Six Named All-SoCon, Catamounts Picked Fifth in Preseason
By Daniel Hooker
Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
Paced by a pair of first-team preseason All-Southern Conference selections in redshirt junior offensive lineman Tyler Smith and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Raphael Williams, Western Carolina had six representatives on the 2022 Preseason All-Southern Conference team announced today as the league converged at the Omni Grove Park Inn for the 2022 Football Kickoff and Media Day.
In addition to the first-team selections in Smith and Williams, WCU also put four student-athletes on the SoCon’s preseason all-league second team including senior running back T.J. Jones on offense, safety Andreas Keaton on the preseason defensive squad, and a pair in special teams including redshirt junior placekicker Richard McCollum and return specialist Calvin Jones.
Western Carolina was picked fifth in both official 2022 preseason polls from the league’s head coaches and the SoCon Sports Media Association (SCSMA) also released as a part of Thursday’s festivities. Riding a strong second half of the 2021 season, the Catamounts finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in the SoCon a season ago, defeating the two other teams in the gridlock in the head-to-head matchups.
Tyler Smith earned preseason all-conference honors for the second-consecutive season, tallying a second-team nod as WCU’s lone representative on the squad ahead of the 2021 season. The Laurinburg, N.C., native was one of just two Catamount linemen to start all 11 games a year ago and collected second-team All-SoCon postseason plaudits from the Phil Steele publication. With 37 career games played, Smith enters the 2022 season having made 32 consecutive starts along WCU’s offensive line over the past three years.
A first-team All-SoCon selection and two-time Freshman All-America selection in 2021, Raphael Williams adds the preseason first-team honor to his ever-growing resume. The redshirt sophomore from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Williams led the Catamounts with 73 catches for 959 yards last season, finding the endzone nine times, ninth in the league by registering an average of 4.9 points per game. He paced the SoCon with both a 6.6 reception per game and 87.2 receiving yards per game average.
Williams, who posted five, 100-yard receiving games and double-digit receptions three times including a school-record 16 at Wofford, was additionally named preseason All-SoCon by The Bluebloods online publication.
T.J. Jones was one of four league running backs honored between the first and second teams on Thursday. The second year, Lakeland, Fla., product led the Catamounts in rushes (125), rushing yards (589), and rushing touchdowns (9) last fall. Jones averaged 53.5 yards per game on the ground, adding 306 receiving yards to finish the year with 895 all-purpose yards or 81.4 yards per game. Jones was second on the WCU squad in scoring with 72 total points coming on a team-best 12 touchdowns – nine rushing and three receiving out of the backfield – which put him tied for fourth in the SoCon in 2021.
Dubbed the SoCon Freshman of the Year and an All-Freshman team selection last season by the league’s head coaches, sophomore DB Andreas Keaton collected second-team preseason All-SoCon honors. The Powder Springs, Ga., native finished sixth on the WCU squad with 45 tackles including 29 solo stops, and was tied for sixth in the SoCon with a WCU-leading three interceptions. Keaton was a finalist for the 2021 Stats Perform FCS Jerry Rice Award given to the nation’s top freshman, finishing tied for 17th in the national vote.
Richard McCollum led the Catamounts with 78 points last season, ranking seventh in the SoCon at 7.8 points per game. He finished the year as the NCAA FCS field goal percentage leader as the only kicker to remain perfect on the season, going 12-for-12 on field goal attempts. The Sanford, N.C., product was also perfect on PATs last fall, splitting the uprights on all 42 attempts. McCollum was the SoCon’s Special Teams Player of the Week after scoring 11 points in the road win at Wofford in late October.
Rounding out WCU’s six preseason honorees was sophomore Calvin Jones, selected as the second team return specialist. The Forest City, N.C., native led the SoCon in kickoff return average with a 31.1 yards per return average – the second-best overall average in the NCAA FCS, trailing just Isaiah Bolden of Jackson State (16-for-591, 36.9 avg). Jones, who was dubbed a Freshman All-American by HERO Sports and twice honored by Phil Steele as a first-team All-America kick returner and a third-team wide receiver selection, also ranked seventh in the conference with a 57.9 receiving yards per game average in 2021.
All nine SoCon teams were represented on the preseason all-conference teams with each team logging at least three representatives between the first and second teams including all having at least one first-team honoree.
ETSU senior running back Jacob Saylors was twice a first-team selection at running back and return specialist in garnering preseason Offensive Player of the Year honor selected by the coaches, while Chattanooga senior defensive lineman Devonnsha Maxwell collected Defensive Player of the Year accolades.
Chattanooga was the unanimous preseason favorite, sitting atop both the coach’s poll and the media tabulation. The Mocs garnered five of the nine first-place votes levied by the coaches while earning 18 of the 30 top votes in the media polling. Reigning regular-season champion ETSU was picked second in both polls, just ahead of Mercer in the coach poll and tied with the Bears in the media vote. Chromatic rivals Furman and WCU were tabbed fourth and fifth, respectively, as the two polls mirrored one another in the middle of the conference pack.
The bottom four in the preseason poll consisted of the same four teams, although in differing ranking orders. Samford was picked sixth in the coach’s poll and seventh in the media voting, while VMI was seventh by the coaches and sixth by the media. Palmetto State rivals The Citadel and Wofford swapped the eighth and ninth positions in the coaches and media tabulations.
Recorded during Thursday’s afternoon session, the 2022 SoCon Football Preview includes interviews with all nine of the league’s head coaches and will be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) and through the WatchESPN app on Friday, July 29 beginning at 10:00 a.m.
Season tickets and game day parking for Western Carolina's 2022 home schedule are on sale now through the Catamount Athletics ticket office, located on the first floor of the Ramsey Center, by phone at (828) 227-2401, or online at CatamountSports.com/BuyTickets. Single-game tickets for each of WCU’s five home dates will go on sale on Wednesday, August 3.
Keep track of everything related to Catamount football and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (FB.com/CatamountSports), Twitter (@Catamounts, @CatamountsFB), and Instagram (wcu_catamounts).
2022 Preseason Southern Conference Coaches Poll Team (1st-place votes) Total 1. Chattanooga (5) 60 2. ETSU (2) 54 3. Mercer (1) 53 4. Furman (1) 43 5. Western Carolina 38 6. Samford 26 7. VMI 23 8. The Citadel 14 9. Wofford 13
2022 Preseason All-Southern Conference Football Teams
Offensive Player of the Year: Jacob Saylors, Sr., RB, ETSU
Defensive Player of the Year: Devonnsha Maxwell, Sr., DL, Chattanooga
First team offense
QB Tyler Riddell, R-So., ETSU
RB Jacob Saylors, Sr., ETSU
RB Ailym Ford, Jr., Chattanooga
OL Tavon Matthews, Jr., ETSU
OL Anderson Tomlin, R-Sr., Furman
OL Pearson Toomey, R-Jr., Furman
OL John Thomas, Jr., Mercer
OL McClendon Curtis, Sr., Chattanooga
OL Tyler Smith, R-Jr., Western Carolina
TE Ryan Miller, 5th, Furman
WR Will Huzzie, R-Jr., ETSU
WR Raphael Williams, R-So., Western Carolina
First team defense
DL Jalen Porter, R-Jr., ETSU
DL Devonnsha Maxwell, Sr., Chattanooga
DL Jay Person, Jr., Chattanooga
DL Micheal Mason, Sr., DL, Wofford
LB Nathan East, Gr., Samford
LB Ty Boeck, Sr., Chattanooga
LB Stone Snyder, Sr., VMI
DB Destin Mack, Sr., The Citadel
DB Mike Price, R-Jr., ETSU
DB Travis Blackshear, R-Sr., Furman
DB Lance Wise, Jr., Mercer
First team specialists
PK Tyler Keltner, Jr., ETSU
PK Jerry Rice, R-Jr., VMI
P Jack Culbreath, Jr., VMI
LS Robert Soderholm, R-Sr., VMI
RS Jacob Saylors, Sr., ETSU
Second team offense
QB Seth Morgan, R-Jr., VMI
RB Dominic Roberto, R-Jr., Furman
RB TJ Jones, Sr., Western Carolina
OL Tereis Drayton, Jr., The Citadel
OL Fred Norman, R-So., ETSU
OL Joe Schreiber, R-Jr., ETSU
OL Gavin Orr, Gr., Samford
OL Colin Truett, Jr., Chattanooga
OL Jarvis Chandler, R-Jr., VMI
OL Al Hogan, 5th, Wofford
TE Aidan Twombly, Jr., VMI
WR Ty James, R-So., Mercer
WR Leroy Thomas, Sr., VMI
Second team defense
DL Carson Hatchett, Jr., The Citadel
DL Cameron Coleman, R-Sr., Furman
DL Solomon Zubairu, Jr., Mercer
DL Eric Weaver, R-Sr., VMI
LB Marquise Blount, Sr., The Citadel
LB Isaac Dowling, So., Mercer
LB Kam Jones, Sr., Chattanooga
DB Alijah Huzzie, R-So., ETSU
DB CaMiron Smith, Sr., Chattanooga
DB Aljareek Malry, Sr., VMI
DB Andreas Keaton, So., Western Carolina
Second team specialists
PK Richard McCollum, Jr., Western Carolina
P Trey Turk, So., Mercer
P Bradley Porcellato, Gr., Samford
LS Colin Springer, 5th, Wofford
RS Calvin Jones, So., Western Carolina
NOTE: Coaches were not permitted to vote for their own players or team.
2022 Preseason Southern Conference Media Poll Team (1st-place votes) Total 1. Chattanooga (18) 256 t2. ETSU (7) 226 t2. Mercer (5) 226 4. Furman 175 5. Western Carolina 125
6. VMI 119 7. Samford 106 8. Wofford 60 9. The Citadel 57