Photo by Devon Arnold/MTSU Sidelines
Middle Tennessee is a program that relies on players to stick around for four years to maintain the success of the program. Football mainstays like Steven Rhodes, Shaq Huff, and the injured Terry Pettis and Shane Tucker have been able to lead this team for years. But this season, they’ve received much-needed contributions from senior transfer players to further their success.
Players like I’Tavius Mathers, Dennis Andrews and Deontay Evans came from big-name schools to finish their careers at MT. Mathers and Andrews transferred to Murfreesboro from the University of Mississippi and Georgia Tech, respectively, while Evans came to the Blue Raiders from Mississippi State University.
With this being their lone year in a Blue Raider uniform, last weekend’s game against Missouri was the first time any of them had played an Southeastern Conference team as an underdog.
“For me, always being on teams that go against the underdogs, and this is my first time being an underdog against an SEC team, it felt nice to get a big win like that,” Evans said. “It especially meant a lot to Coach Stock, because it’s his first ever SEC win. I’m just really happy that our team fought through [the game] and came out on top.”
That mindset served the team well, as they defeated the Missouri Tigers 51-45 in Columbia on Homecoming. Mathers dominated Missouri’s front seven, as he ran for a career-high 215 yards on 28 carries. As outstanding as he has been in his last five games, Mathers maintains a humble mindset.
“[Rushing for 200 yards] felt great, but I’ve got to give credit to the offensive line,” Mathers said. “As always, they did a great job blocking for me. The rest, I was able to make one guy miss and just finished the run.”
Though the team always maintained a belief that they could win, there were many in the press that wondered if they could keep up with an SEC team. The Missouri School of Journalism even put out a tweet reminding their students to remain objective while Missouri “stomped all over” MTSU. The tweet was deleted when the Raiders claimed the victory, but the check in the win column wasn’t a surprise to any of the players.
“The whole team was excited. The whole team believed that we could go in and beat an SEC school and we proved it,” Mathers said. “It feels pretty good to beat an SEC school, because since you’re a non-SEC school, a Conference USA school, they don’t expect us to come out and beat an SEC school.”
Even though the team believed they could win, that didn’t keep the players from being excited. Andrews, who contributed two touchdown grabs in the win, recalls everyone rushing off the field to go celebrate in the locker room.
“Honestly, I sprinted to the locker room. I think Brent was right behind me,” Andrews said with a smile on his face. “As soon as we got in there, we grabbed all of our cell phones and just started filming the coaches and other players.”
Andrews came from Georgia Tech, a school known prolifically for running the “triple option” offense. Though he mainly had experience as a blocker, Andrews felt being in that role has made him a more complete receiver. Andrews, like Mathers, said he couldn’t be this successful on his own, citing his family as his main supporters.
“My parents always told me to ‘believe in yourself and trust what you do everyday on the field and everything will come together’.”
While Andrews was in the ACC, he said he and his teammates never thought about what conferences their opponents came from because that never affected their effort.
“When I was at Georgia Tech, we would talk about it like the division didn’t matter,” Andrews said. “It’s all about who wants it more. Whoever wants it more, that’s who will win.”
No matter how many snaps they’ve taken on the field, these three men will leave the program in better shape than when they arrived. They’ve maintained the week-to-week mindset that no matter who the opponent is, they have to bring the same mentality to practice.
“[You] just got to go out and give it everything you got,” Evans said. “You know this is your last go-around, so you might as well give it your all.”
The team will travel to Miami, Florida to play the Florida International Golden Panthers on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and can be viewed on ESPN3.
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