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David Boyce | | September 2, 2016

DII football notebook: No. 2 West Georgia excited for home opener

  Senior cornerback Marcus Sayles (19) recorded seven blocked kicks last year.

Earlier in the week, students at West Georgia gathered for an assembly to learn some chants in preparation for the Wolves’ season-opening football game against Catawba.

Pop onto the West Georgia athletic website and you will see #10KStrong in bold blue and red colors.

“The whole school is supporting us,” said West Georgia cornerback Marcus Sayles. “We are trying to get 10,000 fans to come to the game. I feel like we will get there. I think we are going to have a good environment for our first game to start the season.”

The reason for the excitement for the 2 p.m. (ET) kickoff Saturday at University Stadium in Carrollton, Ga., is the fantastic season the Wolves are coming off. West Georgia finished 12-2 in 2015 and for the second year in row, reached the NCAA Division II semifinals before falling to the eventual national champions.

“I am really excited,” Sayles said. “We have a lot of hype just from last season, finishing in the semifinals. Even though we didn’t get the goal we were after, there is still a lot of tightness around us. The community is supporting us. I think the team is ready to get the new season going.”

RELATED: NWMSU looks for repeat, West Georgia in hunt

Like last season, West Georgia needs to be ready for its first game because it is playing a high-quality opponent. A year ago, the Wolves opened at Catawba and won. Catawba went on to reach the NCAA Division II playoffs and finish 9-3.

Expectations are again high at Catawba. The Indians enter this season ranked No. 22 in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) top 25.

“It is always good to open up against a top 25 team,” Sayles said. “It kind of pushes us forward and gets us ready for conference games. They are a good team. We are fortunate enough to play them the first game.”

2015 season Catawba West Georgia
Record 9-3 12-2
Points scored 21.2 36.7
Points allowed 15.8 16.3
Rushing offense 205.5 220.2
Rushing defense 176.7 102.7
Passing offense 135.8 202.1
Passing defense 151.2 145.2

Coming into this season, West Georgia is expected to once again challenge for a national championship. The Wolves are ranked second in the AFCA behind Northwest Missouri State.

Sayles is one reason why West Georgia should field a top 10 team. He brings in three years of experience, seeing action in every game since his redshirt freshman season.

Last year, Sayles was one of the best players in the nation blocking kicks. He recorded an incredible seven blocks. Sayles said he was a little surprised that he blocked so many kicks.

“But at the same time, coach (Matt) O’Brien does a great job making up new schemes,” Sayles said. “I have a knack for it. I go into every game thinking I can block at least one. It can add an extra aspect to the game to help us win.”

Sayles and all the returning players want to put the Wolves in position they were in the last two years and then advance to the championship game. In last year’s semifinals, West Georgia trailed 24-6 at halftime and closed to 24-23 with 10 minutes left before falling 38-23.

“In that game, we probably got too caught up in the moment,” Sayles said. “Right now, what we are doing in camp, we are focusing on our team camaraderie and trying to figure out how to put all our pieces together as one so we can come together in the first game. Hopefully, that will carry on down the road.”

One thing Sayles is certain about the upcoming season is he will enjoy playing for the Wolves. It has been a great ride for him so far.

“It is everything, the community, coaches, the players,” Sayles said. “I have had a good time being up here the last four years. I am excited this is my last year, but it is kind of bittersweet because it is my last year and I am not going to be around all these guys who I have become great friends with. I can actually call them my brothers.”

Tuskegee plays at Clark Atlanta in ASN Division II game of the week

Tuskegee enters its first football game of the 2016 season coming off a deep run last season in the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Golden Tigers won playoff games at Catawba and North Alabama before losing at West Georgia in the quarterfinals.

It only seems fitting that Tuskegee begins this season on the road, facing Clark Atlanta University 7 p.m. (ET) Saturday at CAU Panther Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. The game will be televised on American Sports Network.

“I don’t think they know anything about that,” Tuskegee head coach Willie Slater said about his players playing on television.

Slater is more concerned with how his team will play in the first game of the season.

“It is hard to be excited right now because you get nervous this time of the year,” Slater said. “I get nervous about practice a lot more than I do about a game. That is my problem. I am not sure we are ready. Overall, our kids have been working hard. I would like to be a little further along than what we are now. I do see some potential. Hopefully, we can come together.”

There are many reasons for Tuskegee fans to be excited about their football team. The Golden Tigers went 10-3 last season and 9-3 in 2014.

From last year’s team, Tuskegee returns four linemen on defense, a couple of linebackers and a couple of defensive backs.

“Offensively, we lost three offensive linemen,” Slater said. “We have a left tackle who played two years ago who is back.”

Slater takes a down-to-earth approach when it comes to describing his team and accomplishments.

“We were fortunate to win,” Slater said of last year’s playoff wins. “We had some good breaks in that game. Our kids saw they can play at that level. I thought they did the year before.”

And now the Golden Tigers are ready to start the season against a team they know well. This will be the 75th time Tuskegee and Clark Atlanta face each other. Tuskegee leads the series 55-15-4.

DII football Sunday: A new Power 10, Harlon Hill watchlist, and what you may have missed in Week 1

Ferris State opened with a win to maintain the top spot, but there was certainly a shakeup in the latest DII football Power 10 rankings. Take a look, plus more than 20 players to watch for the 2022 Harlon Hill Trophy.

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