LEBANON, Tenn.–The Cumberland football program opens up the 2023 campaign this Saturday as they play host to Union College. The high anticipation of football season is finally back with new hope and young core eager for a breakout season.
Prior to football season getting going, the administration has revamped Nokes-Lasater Stadium with a brand new jumbotron videoboard, a new pavilion for alumni and recruits to enjoy the game, and a brand new locker room for the players. The new look around the field helps create a high-energy gameday atmosphere for the Phoenix.
Head coach Tim Mathis enters his sixth season after a 3-7 year last season, but it is a new year as the Phoenix are looking toward a fresh slate and strong start to the season.
Cumberland returns a handful of key veteran players that will lead a young team this year highlighted by 2020 NAIA All-American Running Back Treylon Sheppard. The senior from Tallapoosa, Georgia enters his fifth season after totaling 2,378 yards in his career and 16 touchdowns. Sheppard will be the feature back in the offense that has always relied heavily on the run game.
The Phoenix return last season’s starting quarterback Luke Holloway. Holloway tossed for 1,800 yards, 12 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He also finished second on the team in rushing yards last season with 321 yards and four scores.
Joining Sheppard and Holloway in the backfield will be junior Nick Burge. Burge scampered for two touchdowns on 172 yards last season. In 2021, he rushed for 238 seeing action in all 20 games in his career.
The receiving corps will see a slew of new faces. Graduate Shaw Niblett will return after being injured last season in week two. Niblett is a big target with 19 career catches and will bolster the wide outs when he can make his return.
Isaac Finch, Kaleb Flowers, Will Spence, and Elijah Gaskin are each back and looking to be target on the outside for Holloway. Gaskin saw the most time out of that group last season making 24 catches for 295 yards and two scores.
Freshman targets that are expected to make an immediate impact are Nate Stephens and Conner Kemp. Stephens is a speedster from Elizabethton High School that won two state title in high school posting 45 career touchdowns. Kemp is a redshirt freshman out of Station Camp earning Second Team All-Region honors in 2021.
The offensive line will be held down by veterans Brody Hall, Preston Creswell and Will Sanchez. The Phoenix added Lindsey Wilson transfer and Lebanon local Mitch Bare who will join the group later in the year as he is coming off an injury. Redshirt freshman Logan Martin and sophomore Paxton Maness are expected to step in and fill some vacancies along the offensive front.
The defensive side of the ball returns a slew of experience while adding key transfers and impact freshmen that can help immediately.
The defensive line is highlighted by returners Josh Jones, Jeremiah Mathews, Soloman Maosa, and edge rusher Jalen Brown. Jones returns to clog up the middle after picking up 43 tackles in eight games his freshman season. Brown added 47 from the edge with 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
The defensive front adds Mississippi College transfer Dez Wallace to wreck havoc in the opposing backfield. Wallace was a key piece for the Division II school starting in nine games last year making 33 tackles, fifth-best on the team.
The linebackers will look different as Cumberland lost All-Conference performer Champ Leddon and Travis Woodall to graduation last season. Freshman Aaron Davis will look to be a big part of this defense for years to come. Davis was a four-time state champion out of Alcoa High School. He made 104 tackles last season in their championship run.
Boston Follis will also see more time at the position this year. Follis, a redshirt sophomore from South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, played in all 10 games last season making 28 tackles and two sacks.
The Cumberland defensive backs return last year starters Lennon Harris at corner and Trevor Griffin at safety. Harris played in nine games last season, starting in all nine, making 23 tackles with one interception. Griffin, a junior from Eagleville, has played in 16 career games making 55 career tackles. Last season, Griffin picked off four passes while breaking up more and was named Mid-South Conference Defensive Player of the Week one time.
The Phoenix also return the Burnley twins, Keenan and Kane Burnley, as defensive backs. Keenan appeared in nine games making nine tackles and breaking up one pass while Kane played in eight games last season as a freshman making 15 tackles and one deflection.
The defensive backs added transfers Xaylin McKinnie and Derek Taylor. McKinne transfers in from Morehead State and will assume starting corner back responsibilities while Taylor is transfer from the University of Tennessee and will start at safety. The two division I transfers will add some experience on the back end in helping shut down the opposing passing game.
Cumberland added a trio of new legs to the roster after Hunter Mathis, Matthew Pewitt, and Austin Nunley graduated last season. Jack Kantner will take over the place kicker duties, Kantner comes to Cumberland out of Blue Ridge, Georgia and was rated 4 ½ stars by Kohls Kicking. Nolan Gottlied, Smithville, Tennessee, will take over the punting responsibilities. Gottlied was Region 4-4A Most Outstanding Punter last season at DeKalb County High School. The Phoenix also added Christian Carter from White House, Tennessee. Carter was rated 3 ½ stars by Kohls Kicking.
Cumberland and the young group of Phoenix will get going in the home opener this Saturday. The Phoenix will open up conference play on September 30 against Campbellsville at home.
Homecoming will be held on October 7 against the University of the Cumberlands.