 2019, won a close battle with junior-college transfer Brock Landis and Miami transfer Cade Weldon, who missed the 2019 season with a broken collarbone.
ETSU coach Randy Sanders, who doesn’t like to use more than one quarterback if he can help it, says the others might get some playing time Saturday just to get their feet wet.
“Just because a guy starts one game doesn’t mean he is the starting quarterback for the whole year,” Sanders said. “He’s going to have to continue to play well. I don’t want him playing scared. I don’t want to him looking over his shoulder, but at the same time, they need to play well for us. One game doesn’t guarantee you anything else. I will say that.”
The success of this team might come down to how quickly it learns how to win. That’s something the last ETSU team back in 2019 never did while finishing 1-7 in the SoCon.
That season came just a year after the Bucs won a share of the conference championship, going 6-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
ETSU should have a strong ground game based on the amount of talent in the backfield.
Quay Holmes is coming off a 1,143-yard season and ran for seven touchdowns. That was the fourth-best season by an ETSU running back in school history.
The last time Holmes played at Greene Stadium, he had a game for the ages, rushing for a school-record 255 yards and three TDs against Mercer.
Jacob Saylors gives the Bucs a strong one-two punch, and some newcomers have impressed during preseason camp.
The effectiveness of the backs will hinge on the offensive line, which is anchored by all-conference tackle Tre’mond Shorts.
The ETSU secondary is very experienced with senior cornerback Karon Delince being one of the fastest players in the conference — he was a SoCon indoor track sprint champ — and senior safety Tyree Robinson turning into a productive player. Redshirt freshman Alijah Huzzie has been praised for his work in the preseason as well.
A linebacking corps with seniors Blake Bockrath and Jared Folks should be a focal point as well.
The receiving corps is deep and talented with redshirt sophomore Will Huzzie set to star. Junior Nate Adkins is one of the top tight ends in the league.
The Bulldogs return two players who started at quarterback last season.
Chris Oladokun (eight starts) and Liam Welch (four starts) are both dual-threat quarterbacks who can make the Samford offense dangerous.
Montrell Washington was an All-American kick returner in 2019. Samford coach Chris Hatcher says getting the ball to Washington, as a running back or wide receiver, will be a priority.
Defensive tackle Armond Lloyd and kicker Mitchell Fineran are also among the SoCon’s best at their positions.
The Bulldogs were 5-7 overall, 4-4 in the SoCon, in 2019.
Samford leads the all-time series with ETSU, 6-1.
“Samford always has a talented team on both sides of the ball,” Sanders said. “Defensively, they have one of the more physical fronts and they are one of the few teams that base out of a 4-3 defense. They will be well-coached and they will play very hard. It is a game that we haven’t been able to come out on top these last two years, so we need to find a way to get it done.”
ETSU has announced that only 30% of Greene Stadium’s capacity of 7,400 will be allowed to attend the game. The only fans in the stands will be season-ticket holders and players’ families. Tickets won’t be sold at the stadium.