Spring Hill, Independence linemen shine in OVC

Spring Hill, Independence linemen shine in OVC


Offensive linemen from Spring Hill and Thompson’s Station will play big roles up front again this fall in their final season for two Ohio Valley Conference football teams.

Offensive linemen from Spring Hill and Thompson’s Station will play big roles up front again this fall in their final season for two Ohio Valley Conference football teams.

Spring Hill graduate Nathan Sanders (6-4, 315) is a second-year starter at guard as an Austin Peay redshirt senior. Independence alum Drew Kelley (6-4, 295) anchors the Murray State line at left tackle in his fourth season of action. 

Nathan Sanders (Spring Hill) Austin Peay

Sanders was spotlighted at Monday’s OVC media day in Nashville for the Governors, rebuilding under second-year coach Kirby Cannon in their eighth season back after a decade of non-scholarship football.  Austin Peay’s winless season in 2013 began with five straight road games starting with back-to-back losses at in-state SEC schools Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Nathan Sanders at OVC media day (Photo courtesy of APSU Sports Information)

“The way we got beat in those games, mentally and physically, I just feel we never got the season back on track,†Sanders said. “Starting off in Memphis, we’ve played them before and that’s a good team over there, but I feel like we’re a good team. We’ve got this thing heading in the right direction. I feel like the start of this season will be better than the one last year.â€

Sanders followed his older brother in playing college football after Jeffrey played at MTSU and Campbellsville. Nathan sat behind his brother his freshman year at Spring Hill High School when the Raiders made the playoffs, then took over on the O-line as a sophomore and helped return SHHS to the playoffs his senior season.

“My senior year we turned it around, went to the playoffs. We gave Spring Hill something that they haven’t had in a long time; we had a home playoff game,†he said. “I’m hoping we can do the same here at Austin Peay. It’s my senior year and hopefully we can go out with a good record, win some games and surprise some people.â€

While the Aug. 30 season-opener at Memphis (6 p.m.) will be the first broadcast on the OVC’s ESPN3 package, APSU will inaugurate its $19 million New Governors Stadium in its second game Sept. 13 against Chattanooga.  Sanders believes the rebuilt facility including new locker rooms and luxury boxes will help the Govs’ recruiting in addition to the game-day experience.

“That’s going to be great. We have been looking forward to that ever since the last week of fall practice last year when we saw the stadium torn down,†Sanders said. “And then seeing the foundation being built during spring practice and everything, there’s not a better feeling knowing you’re going to be the first one to be able to play in that stadium.â€

Sanders plans on some kind of career in football after college, possibly as a player at the pro level and eventually in the coaching ranks. His last regular-season home game is against Tennessee State Nov. 8, and the finale is also in his home state at Tennessee Tech Nov. 22.

“It’d be great if I could say I could go play in the NFL, but why not give it a shot? It’s only a once in a lifetime opportunity,†he said. “But if I can’t do that, what about other football leagues – (in) Europe or go up to Canada and play? But if all that falls out, I’d like to get a graduate assistant job, maybe here at Austin Peay, or wherever they’ll take me. All you need to do is get that foot in the door and hopefully I’ll become a college football coach.â€

Drew Kelley (Independence), Murray State

Kelley was one of two players Murray State was bringing to media day originally, but the Thompson’s Station native couldn’t get back from vacation in time.

“To me, he’s one of the best offensive leaders we have on our football team, just by the way he works, on and off the field,†Racers Coach Chris Hatcher said at Monday’s OVC media day at the Holiday Inn Vanderbilt. “We’re very proud of him.â€

Murray State offensive tackle Drew Kelley (Photo courtesy of Murray State Sports Information)

The Racers’ high-throttle Hatch Attack rolled up nearly 400 yards of offense and 29.8 points per game in 2013. Kelley will be protecting a different starting quarterback for the third straight year, and All-American receiver Walter Powell is now in the NFL.

“He’s a tremendous leader, very smart, intelligent young man,†Hatcher said. “He’s played every year he’s been with us. We’re expecting big things out of him.â€

Kelley started every game at left tackle his sophomore and junior seasons after getting playing time at both tackle and tight end his freshman year.

Murray beat OVC preseason favorite Jacksonville State 35-34 and Eastern Kentucky both in overtime last fall and lost just 17-10 to Tennessee State, nationally ranked this year. The Racers also fell to Southeast Missouri 37-34 in a triple-OT contest in going 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the league.

The Racers opened the season at Southeastern Conference power Missouri (L 58-14) and have Louisville on this year’s schedule in the second game on Sept. 6. Kelley will return to Tennessee for his final regular-season games in his home state on Oct. 4 at Tennessee Tech and Oct. 18 at Austin Peay, while finishing out against TSU on Nov. 22 in Murray, Ky.

“Offensive linemen, they have a very unassuming job,†Hatcher said. “Nobody knows who they are, but I sure feel a lot better when 77 is on the left side of our line.â€

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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