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Blue Raiders picked 2nd in preseason poll; Four players named all-conference

Dunbar, Jones, Walden, Nickson honored

July 23, 2007 · MT Media Relations

NEW ORLEANS - Four Middle Tennessee football players were honored today as preseason first team All-Sun Belt selections as announced by the league office at its annual Football Media Days. Offensive lineman Franklin Dunbar, defensive end Erik Walden, defensive end Tavares Jones, and defensive back/kick returner Damon Nickson were all voted to the first team by the leagues eight head coaches and selected media members.

As a team, the Blue Raiders were picked to finish second in the league as voted by the Sun Belt's eight head coaches. Troy was selected to represent the league in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21, while Arkansas State was picked to finish third.

"We are very proud of these guys and feel they are very deserving," said Head Coach Rick Stockstill. "All four have worked extremely hard during their careers but they will be the first to tell you that another championship is the ultimate goal."

Dunbar, from Waycross, Ga., has started 18 consecutive games and tallied 62 knockdowns in 2006 to go along with a cumulative grade of 76.3 percent and was the only Blue Raider lineman to start all 13 games. Dunbar was a second team selection in 2006.

Walden, a senior from Dublin, Ga., set a school record with 11.5 quarterback sacks in 2006 to rank 10th nationally and became the career leader at Middle Tennessee in that category with 20.5. Walden, who had a career-best 48 tackles last year to earn first team honors, also added three forced fumbles and 14.5 tackles for loss.

Jones, who is also on the Rotary Lombardi Watch List and the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Watch List, is coming off a career season for the Blue Raiders where he earned first team all-conference honors. Jones started all 13 games in 2006 in helping Middle Tennessee to a bowl berth and a league title by collecting 38 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 quarterback sacks.

Nickson, out of Milton, Fla., made the team as a defensive back and as a kick returner just like he ended the 2006 campaign. Nickson enjoyed a career year on defense in 2006 with 61 tackles, five interceptions, two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a sack. As a returner, Nickson was a second team all-American after returning 21 kicks for an average of 28.8 yards and two touchdowns. Nickson finished fifth nationally in return average.

The Blue Raiders report to camp on August 5 to begin preparing for the season opener against conference foe Florida Atlantic on September 1. Kickoff is set for 3 PM CST in Boca Raton, Fla.

2007 Preseason All-Sun Belt Team
As voted on by the league's eight head coaches and selected media members. Offense
QB: Omar Haugabook (Troy)
RB: Tyrell Fenroy (Louisiana-Lafayette)
RB: Calvin Dawson (Louisiana-Monroe)
WR: LaGregory Sapp (Louisiana-Monroe)
WR: Gary Banks (Troy)
TE: Zeek Zacharie (Louisiana-Monroe)
OL: Matt Mandich (Arkansas State)
OL: Jesse Newman (Louisiana-Lafayette)
OL: Kyle Cunningham (Louisiana-Monroe)
OL: Adam Hill (Louisiana-Monroe)
OL: Franklin Dunbar (Middle Tennessee)

Defense
DL: Josh Pinnick (Florida Atlantic)
DL: Tavares Jones (Middle Tennessee)
DL: Erik Walden (Middle Tennessee)
DL: Jeremiah Chapman (North Texas)
LB: Koby McKinnon (Arkansas State)
LB: Cergile Sincere (Florida Atlantic)
LB: Maurice Holman (North Texas)
DB: Tyrell Johnson (Arkansas State)
DB: Damon Nickson (Middle Tennessee)
DB: Aaron Weathers (North Texas)
DB: Leodis McKelvin (Troy)

Special Teams
P: Truman Spencer (North Texas)
PK: Drew Edmiston (Louisiana-Lafayette)
RS: Damon Nickson (Middle Tennessee)

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Omar Haugabook (Troy, QB)

Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Tyrell Johnson (Arkansas State, S)

2007 Preseason Sun Belt Poll
As voted on by the league's eight head coaches.
First place votes in parentheses.

1. Troy (5) 59
2. Middle Tennessee 44
3. Arkansas State (1) 43
T4. Louisiana-Lafayette 37
T4. Louisiana-Monroe (1) 37
6. Florida Atlantic (1) 36
7. North Texas 22
8. Florida International 10

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