Grass: OVC power Jacksonville State is ‘blue collar’

Jacksonville State head coach John Grass congratulates wide receiver Josh Barge (12) after he scored a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

(STATS) – Take quarterback Eli Jenkins, the three-time Ohio Valley Conference offensive player of the year, out of the mix and it might seem Jacksonville State’s championship program is lacking an identity this spring.

Not so, says fourth-year coach John Grass, who believes the Gamecocks are rounding into a blue-collar team.

“You love to come to work with them,” said Grass, whose team has been focused on fundamentals.

The Gamecocks, who have gone undefeated in the OVC for three straight seasons, will conclude spring practice Thursday night with their annual J-Day spring game at Burgess-Snow Field.

“We’ve seen a lot of bright spots,” Grass said, “and a lot of guys that have stepped up and said, ‘Hey, I’m ready to play some snaps,’ which is a good thing to see.”

Quarterbacks Bryant Horn, a junior who was No. 2 on the depth last year, and senior Kendrick Doss seek to replace Jenkins, the 3 1/2-year starter who ignited the Gamecocks’ explosive offense. Standout running back Roc Thomas figures to be even more featured this season, but there’s a margin for error for the offense as the defense returns eight starters, including the conference’s defensive player of the year (defensive end Darius Jackson) and freshman of the year (free safety Marlon Bridges).

Still, Jacksonville State feels there is something to prove after having a disappointing end to last season. The Gamecocks lost to eventual FCS runner-up Youngstown State in the second round of the playoffs just one season after they reached the national final. Jacksonville State finished with a 10-2 record.