Over the next two weeks prior to the kickoff of the 2019 football season, CatamountSports.com feature position-by-position previews of the 2019 Western Carolina football team. Each feature will contain the positional write-ups from the 2019 WCU Football Media Guide with video highlights from preseason fall camp.
Both season and single-game tickets for 2019 are on sale now through the Catamount Athletics Ticket Office, located on the first floor of the Ramsey Center, by phone at (800) 34-GOWCU, or online at CatamountSports.com. Lock-in your seat for all six exciting home dates with Catamount football season tickets today. Tickets for the 2019 "Purple Out" opener against the Mercer Bears are going fast! WCU raises the curtain on 2019 in a big way with the pregame tailgating including the "Tailgate Town" (Ramsey Lot 9A) and a pregame concert by Joe Lasher, presented by Ingles; "Paws Playground" presented by Western Builder's just inside of Gate 1; the first on-field performance of the "Pride of the Mountains" Marching Band; the 9th-annual Freshmen Run; and capping the night will be a fireworks extravaganza, presented by Ingles and iHeartMedia partners, 99.9 Kiss Country and Star 104.3 FM.
Even with as much press and plaudits as Western Carolina’s offensive unit receives surrounding its shifty playmaker at quarterback and the bevy of weapons that abound at the skill positions, the success of the 2019 Catamounts arguably rests on the broad shoulders of its offensive line. No one position was hit harder by graduation and transition from 2018 to 2019 than in the trenches for the offense.
WCU lost six offensive linemen that saw extensive playing time a season ago including four starters, each lost to graduation. Among the losses were five players with 30-or-more career games played including all-conference selection Zach Weeks (44 career games) and classmates Nathan Dalton (45), Andrew Miles (45), Kaleb Spry (40), and Chase Stehling (34).
It has been a productive group over the past four seasons as for the first time in school history, WCU has posted four-consecutive, 1,000-yard rushers – three by tailback Detrez Newsome and quarterback Tyrie Adams who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2018 while leading the Southern Conference in rushing, the second-straight year by a WCU player – and third time in the past four seasons.
Veteran offensive line coach John Holt – who will also share coordinator duties with WR coach Tyler Carlton this fall – will lean heavily upon his lone returning starter in junior Grady Thomas. The Spartanburg, S.C., native has played in 20 games over his first two seasons in Cullowhee with 12 starts including three as a true freshman in 2017 and nine a year ago. Thomas is flanked by redshirt junior Matthew Bair who has played in 17 career games and redshirt sophomore Michael Harper who started one of the four games he played in 2018.
Behind that aforementioned trio is one additional upperclassman in Bailey Byrum with a slew of redshirt and true freshmen that will be battling for positioning in the offensive depth chart and special teams units. Three returning redshirts have seen collegiate action, paced by Tyler Smith (4 games), Nick Campbell (3 games), and Garrett Bowman (1 game) last season.
The coaching staff is very high on two incoming freshmen – both of whom enrolled early to go through 2019 spring drills. Isaiah Helms (Lenoir, N.C. / West Caldwell HS) and Jacob Combs (North Wilkesboro, N.C. / North Wilkes HS) could both find themselves in the starting lineup for the opener against Mercer. Local product Dillon Luther (Asheville, N.C. / Erwin HS) has had a productive fall camp and could factor into playing time early in his collegiate career.
ADDITIONAL OFFENSIVE LINE NOTES:
• Western Carolina’s average height along the offensive line is 6’3.6” tall while the average weight is 286.9 pounds according to preseason weigh-ins;
• WCU’s offensive line features 10 in-state products from North Carolina including four from the mountains of Western North Carolina: Jacob Combs (North Wilkesboro), Michael Harper (Wilkesboro), Dillon Luther (Asheville), and Alex McConnell (Boone).