MIAMI — Returning to Red Robertson Field at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16, the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Golden Norsemen entertain the Tyler Junior College Apaches in a Southwest Junior College Football Conference clash.
The second-oldest junior college Red River rivalry — Kilgore College began in 1951 — NEO and TJC began their series in 1954. Overall, coach Danny Palmer’s Apaches hold a 26-23-1 edge.
Last year at Earl Campbell Field in Christ Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium, the Golden Norsemen proved to be their own worst enemy during a 65-14 loss to the Apaches.
Tyler took advantage of four interceptions and seven quarterback sacks to construct a 45-0 cushion through the first two quarters. Although NEO’s offense finished with 353 total yards, the Apaches amassed 695 yards in total offense.
During his 10th season as head coach, Palmer directed Tyler to a third place finish in the conference with a 4-3 record. The Apaches suffered a 58-51 loss to their close neighbor Kilgore College in the SWJCFC semifinals to finish 5-4 on the year.
Much like any other junior college in the country, the Apaches welcomed 67 returning rostered players, along with several redshirts and walk-ons, for the spring organized team activities.
More than 115 returnees and true freshmen showed up to participate in the month-long July OTAs.
Tyler led the nation in overall team offense. The Apaches averaged 636.9 total yards per game.
Freshman quarterback McLane Carter (6-3, 215 from Gilmer, Texas) led the nation in passing by completing 192 of 332 passes for 3,226 yards and 30 touchdowns with six interceptions. Carter signed with the Texas Tech Red Raiders last December.
Finding a replacement at quarterback will be a tall order for the Apaches.
After heir apparent Carter McCown (6-3, 195 from Jacksonville, Texas) suffered a career-ending knee injury in the spring, Palmer went out and signed former Texas Christian University redshirt signal caller Brennan Wooten (6-1, 188 from San Antonio, Texas).
Returning in the backfield is running back J.T. Smith (6-0, 185 from Klein Oak, Texas). Last year Smith rushed for 304 yards on 34 carries in nine games. While averaging 8.9 yards a touch, he scored two rushing touchdowns.
Another veteran returning at running back is Logan Fuller (5-9, 200 from Athens, Texas). As a freshman, Fuller rushed for 267 yards on 48 carries with three TDs.
Retooling at the receiver positions because of graduations, the Apaches have one experienced wide out returning.
Joseph Ward (5-11, 180 from Waco, Texas) ranked third on the team as a freshman with 32 receptions for 481 yards and four touchdowns.
Playing with a “bend but don’t break” approach on defense last season, Tyler allowed an average of 509.4 yards per game. Opponents averaged 38.1 points per game against the Apaches.
The loss of the team’s leading tacklers — safety Tyler Hayes transferred in February to the University of Massachusetts and defensive tackle Kullen “Pono” Davis is now at Southern Methodist University — means that the Apaches saw their top seven defenders leave at the end of the school year.
Strong safety DaQuaylyn Thomas (5-10, 200 from Arlington, Texas) recorded 42 unassisted tackles and four assists in nine games as a starter. He led the team with 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for minus-31 yards. Thomas also returned a fumble recovery 80 yards.
While the Apache secondary returns three starters, Palmer and his staff will look to true freshmen, redshirts and transfers to fill some key defensive front and linebacking positions during the July session.