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DARIUS HARRIS WINS BART STARR MVP TROPHY

MONTGOMERY – It’s not often a defensive player can be on the field for 97 plays, surrender 30 points and still earn most valuable player honors.

Middle Tennessee outside linebacker Darius Harris was in the right place at the right time. In fact, he was in the right place most of the night.

“It’s an honor to be MVP,” Harris said. “I can’t give enough credit to the team and those guys, the hard work they put in, the preparation they put in prior to this game. It’s just an honor for us to get this win as a team.”

Harris became the first defensive player in the short four-year history of the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl to win the Bart Starr MVP Award. Previous winners were Bowling Green quarterback James Knapke, Appalachian State tailback Marcus Cox and Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb.

For a defensive player to win the award, you’d think it would take a superhuman effort in a titanic defensive struggle between the two teams. Instead, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State combined for 65 points in the Blue Raiders’ 35-30 victory and Arkansas State ran an incredible 97 plays.

“Coming into the game, we knew that they were a tempo team,” Harris said. “Going into a game, you can’t pick how plays you play. You just put the ball down and play the next snap. It’s just our mindset. Put the ball down and play the next snap and whatever happens, just live to see another down.”

That’s was the mindset that survived the Red Wolves’ second-half rally that came up short as Middle Tennessee came up with a pair of big sacks in Arkansas State’s final drive to turn back the Blue Raiders’ former Sun Belt Conference foe.

“The defense was outstanding,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. “I thought they were really special tonight. They completed screens, that’s all they completed. They got a couple comebacks and then they hit the seam, the vertical there where our safety didn’t get over the top fast enough, but our defense really played well tonight. They put pressure on the quarterback. I thought our defense was really special tonight.”

Harris, a fourth-year junior from Horn Lake, Miss., turned in one of the biggest plays of the game when he sacked Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen by slinging him to the ground and forcing a fumble which fellow linebacker DJ Sanders scooped up and returned 54 yards for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

“It was an inside blitz,” Harris said. “I guess the guard and the tackle kind of had some miscommunication and he kind of chipped me and he started rolling out. I never gave up on the play and DJ did a good job taking away the screen, because that was (Hansen’s) first look. He took it away so he put the ball down, didn’t have anywhere to throw.”

Harris would finish with 12 tackles, good for third all-time on the short four-year history of the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. He also had a pair of pass breakups to go with his sack and forced fumble.

More importantly, he helped the Blue Raiders win their bowl game since 2009 and give Middle Tennessee players and fans some comfort heading into the offseason in what has been an unusual year filled with injuries.

“It feels good to just win a bowl game and just send the seniors off the right way,” Harris said. “From not supposed to be in a bowl game to winning, it is just an amazing feeling. I’m just glad that we got Coach a win and the seniors went out the right way.”

 

ARKANSAS STATE POST-GAME QUOTES

Arkansas State Head Coach Blake Anderson

Opening Statement:

“It was a great week, the bowl is a first class bowl. They ran it well, we felt really welcome here and the kids had a great time all except tonight. It always hurts to lose the last game of the season, and I hate that for our senior class. They have done a tremendous job over the last five years, and to continue to build upon a legacy we want to carry on. You hate that it goes this way. Middle Tennessee played with a chip on their shoulder and played hard all night, and Stockstill as we expected played really well. They made plays they had to make and we made too many mistakes to win a game against a good football team.

“We thought all along they were a lot better than their record, and they proved that tonight. They overcame injuries throughout the year to get here, and obviously were excited to be here. To me the big concerns were turnovers – the turnover for a touchdown and the turnover in the score zone where we should get points – those cannot happen. Another game where we outgained the opponent but did not outscore them. We have to finish, we have to get points and had a couple of coverage busts, giving up a couple of big plays for touchdowns. Communication busts like that cannot happen. A very talented athletic team, but inconsistent and too many mistakes. We will get back and get to work in January, we will need to get more physical and powerful to finish in the red zone. At the end of the day, it hurts to lose and we have to learn from it so it doesn’t happen again.”

On the last drive:

“You have no timeouts because we had to use them to get the ball back. We were trying to pop a play here and there, obviously the percentages are against you when you have to go 90-something yards in not a lot of time on the clock and no timeouts. We needed something to pop, I thought once we hit Chris Murray we were putting ourselves in position but you can’t sacks there. The pressure got to us and we can’t take sacks there, and everything has to happen perfectly. You have to protect, you have to catch the ball with bodies around you and you have to get big chunks.”

Pressure on Hanson all day:

“We struggled all day. We knew their movement and the way they played would be a challenge for us, and our young guys really struggled all night. We tried to settle things down at times when we could get tempo, and it helped. But when they were able to get their calls defensively and get some one-on-ones up front, we did struggle. That is youth and inexperience that was the biggest issue tonight against guys that were bringing a lot of different, complicated looks. We just have to continue to improve.

On roughing the punter penalty:

“Can’t happen, can’t happen. You want to go for blocks, we blocked one last year and it was a huge block. We have blocked them along the way this year. You want to be aggressive, but you also have to be smart enough to stay off of them. I thought their punter did a great job of creating contact, keeping his foot out there and making a collision. That is what a veteran, smart, savvy guy is going to do but we cannot have that penalty. It did create momentum for them, and allowed them to drive and get a touchdown. I think the other big turnover was for a touchdown. That has to be a sack, a tackle for loss but not points, and Justice knows that. We work ball security to the highest level, and that ball can’t end up on the ground. Everybody played a part in this, this is a team loss and we did not play clean enough to win.

How do you change the fact that you are so hard on yourselves:

“Keep working, we just have to keep working. We knew we had a bunch of new guys, and didn’t have a lot of experience. The only way to do it is one day at a time, this is not a good lesson to learn. You cannot give people opportunity after opportunity to beat you by making mistakes. You have to make them earn it. It is a process, it is a good old’ roll your sleeves up and work and that is what we will do.

Do you think Justice needs to learn when to kill a play:

“Yeah I think he needs to know when a play is over and it is dead, but that is why he makes as many plays as he does. If he protects the ball there, it is not a big as a conversation as it is. That cannot happen, at the end of the day that is a guy we trust. He was the Player of the Year offensively in the league for a reason because he does make a lot of explosive plays. At the end of the day, it is a fine line when to give up on a play and when not to. There were times tonight when he didn’t give up, and created plays with his feet and picked up first downs that looked similar to the one with the turnover and sack. It is always reaction and feel in the moment.

On having chance to win last two games:

“The guys don’t give up, this group has never given up. We know we have the ability to score in a short amount of time. We were down 14 tonight and we made a couple of plays, and we were in the end zone. We know we have that potential, it is just feast or famine with us right now. We have to be more consistent and more detailed, but they don’t quit and play hard. They keep expecting someone to make that play, and that is what is good.

Offseason, correcting red zone issues:

“We are just not powerful up front. We have three pups playing up front in the middle, and our tackles maintained the control but they don’t control the running game. We just need to build power in the red zone, if you can impose your will you will end up in the end zone. Our inability to run in the red zone has been our problem all year and that is just inexperience. We just need to build those guys and a great offseason will help us. You have to win in one-on-one situations.

How much is it going to eat at you, this lose:

“I don’t know a number, but it is eating at me now and it won’t stop until we get another win. That’s not how I am built. We are going to work our tails off, these last two need to drive you.

How tough is it for you to know the sack record didn’t get broken:

“You could see the sideline when we got it and how excited everyone was for him. And then to see a facemask flag on someone that I am still waiting on a number on, it hurts. That is what I just told him. It doesn’t tarnish a career, he has had a great career. I find it hard to believe he did not break the record, I thought he would. But I hurt for him and I hate that he will end up in the number two spot.

Reflect on the year:

“7-5 is not where we want to be. I am glad we played for a championship and made it to a bowl game, but that is not where we want to be. Maybe as I look back on it and dissect the season, maybe it is better. I believe athletically we are better than that, but 7-5 is not our standard. I am excited about the guys we have coming back, and they have a chance to have a special season but we have to get to work.

Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen:

What was making things difficult on the last drive:

“They did a good job of holding us up, making things a little difficult to get passes downfield.

How did that change things for you:

“It doesn’t hurt us, but at the same time I think I have to get out and make a play, even to throw the ball away.

Talk about this season, the way the last two games played out and how the season ended:

“Really hurting ourselves. If we can stop hurting ourselves offensively and score at times during the game, that would be a big step for us.

Red zone, what were some of the struggles there:

“They did a good job confusing us up front, and on the outside they were doing a good job of being physical. Our offense knows that we can score at any time, but a lot of the time we hurt ourselves. Once we can start limiting that, we will start moving in the right direction. We just need to know where to attack on offense in the red zone, and that is something I don’t think we did a good job of tonight.

There were times were you started to have to pass the ball a lot, was that something that was part of the game plan:

“Once you get down by a couple of scores, especially late in the game you tend the throw the ball a lot more just to hopefully stop the clock here and there. That is how the game went.

What about next year and the talent:

“We know we have talent. We just have to be more efficient on offense and stop hurting ourselves. On offense, we have a lot of talent coming back so it is just about working hard and getting better at what we are doing.

Do you think you held on to the ball a little too long tonight:

“I wouldn’t say so. A lot of it is based of what type of play we are running. There are plays where we get the ball out quick, and then there are some downfield plays. It is based off the plays we run.

What changed in the second half:

“We found a rhythm. There was a point where we really just found that and we were able to move the ball.

Do you think your injury hampered you:

“It happened in the offseason, and I made it through the season. I am not complaining about anything, and any of these guys can tell you that everyone plays through some pain.

Talk about the quick passes:

“We expected that. They had a lot of guys at the line of scrimmage, and our game plan was based on that and if they had a lot of guys on the outside. Early on they weren’t doing that and we were trying to take advantage of it.

Arkansas State safety B.J. Edmonds:

Talk about the game today, and your performance:

“It was nice. I had a pair of interceptions, but I have up the touchdown at the end. When we come back in the offseason, we are going to work hard. This is a bad feeling to send our seniors out on a bad note, and this should fuel us to work even harder in the offseason like we have never before.

The end of halftime with the touchdown, how much did that impact the flow:

“I think it was a big swing in the game. We could have gotten a three and out and gave the ball back to our offense, but I failed to stay on top of the route. They threw it up and he made a great catch, it was just unfortunate because that was a big score and a big point in the game.

Arkansas State defensive End Ja’Von Rolland-Jones:

What was it like to trying to rush tonight and get a sack:

“They did a great job with their game plan. I got chipped throughout the game, they were covering me up with a tight end and they were doubling me all night. The quarterback was getting the ball out fast. There were just a lot of things they did well. Hats off to them, they had a great game plan.

Last game, what are you thinking right now:

“It’s sad going out like this. I love my brothers, and I had a great career here at Arkansas State and Jonesboro is full of great people. I can look back on it and be positive about it.

On not getting the all-time NCAA sack record:

“Of course I wanted to get it, but at the end of the day we lost so it doesn’t matter. At that particular time I was disappointed. I know I have had more opportunities to get more sacks, but it just didn’t fall.

As it stands right now, you are second, what is your reflection:

“I have nothing but good reflections, but it is heartbreaking. The game is heartbreaking, the record doesn’t matter.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE WINS RAYCOM MEDIA CAMELLIA BOWL

MONTGOMERY – Middle Tennessee defeated Arkansas State in the highest scoring game in Raycom Media Camellia Bowl history. But head coach Rick Stockstill still praised his defense following the Blue Raiders 35-30 win in front 20,612 fans on a chilly first day of the college football bowl season.

Arkansas State (7-5) ran 97 plays and piled up 462 total yards, but the Blue Raiders defense made plays in key situations to earn the win.

Middle Tennessee (7-6) had nine pass breakups, six sacks and forced three turnovers in the win. The Blue Raiders closed the game with back-to-back sacks to thwart the Red Wolves final attempt at a last second win.

“The defense played really well,” Stockstill said. “Only thing they completed were a bunch of screens. They called 100 pass interferences on us. It seemed like every time. I thought our guys played really well. They got behind us on that one ball there at the 5-minute mark, but we played really well. “

Middle Tennessee linebacker Darius Harris was named the Bart Starr Most Valuable Player after he recorded 12 tackles (8 solos tackles), two pass breakups, one tackle for loss, one sack and forced one fumble. Linebacker D.J. Sanders added 10 tackles, one sack and scooped up the ball on Harris’ forced fumble and raced 54 yards for a second quarter touchdown.

“It was an inside blitz for me,” Harris recalled. “I kind of shook it out and I guess the guard and the tackle kind of had some miscommunication and he kind of chipped me and he started rolling out. I never gave up on the play and DJ (Sanders) did a good job taking away the screen, because that was his first look and he took it away so he put the ball down, didn’t have anywhere to throw. I got the fumble and DJ came back and scoop and score.”

Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson called a turning point in the game.

“I think the other big turnover was for a touchdown. That has to be a sack, a tackle for loss but not points, and Justice knows that. We work ball security to the highest level, and that ball can’t end up on the ground.”

The defense withstood a late run by the Red Wolves to give the Blue Raiders their first bowl win since the 2009 season. Trailing 35-23, Arkansas State went 51 yards in four plays to trim the lead to 35-30 with 5:06 left in the game. Justice Hansen fired a 41-yard touchdown pass to Christian Booker to cap the 48-second drive.

Middle Tennessee held the ball for more than three minutes but could not pick up the game-clinching first down in the final minutes. A-State forced a punt and took over at its own 9-yard line with 1:27 left in the game.

Hansen was sacked on first down by Khalil Brooks, but then hit Blake Mack on an 11-yard pass. Hansen then found Chris Murray for a 28-yard gain to the Red Wolves 42-yard line. The drive then stalled as Sanders and Darrius Liggins recorded back-to-back sacks as time expired.

Hansen completed 31-of-57 passes for 337 yards with three touchdowns. He set Camellia Bowl records for completions, attempts and TD passes. Justin McInnis caught seven passes for 107 yards and one touchdown. Chris Murray added seven catches for 76 yards.

Arkansas State picked off Brent Stockstill on the second play of the game and drove to the Middle Tennessee 3-yard like before settling for a 20-yard field goal by Sawyer Williams for an early 3-0 lead.

Middle Tennessee scored the next 14 points to take 14-3 lead in the second quarter. Terelle West burst through with a 45-yard run in the first quarter to give the Blue Raiders a 7-3 lead. The longest rushing touchdown in Camellia Bowl history came one play after A-State was called for roughing the punter.

“That can’t happen,” Anderson said “You want to go for blocks, we blocked one last year and it was a huge block. We have blocked them along the way this year. You want to be aggressive, but you also have to be smart enough to stay off of them. It did create momentum for them, and allowed them to drive and get a touchdown.

The Blue Raiders defense scored the next touchdown when Harris recorded a sack and forced fumble and Sanders picked the ball up and ran 54 yards for the score to give Middle Tennessee a 14-3 lead with 5:41 left in the half.

Arkansas State answered when Hansen capped a 13-play, 85-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 14-10 with 1:49 left in the half.

Middle Tennessee seized momentum as it scored on its next two possessions to build an 18-point lead. Stockstill fired a 31-yard touchdown pass to Ruben Garnett to put the Blue Raiders up 21-10 at halftime. Middle Tennessee then scored the first time it had the ball in the third quarter to take a 28-10 lead. Tavares Thomas capped a 13-play, 74-yard drive with a 2-yard run to give the Blue Raiders what seemed to be a comfortable lead.

“I think it was a big swing in the game,” A-State safety B.J. Edmonds said. “We could have gotten a three and out and gave the ball back to our offense, but I failed to stay on top of the route. They threw it up and he made a great catch, it was just unfortunate because that was a big score and a big point in the game.”

Arkansas State refused to go away as they scored the next 13 points to cut the lead to 28-23 with 14:24 left in the game. Hansen threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Justin McInnis on the next possession to make it 28-17.

Hansen then threw his Camellia Bowl record third touchdown pass to Warren Wand early in the fourth quarter to make it 28-23. Wand’s 2-yard catch capped a 9-play, 58-yard drive. After a penalty on Middle Tennessee, A-State decided to go for two points, but the attempt failed as the Wand was ruled short of the goal-line.

Middle Tennessee answered with a 6-play, 75-yard drive to extend its lead to 35-23 with 12:08 left. Stockstill found Shane Tucker on a 30-yard pass for the score.

Stockstill completed 19-of-35 passes for 232 yards with two touchdowns and a Camellia Bowl record three interceptions. Tucker had four catches for 63 yards and one touchdown, while Garnett added four catches for 57 yards and one touchdown.

SHAFER BRINGS ATTACKING DEFENSIVE STYLE

By Tim Gayle

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Staff Writer

MONTGOMERY – Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill knew his team deserved better.

The Blue Raiders were winning games and going to postseason bowls, but surrendering nearly 450 yards and more than 35 points each game placed an undue hardship on his offensive players to keep pace with opponents.

Stockstill was tired of watching his defense reacting to other teams’ high-powered attacks. He needed a new way of thinking from a new defensive coordinator. It was time to attack on defense.

Fortunately for the Blue Raiders, veteran coordinator Scott Shafer was unemployed at the time.

“When I went through the interview process with the guys I interviewed, I told each one of them what I wanted and how their philosophy and schemes are going to match up with that,” Stockstill said. “Obviously, I liked Scott’s the best because I hired him. He’s done a fantastic job. He’s a great coach, a great teacher, a great fundamental coach. He’s got answers, he’s got a plan.”

The attacking defensive style fit the players as well. Suddenly, in just one season, Middle Tennessee State has gone from a defense that surrendered an average of more than 400 yards in each of the past six seasons to a unit that allows 348.6 yards per game.

And after allowing 35.8 points per game last season, the Blue Raiders have allowed just 24.2 points per game in 2017.

“It’s everything I wanted,” Stockstill said. “He’s done a fantastic job. It’s a night-and-day difference in our defense the last couple of years and this year.”

Middle Tennessee will certainly face a challenge from the high-powered Arkansas State offense in the fourth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl on Saturday night at Cramton Bowl, but the Blue Raiders are confident their new coordinator will have a quality game plan.

Shafer, a former quarterback at Ohio University, got into coaching in 1991 at Indiana and quickly moved up the coaching ranks as an accomplished secondary coach. His first job as a coordinator came at Northern Illinois in 2000 and he made a name for himself three years later after the program upset Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State in the same season.

He followed that up with stops as a coordinator at Western Michigan (2005-06), Stanford (2007), Michigan (2008) and Syracuse (2009-12) before becoming the head coach of the Orangemen in 2013. He was fired after the 2015 season, but landed a job as the coordinator at Maryland. He stepped down for personal reasons at the end of March and sat out of football in 2016, which was lucky for Stockstill.

“The main reason (for this year’s improvement) was Coach Shafer,” said freshman safety Reed Blankenship. “He came in with the mindset that he was willing to change everybody. He changed the personality. I had never been around these guys before so I came in willing to work and Coach Shafer put it in everybody’s mind that they needed to work and that we needed to improve on everything, so that’s what we did.”

It’s a different style, one that creates problems for opponents as they try to figure out the location of the blitzers.

“It’s kind of new for us, too,” Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said. “We haven’t seen anybody this committed to disguising looks, this committed to overloading looks, as committed to blitzing as they have. We’ve seen guys that have done that on film in the past, but very few have carried that kind of thought process into the game against us because of what we do, the tempo we play at and potentially some of the matchups.

“I think it’ll be a little bit of a feeling-out process but they’re very aggressive, they blitz more than anybody we’ve seen, their looks are a little difficult to decipher because of all the movement and all the walking around with a three-man front, so it creates some challenges for our O-line and especially our center, making IDs. “Hopefully we can just kind of stick to what we do as much as anything, concern ourselves less with what they do and try to stay basic and simple and try to execute.”

A dozen players have four or more tackles for loss this season, led by sophomore linebacker Khalil Brooks, who has 15.

“This year, we’re more attacking, we’re more downhill instead of side to side and I think that has helped us a lot with tackles for loss, sacks and things like that,” said middle linebacker DJ Sanders.

It’s a scheme the players love, although Stockstill has an easy explanation for that.

“One, because they’re having success,” he said. “That always makes it fun. But, two, now they’re getting to utilize all their athleticism as individual players in what we’re allowing them to do. It’s almost like the offensive players – receivers, quarterbacks, running backs – they’re running around throwing the ball, catching the ball. The defense is the same way now.

They’re running around, blitzing from this gap to gap. You’re not just stationary, you’re not a sitting duck out there all the time like you were.”

That can create plenty of problems for Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen in Saturday night’s game.

“We’re going to want to put pressure on the quarterback, hit him a couple of times, make him start looking at the blitzes instead of down the field at his receivers,” Sanders said.

FORMER ALABAMA HEAD COACH GENE STALLINGS HONORED

By Tim Gayle

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Staff Writer

MONTGOMERY – It’s been a whirlwind tour for Gene Stallings this fall.

The College Football Hall of Fame coach was honored by Texas A&M with an assembly of the 1967 team during the Aggies’ game with Alabama, by Alabama with an assembly of the 1992 team during the Crimson Tide’s game with Arkansas, by the Southeastern Conference as part of their annual legends’ recognition at the SEC Championship Game and he will be honored in two weeks as part of the inaugural class for the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame.

Might as well make a stop in Montgomery, where Stallings was presented the fourth Regions Bank Alabama Football Legend Award on Friday afternoon by Regions president Michael Hart and Camellia Bowl executive director Johnny Williams during a luncheon at the Renaissance Hotel.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever been 82, so they think I’m going to die so they’re going to give me something before I’m dead,” Stallings joked. “But I appreciate all the honors I’ve received. I realize the game is for the players, not for the coach, so I appreciate it.”

Stallings has spent much of his 20 years in retirement as a speaker and he used that platform to deliver a powerful 25-minute talk to the players and coaches of Middle Tennessee State and Arkansas State, the two participants in Saturday’s fourth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.

“I love the game of football because it teaches us a lot of things,” Stallings said. “Primarily, it teaches us how to do right, how to think right. Do you know the importance of just thinking right?”

Stallings played for Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Texas A&M in 1954-56 and was a member of the famed “Junction Boys” that survived Bryant’s rigorous boot camp at Junction in his first season. Stallings would reunite with his coach as a member of Bryant’s coaching staff at Alabama (1958-64), serving primarily as a secondary coach as the Tide won national titles in 1961 and 1964.

Stallings left to become a head coach at Texas A&M, where he led the Aggies to the 1967 Southwest Conference championship and a Cotton Bowl victory over Bryant’s Alabama team.

Stallings spent the next 14 seasons (1972-85) as secondary coach for Tom Landry with the Dallas Cowboys, including a victory in Super Bowl XII. He became head coach of the Cardinals (1986-89), then returned to Alabama as the head coach for seven seasons (1990-96), winning a national championship in 1992.

“The real joy that I got out of coaching was seeing that player graduate,” Stallings said. “Parents didn’t ever say anything about making a good football player out of him. They said help him with his books. To see that player graduate, that was the real joy I got out of coaching.”

He spoke to the players about their academics, their attitudes (“just a little kindness goes a long way”) and the lessons he learned over the years. Those lessons, of course, included his son John Mark, who suffered from Down syndrome before finally passing away in 2008.

“My life wouldn’t be nearly as rich if not for the fact that I helped raise a child with special needs,” Stallings said. “I can’t tell you all the things that are named after Johnny. As long as they play football at the University of Alabama, the equipment room is named the John Mark Stallings Equipment Room. The beautiful playground behind the RISE program (on the university campus) is named after Johnny. Faulkner University – now this is a major university – named their football playing field the John Mark Stallings Field.

“I’m in seven halls of fame. I don’t have a football field named after me.”

Maybe not, but there is a college football award named after him and another for his son. The Stallings Award is presented annually to a coach in recognition of his humanitarian contributions as well as his performance on the field and the Johnny Stallings Award is given to a company of individual that recognizes the value of helping those with special needs.

In addition, Stallings is a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the Texas A&M Hall of Fame, the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame and the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame. He will be added to the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame on Jan. 2, 2018.

Now, he’s an Alabama Football Legend Award recipient, joining former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (2014), former Auburn coach Pat Dye (2015) and former Alabama All-American linebacker Woodrow Lowe (2016).

“It’s a big deal to be honored in the state of Alabama and in Montgomery,” Stallings said. “In fact, when I was at (Texas) A&M, I was one of the few players that did not get invited to the Blue-Gray Game. I went to work for Coach Bryant, though, so I still had a good experience.”

Friday offered another good experience as a small group of friends ventured down from Tuscaloosa for the ceremony, including longtime secretary Linda Knowles, who Stallings noted should be in the “Super Bowl Hall of Fame for secretaries.” It also gave him an opportunity to visit with several former players as Roger Shultz and Jeff Foshee accompanied him on the plane trip back to Texas following the event.

“It’s a real good joy to be able to see the players and visit with the players,” Stallings said. “That’s the reason I went back to College Station, the reason I went back to Tuscaloosa when they honored the ’92 team, is to see the players and pay my respects one more time.”

At 82, Stallings told the crowd, he isn’t sure how many more of these events he will make.

In the last four months, I’ve had two stokes and a heart attack,” he said, “so, when I say I’m happy to be here, I’m happy to be here.”

In a few weeks, he’ll attend a similar ceremony in New Orleans, where he’ll take in a College Football playoff semifinal matchup between top-ranked Clemson, coached by former 1992 walk-on receiver Dabo Swinney, and fourth-ranked Alabama.

“I’m sort of in a bind,” Stallings said. “I’ve got a grandson (tight end J.C. Chalk) playing for Clemson, but I love Alabama. I just want the best team to win. I want them both to play well and I want it to be settled right at the last, like it was last time. I’m very fond of Dabo, but I’m fond of (Nick) Saban, too.”

As he closed his speech, he reminded the players to listen to their coaches who will not only instruct them about football but will provide valuable lessons in life.

“Life is not about waiting until the storm passes by,” said Stallings as he quoted from a recent letter mailed to him. “It’s learning how to dance in the rain.”

STOCKSTILL, BLUE RAIDERS BATTLE THROUGH INJURY-PLAGUED SEASON

By Tim Gayle

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Staff Writer

MONTGOMERY – Arkansas State won’t get to see the Middle Tennessee State team that took the field in early September for a 30-23 win over Syracuse, but the Blue Raiders will be as close to healthy as they’ve been since September when the two teams tangle on Saturday in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl at Cramton Bowl.

“We lost more people this year than any year I’ve ever had as the head coach or as an assistant coach,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. “It’s just incredible, the amount of people we lost to injuries this year. That’s why I’m proud of this team for the resiliency and the competitiveness that they showed. There were times it didn’t look good, it looked bleak, but we hung together and found a way to get back and get into this game.”

The Blue Raiders will come into this game having won three of their final four games and a large reason for that has been the return of quarterback Brent Stockstill. Stockstill, son of the head coach, is on pace to finish his career as one of the top 25 passers in collegiate history, provided he can remainder healthy for the 2018 season.

Stockstill turned heads as a finalist for Mr. Football honors in Tennessee in 2012 after his Siegel High team scored 590 points. He was grayshirted in 2013 and redshirted in 2014, giving him some valuable experience in 2015 as he passed for 4,005 yards and 30 touchdowns, falling just 53 yards shy of Jameis Winston’s record for passing yards by a freshman. His 327 completions were a freshman record.

Things haven’t been the same since. In 2016, he played in only 10 games after breaking his collarbone. In 2017, he played the first two games and then missed the six following the Syracuse win after cracking his sternum, which in turn separated his collarbone from his sternum.

“It’s been tough,” Brent Stockstill said. “Second game of the year, you have an injury like that where I miss six or seven games, it was tough not being out there with the guys but I’m back good enough. I don’t know if I’m 100 percent but I’m back good enough to give our team a good chance to win.”

Standing on the sidelines, watching John Urzua lead the team through late September and October, allowed Stockstill to watch the different pieces of the Middle Tennessee offense as injuries took a toll.

“I think any time a quarterback can sit back and see it from a different perspective, it definitely helps,” Brent Stockstill said. “I definitely learned a lot. When I get older, I want to coach, so it definitely helped me from that perspective. Obviously, I never want to be out, but if there is a good thing to it, that was good.”

There were concerns that he would miss the remainder of the season, but he returned just in time to lead the Blue Raiders to three wins in the final month of the regular season to earn bowl eligibility.

“He’s an incredibly tough person,” said his father. “We’re 4-2 with him and we were 2-4 when he wasn’t in there. He makes us better. We were a different team in November than we were in October.”

Rick Stockstill was forced to contend with a different starting lineup for each of the Blue Raiders’ 12 games because of injuries.

Offensively, Middle Tennessee was the same for the Vanderbilt and Syracuse games but has fielded a different starting lineup in each of the final 11 games. Urzua, who took Stockstill’s place, was forced to give up the game after the Marshall game as he suffered the third concussion of his career. Thankfully, Stockstill was able to return to the starting lineup the following week. For UAB and Florida International, there was only one change in the starting lineup for the offense.

That’s on a good day.

Brad Anderson, the midseason tailback who was sidelined with a leg injury, was replaced by Tavares Thomas, who was sidelined with an injury, who was replaced by Terelle West in the regular season finale. That’s the typical string of injuries that have plagued this team all year long.

“This team’s been through a lot,” Rick Stockstill said. “Their character has been tested. They’ve bounced back every time.”

Obviously, the offense has more confidence with Stockstill in the lineup. The fourth-year junior left hander, who was on the watch list for the Davey O’Brien, Maxwell and Johnny Unitas awards at the beginning of the season, can surpass the 9,000-yard career mark with 281 passing yards on Saturday.

“Getting the opportunity to go against him every day at practice helps me,” observed freshman free safety Reed Blankenship. “It’s a big learning experience for me because I’ve never faced anyone as good as Brent. Hopefully, I help him in return, but it’s just a really cool experience to go against No. 12.”

Among NCAA active passers, Stockstill is 15th in passing yards (8,719), sixth in passing yards per game (290.6), 17th in total offense (9,027) and 15th in passing efficiency (148.15). He’ll face one of his biggest challenges this weekend against the Red Wolves’ defense and their coordinator, former MTSU coordinator Joe Cauthen.

“They’re a great defense,” Brent Stockstill said. “I know Coach Cauthen because he was here my first year at MTSU. He’s a great coach and always has them ready to play. Obviously, they have one guy (Ja’Von Rolland-Jones) who is one sack away from being the all-time sack leader and they have the good inside guy (Alabama transfer Dee Liner) as well. They have a lot of great players, great schemes, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

ROLLAND-JONES LOOKING TO BECOME NEW NCAA SACK MAN

By Barry Allen

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Media Relations Director

MONTGOMERY – Ja’Von Rolland-Jones could make college football history on Saturday night inside the historic Cramton Bowl.

The Arkansas State senior defensive end and two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year brings 43.5 career sacks into Saturday night’s game against Middle Tennessee. He needs one sack to break the current NCAA career record currently held by former Arizona State All-American Terrell Suggs. Suggs recorded 44 career sacks in his amazing career with the Sun Devils.

“Honestly, I don’t think about the sack record,” Rolland-Jones said. “I just want to win the game. I am just thinking about winning. I want to go out on top and win a bowl game.”

A-State head coach Blake Anderson understands he has a once-in-a-lifetime type of player.

“I have never had a more dominant player that consistently for that amount of time,” Anderson said. “We’ve had guys that have stepped up and had a great year, but to put that kind of career together. Obviously, he is one-half sack away from the career record. To me, that’s a huge accomplishment. That says a lot about how hard he has worked. He has played through a lot of injuries, bumps and bruises. I think our guys have utilized him that really lets him be what he is best at. Hopefully, he can break that record and put his name at the top of that list. It would be huge for him and the A-State logo as well.”

Rolland-Jones was named the 2017 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year after recording 51 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 11 games for the Red Wolves.

Through the first three games of the season, the Mesquite, Texas native only had six tackles and one-half tackle for loss. Over the last eight games, he dominated opposing teams with 45 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. He has recorded at least one sack in eight straight games for the Red Wolves.

Rolland-Jones says that working hard every day in practice has been the key to his success.

“It’s a lot of practice,” he said. “Some people think you come to practice and play around, but you have to take practice seriously. Whether you are going against the scout team or not, you still have to get off your blocks and work on hand placement. Everything you accomplish in practice will carry over to the game.”

Anderson calls him a unique player.

“He is just a tremendous player,’ Anderson added. “You see some pass rushers that have one move. He’s got power. He’s got the ability to beat you with speed. He can change directions on you as well. He is playing the run game as well as he has ever played it. He is about 15 pounds lighter. He is truly a multiple player. He has so many weapons and it makes it tough to defend him. He also had a tremendously high motor. He is in great shape.”

When he arrived in Jonesboro five years ago, Rolland-Jones thought he could be a good player, but the last two years have exceeded his own expectations.

“Honestly, I knew I could be a pretty good player, but I didn’t think it would be to this level,” Rolland-Jones said. “I’ve always had the mindset that if I am going to do something, then I am going to do it. I felt like I could be a good player, but I did not know it would go this far.”

And with one more sack, he will go further than anyone in NCAA history.

PRACTICE; ROSA PARKS MUSEUM TOUR HEADLINE THURSDAY’S EVENTS

MONTGOMERY – Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State held morning workouts on Thursday and both teams toured the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in downtown Montgomery.

Middle Tennessee held a two-hour workout on the Alabama State University campus. Head Coach Rick Stockstill has been pleased with his team’s work since arriving on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s repetition right now,” Stockstill said. “Today is a different type practice for us (on) Thursdays. We’ve had eight days now since we’ve started practice so it’s a little bit more time than you get in a normal week and you’re not going to do a lot of different things, anyway, leading up to a bowl game, especially with this quick of a turnaround from when we had our last game so you’ve got to try to improve fundamentally and get more confidence in your game plan and what you’re doing.”

Arkansas State practiced for two hours in full pads at Huntingdon College.  After a conditioning day on Wednesday, the Red Wolves moved into their regular Thursday-Friday-Saturday cycle this morning.

The two teams also spent part of the day at the Rosa Parks Library and Museum.

“Anytime you get an opportunity to go back and study history you should take advantage of it.” A-State head coach Blake Anderson said. “Anytime we get a chance to get out and learn about the sacrifices people made, I want to make sure we take advantage of that. We’ve done that every location we’ve been and taken advantage of what they have to offer. I think these kinds of experiences bring the team closer together and give us memories that we’ll have forever. It’s not all about football for us because we want to build friendships, relationships, and have experiences we might not have had otherwise.”

Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State will both hold workouts at the historic Cramton Bowl on Friday. Both head coaches will also meet with the media at the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Press Conference at the Cramton Bowl Multiplex.

ACADEMIC SUCCESS:

Arkansas State senior defensive back/kick returner Blaise Taylor was named to the 2017 National Football Foundation National Scholar Athlete Class on Thursday.

Taylor was named First-Team All-Sun Belt Conference on defense and Third-Team All-Sun Belt Conference on special teams this season.

On defense, he played in all 11 games and recorded 31 tackles, 13 passes defended, 4.5 tackles for loss (minus-10 yards) and two interceptions. He ranks second in the Sun Belt Conference and 14th nationally with 1.4 PBUs per game.

On special teams, he had 25 punt returns for 336 yards (13.4 average) and one touchdown. He leads the Sun Belt Conference and ranks fifth nationally with a 13.4 return average. He also leads the Sun Belt Conference and ranks 10th nationally with one punt return touchdown. Taylor opened the season with a 63-yard punt return TD at Nebraska on Sept. 2.

Middle Tennessee was one of seven FBS football programs to share the American Football Coaches Asso­­ciation’s 2017 Aca­demic Achieve­ment Award, presented by the Touchdown Club of Memphis. Alabama, Cincinnati, Northwestern, Utah, Utah State and Virginia were also honored.

All seven schools recorded a 100 percent graduation rate for members of its freshman football student-athlete class of 2010. Middle Tennessee, Alabama, Cincinnati, Utah and Utah State are receiving the award for the first time. This is Northwestern’s 10th honor and Virginia’s third.

The award will be presented during the Honors Luncheon on Monday, Jan. 8, at the 2018 AFCA Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE GREATER THAN CLEMSON?

The Clemson Tigers (12-1) are the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Middle Tennessee did something this season that Clemson could not accomplish.

The Blue Raiders defeated Syracuse 30-23 in the Carrier Dome on Sept. 9. The Blue Raiders scored two fourth quarter touchdowns for the win over the Orangemen. Senior QB Brent Stockstill threw two TD passes in the final 15 minutes. He had a 48-yard TD pass to Ty Lee to give the Blue Raiders a 23-16 lead with 14:53 left. Syracuse tied the game at 23-23 with 11:07 left in the game. Middle Tennessee answered as Stockstill engineered a game-winning drive. He fired a 10-yard game-winning TD pass to Shane Tucker with 6:46 left for the 30-23 win.

“I’ve said it all year, that was the last time this team was healthy,” Stockstill said. “We went up on the road and beat Syracuse, so it’s a great reinforcement that we’re a great team. But we never fielded the same team after that. We’re a little bit closer now to what we were then, but we’re still not that same team. But, yeah, that game, I’ve always looked back on and if we were able to stay healthy, or just somewhat healthy – we got decimated this year – that game is a great reminder of the potential of this team.”

Clemson, ranked No. 2 at the time, lost at Syracuse 27-24 on Friday, Oct. 13. The Tigers played a portion the game without starting QB Kelly Bryant.  Cole Murphy’s 30-yard field goal with 9:41 left in the game provided the Orangemen with the winning points.

The win over Syracuse is nothing new to Middle Tennessee, who has beaten a number of Power 5 teams under Stockstill.

“We went to Missouri and beat them last year and Georgia Tech a couple of years before that and Maryland twice. So we’ve had some great wins in this program. We play the hardest schedule in the conference. You’ve got to man up and play it.”

FORMER BAMA PLAYER BACK IN MONTGOMERY

Arkansas State defensive lineman Dee Liner is back in his home state for his final college football game.

The former Muscle Shoals product is an honorable mention All-Sun Belt Conference selection this season after recording 19 tackles, five tackles for loss (minus-12 yards), one pass breakup and one quarterback pressure.

Liner originally committed to Auburn, but changed his mind when Tigers coach Gene Chizik was let go.

“I was committed to Auburn since my sophomore year of high school and when they let Coach (Gene) Chizik and Coach Trooper (Taylor) go, I went on to ‘Bama,” Liner said.  “It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out at ‘Bama, so I found out Coach Trooper was at Arkansas State, hit him up, and came for a visit and I liked it.”

Liner played in four games over two seasons (2013-14) with the Crimson Tide before deciding to transfer.

“There are a lot of five-stars on their bench,” Liner added. “Everybody can’t play. It just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out. I felt like I was supposed to be on the field, man, but it just didn’t work out so I asked for my release papers.”

Liner reconnected with Taylor, who serves as A-State’s assistant head coach and cornerbacks coach. He does not regret the decision.

“I fit right in. I’m talking about since the first day I’ve been on campus. Ever since then, we’ve been brothers.”

MIDDLE TENNESSEE-ARKANSAS STATE SERIES:

Middle Tennessee holds a 9-5 lead in a series that dates back to the 1948 season. The Blue Raiders and Red Wolves played a home-and-home series in 1948 and 1949, with the Blue Raiders winning both games. Middle Tennessee posted a 14-7 win in Murfreesboro in 1948 and added a 25-12 win in Jonesboro in the following year.

The two teams were Sun Belt Conference rivals from 2001-12.  Middle Tennessee went 7-5 in those 12 meetings. Middle Tennessee posted a lopsided 54-6 win in the first meeting as Sun Belt foes in 2001. A-State posted a 13-7 win in Jonesboro in 2002.

The Blue Raiders turned in a five-game series winning streak from 2003-07. Middle Tennessee outscored A-State, 176-52 in those five games. Arkansas State snapped its losing streak with a 31-14 win in 2008. Middle Tennessee posted a 38-14 win over A-State in 2009.

Arkansas State has won the last three meetings by lopsided margins. The Red Wolves have outscored the Blue Raiders 141-43 in those three games. A-State beat Middle Tennessee 45-0 in the last meeting on Dec. 1, 2012 in Jonesboro.

TEAMS HIT THE PRACTICE FIELD ON WEDNESDAY

MONTGOMERY –The Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee football teams both hit the practice field on Wednesday in preparations for the 2017 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. The fourth annual Camellia Bowl will be played Saturday, Dec. 16 at historic Cramton Bowl. The game will be televised by ESPN with kickoff set for 7:05 p.m. (CDT).

Arkansas State practiced for the first time in Montgomery on Wednesday, holding a brief workout in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts at nearby Huntingdon College.

“We kind of use this as a recovery day,” Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson said. “We’ve taken that approach all four years. The first day of getting to a bowl site, there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot going on, our latest curfew of the week, so we’ve always come in, done some conditioning work and some change in direction, a little bit of a jog-through, but it’s more a recovery aspect of practice.

“Tomorrow, we’ll get back to basic work, put the pads on and get into what we consider a normal Thursday-Friday-Saturday cycle. But we’ve gotten five practices coming into this, with plenty of good Xs and Os work, and today was about flushing their bodies, getting a good sweat in, getting good conditioning work in and letting them enjoy a little bit of free time today.”

Middle Tennessee held its second practice in Montgomery with another two-hour workout at Alabama State University.

“We got here (Tuesday) about this time, came straight in here and practiced. We met this morning and getting ready to go again today.”

A-STATE’S HOME AWAY FROM HOME:

The state of Alabama is quickly becoming Arkansas State’s second home. The 2017 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl will by the school’s 13th game in the state of Alabama since the start of the 2012 season.

A-State has played at least one game in the state of Alabama each of the last seven years.

Arkansas State Director of Athletics Terry Mohajir even mentioned having to pay Alabama state taxes due to the team’s recent trips to the state.

“Having played in Alabama five times in the last seven years, I think that qualifies us to pay a little tax in the state of Alabama,” Mohajir quipped. “We definitely hope that we’re contributing to the economy in this great state. I think we will. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of people show up this week and I know our fans are excited about the proximity to Jonesboro.”

The Raycom Media Camellia Bowl is the Red Wolves’ fifth bowl game in the state of Alabama, all coming since the 2012 season. A-State played in the GoDaddy.com Bowl four straight years from 2012-16. Arkansas State played Northern Illinois, Kent State, Ball State and Toledo. This year’s Camellia Bowl opponent, Middle Tennessee, will be their fifth different bowl opponent in the state of Alabama.

In addition to the post season, A-State has made the trek to Alabama for seven regular season games since 2012. Arkansas State played at Sun Belt Conference rivals Troy in 2012 and 2016 and South Alabama in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Arkansas State played at Auburn in 2013 and 2016.

FORMER BLUE RAIDERS ON A-STATE STAFF:

The Arkansas State coaching staff consists of three former Middle Tennessee assistant coaches. The Red Wolves head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator are all former coaches for the Blue Raiders.

A-State head coach Blake Anderson was the offensive coordinator for the Blue Raiders from 2002-04.

A-State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Joe Cauthen and offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner both spent time on Rick Stockstill’s staff at Middle Tennessee.

Cauthen worked at Middle Tennessee from 2011-13. He was the Blue Raiders’ defensive line coach in 2012 and 2013 after working as the linebackers coach in 2011. He was the special teams coordinator all three years.

Faulkner spent five years on the Middle Tennessee staff from 2011-15. He was the offensive coordinator for the Blue Raiders during the final four seasons on staff. The Blue Raiders set school records for total yards (5,946) and total points (442) in 2015.

Stockstill said that having former assistants on the other sideline would have no effect on the game.

“No, sir, I don’t think it’s an advantage or a disadvantage.” he said. “I’ve never bought into that philosophy. Buster (Faulkner) was here two years ago, he’s been gone two years, and most of our guys weren’t here when he was here. Joe (Cauthen) has been gone, whatever it is, five or six years. The players play the game, so I don’t think there’s any (advantage). I haven’t ever bought into that.”

Stockstill said he did spend some time at the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl ESPN Welcome Party on Tuesday night catching up with his former assistants.

“I spent a good portion of (Tuesday) night with Buster and Joe. Those guys are good friends. It was good to catch up with those guys.”

A-STATE RECEIVER DIJON PASCHAL BACK IN SWEET HOME ALABAMA

MONTGOMERY – The announcement came a day after a heartbreaking loss to Troy cost the Red Wolves a Sun Belt Conference championship.

Arkansas State would be making its first trip to the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl to play Middle Tennessee State on Saturday in Cramton Bowl at 7 p.m.

“The first text messages I had were, ‘Can you get me tickets?’” Tallassee’s Dijon Paschal said. “I’m just excited all my coaches from high school and past teammates finally get to come see me because Arkansas is a good little ride up the road. It’s just a great feeling, being back in front of everyone.”

For Paschal, a tumultuous journey is coming to a close, one that has seen three different head coaches through the early part of his collegiate career.

“We’ve been through a lot, seen a lot,” Paschal admitted. “But one thing we learned was to stick together. It became a business when we got to college so we understood that, bonded and that relationship will keep us together the rest of our lives.”

Paschal was an underappreciated wide out at Tallassee High, accounting for twice as many (884) rushing yards as receiving yards (450), but a gifted athlete whose speed made him a return specialist for the Tigers and caught the eye of the Arkansas State coaching staff and its head coach, Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn would leave for Auburn soon after recruiting Paschal, the third Arkansas State coach in as many years. But it would get worse, not better, for Paschal as Malzahn’s replacement, Bryan Harsin, left the following December for Boise State.

“After (Malzahn) left, Coach Harsin was the first coach I was under but I redshirted,” Paschal said. “So this group of coaches was the first group I was under that I played and they’ve treated me like I was one of their recruits. It was a bond we made.”

Anderson, a former offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Lafayette, Southern Mississippi and most recently

North Carolina, would have a difficult task in those early days at Jonesboro, rebuilding the trust and confidence of a group of players that would ultimately become a standout unit of fifth-year seniors on a Camellia Bowl participant.

“Once we really established the fact that we were really going to be there, I think the guard came down and they really bought in to becoming family,” Anderson said. “I think at first they had been through so many transitions that it was hard to truly believe that we were going to stay put. There’s four guys in that senior class that signed five years ago – Dijon Paschal, Mark Johnson, Jonah Hill and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones – that have gone through three coaches, but you wouldn’t know it. They have accepted us as family. Even though we didn’t recruit them, they treat us as if we did.

“There’s four good (former) walk-ons (Ben Gallagher, Katon Hill, Johnston White and Clifford Thomas) in that class as well, so really eight total guys that went through that transition. They all earned scholarships before their careers were over and all have contributed in different ways.”

Paschal is one of seven Red Wolves that has 20 or more receptions this year, catching 23 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown. Although his numbers aren’t as flashy as the trio of Justin McInnis, Chris Murray and Blake Mack, Paschal’s status as one of the elder statesmen commands respect.

“He’s a great kid, great teammate, guys love him,” Anderson said. “Big smile, the guy never has a bad day. He’s had a great career. His name’s going to be in the record book in some spots, I know his yards per catch has been through the roof. Mainly, he’s just been a great teammate. No matter what the day’s like, he always seems to be positive. The guys love being around him.”

Paschal ranks seventh in school history in receiving yards (1,769), eighth in touchdown receptions (11) and ninth in career receptions (109), but more importantly he has a bachelor’s degree in sports management and is working on a master’s degree in sports administration, with hopes of becoming an athletic director one day.

This week, he’ll have to settle for being the tour guide for the visiting Red Wolves.

“I was basically the uber,” Paschal said. “It was little spots here and there they had been hearing about or wanted to know about, try some good food.”

On Saturday, he hopes to end his career on a high note in his first game at Cramton Bowl.

“It feels amazing, being home in front of all my family and friends,” Paschal said. “Everyone gets to see me and meet all the lovely friends I’ve made.”

SWEET HOME ALABAMA

A total of 19 players in the 2017 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl call Alabama home

Middle Tennessee has nine players on its roster from the state of Alabama

Freshman RB Brad Anderson (Bob Jones HS) is the team’s leading rusher in 2017

He has 89 rushing attempts for 419 yards for the Blue Raiders

He had nine carries for 137 yards and one TD at UAB on Oct. 14

Freshman safety Reed Blankenship (West Limestone HS; Athens) is the team’s fourth leading tackler

He has recorded 63 tackles, seven TFLs (-24 yards) and two interceptions

He made his first career start in the win at Syracuse; he finished the game with five tackles and one interception

Blankenship also leads the team with six punts returns for 69 yards in 2017

Redshirt junior defensive end Walter Brady (Florence HS)

Brady has recorded 38 tackles, five TFLs, four pass breakups and three sacks this year

He played the 2015 season at Missouri before transferring to Middle Tennessee

Brady was a 2015 Freshman All-American at Mizzou

Junior right guard Chandler Brewer (Florence HS) has started 11 games in 2017

Redshirt sophomore RB Terelle West (Clay-Chalkville HS) has 267 rushing yards and three TDs this season.

Middle Tennessee Players from Alabama:

RB Brad Anderson (Bob Jones HS; Huntsville)

S Reed Blankenship (West Limestone HS; Athens)

DE Walter Brady (Florence HS; Florence)

OL Chandler Brewer (Florence HS; Florence)

CB Justin Brown (Parker HS; Birmingham)

LB Caleb Felton (Muscle Shoals HS; Muscle Shoals)

P Matthew Stephenson (Bob Jones HS; Madison)

RB Terelle West (Clay-Chalkville HS; Pinson)

DT Je’Kerrius Wright (Autauga Academy; Prattville)

Arkansas State also has 10 Alabama natives on its roster

Sophomore defensive back B.J. Edmonds (St. Paul’s HS) is the Red Wolves second-leading tackler

Edmonds has 76 tackles and four pass breakups this season

He posted 13 tackles against UL Lafayette and South Alabama

Sophomore linebacker Trent Ellis-Brewer (Daphne HS) had a season-high nine tackles against SMU

Ellis-Brewer has 35 tackles, 3.5 TFLs (-17 yards), two pass breakups and one interception this year

Senior defensive lineman Dee Liner (Muscle Shoals HS) originally signed with Alabama

He played at Alabama in 2013 and 2014 before transferring to ASU

Liner has 53 tackles and 13.5 TFLs in his two seasons in Jonesboro

Redshirt senior receiver Dijon Paschal (Tallassee HS) has 109 catches for 1,769 yards and 11 TDs in his career

He has 22 receptions for 278 yards and one TD this season

Arkansas State Players from Alabama:

LB Caleb Bonner (Pickens County HS; Reform)

OL Lanard Bonner (Shades Valley HS; Birmingham)

DB Brandon Byner (Bessemer City HS; Bessemer)

DB B.J. Edmonds (St. Paul’s HS; Mobile)

LB Trent Ellis-Brewer (Daphne HS; Daphne)

DL Dee Liner (Muscle Shoals HS; Muscle Shoals)

OL Alex Novak (McGill-Toolen HS; Fairhope)

WR Dijon Paschal (Tallassee HS; Tallassee)

DE Griffin Riggs (Auburn HS; Auburn)

DB Larry Wooden (Spain Park HS; Hoover)