TLU seniors Kyle Grona (left) and Emory Cuzze (right) are two of the 11 players to be named a 2018 Player to Watch in the American Southwest Conference.
(Seguin) - Texas Lutheran Football is the fourth pick in the 2018 American Southwest Conference Preseason Football Poll, the conference office announced this week.
In the poll, the Bulldogs trail NCAA Division III national runner-up Mary Hardin-Baylor, NCAA DIII playoff team Hardin-Simmons, and East Texas Baptist.
TLU tied for third (with East Texas Baptist and Southwestern) in last year's conference football race.
Southwestern, Sul Ross State, Louisiana College, McMurry, Howard Payne and Belhaven (Miss.) rounded out the poll.
The poll came from a vote of the league's head coaches, sports information directors and media members.
The Bulldogs were picked seventh in the ASC preseason poll a year ago.
In 2017, TLU Head Coach Carl Gustafson took command of a Bulldog program coming off a 2-8 season. TLU had six returning starters on offense and two returning starters on defense when Gustafson took the job on Nov. 17, 2016.
But with a vastly improved defense, a powerful rushing attack and contributions from players new and old, Gustafson and the Bulldogs went 6-4 overall and 6-3 in the conference, grabbing a third-place league finish that tied for the Bulldogs' best-ever finish in the ASC.
For the Bulldogs' turn-around performance in the always-tough ASC, Gustafson was named ASC Co-Coach of the Year.
Gustafson and the Bulldogs welcomed 149 student-athletes to campus on Saturday for the start of fall camp. TLU opens its 2018 season with a 6 p.m. home game on Sept. 8 against Hendrix College (Ark.). The game will be played at TLU's Bulldog Stadium - Frank L. Dunne Field.
The Bulldogs bring back eight starters, including Second Team All-ASC quarterback Kyle Grona, on offense and return 10 starters on defense.
Grona and senior linebacker Emory Cuzze were two of the 11 players in the conference to be named a 2018 ASC Player to Watch.
Grona scored 10 touchdowns (all rushing scores) and finished second on the team in net rushing yards, with 544. In the road win over East Texas Baptist, Grona tied the school record for rushing TDs in a game by scoring four times on the ground. For the year, he averaged 4.0 yards per carry and had a long run of 43 yards.
Grona threw for 1,840 yards and had 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He completed 59.39 percent of his passes and had a long TD pass of 61 yards.
Cuzze (Buda/Hays) led TLU in total tackles with 69 in 2017. He has 32 solo stops and 37 tackle assists. He also recorded four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also added an interception and a safety.
Cuzze enters his final year as a Bulldog with 159 career tackles and 12.5 career tackles for loss.
TLU has six home games and four road games in 2018. All 10 contests will be aired live on tlubulldogs.com (video) and on Seguin radio station KWED 1580 AM.
Hardin-Simmons senior running back Jaquan Hemphill was voted the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and teammate senior kick returner/punter Reese Childress was selected as the Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year.
UMHB senior linebacker Tevin Jones was named the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Hemphill was the 2017 ASC Offensive Player of the Year. He ran for 1,028 yards and 14 touchdowns with 317 yards and three scores receiving. He was a D3football.com All-American Honorable Mention and a Preseason First Team All-America pick.
Jones led the Cru with 129 total tackles last season and was a Third Team All-America pick. He added 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and five pass break-ups. He earned First Team All-ASC honors and was a First Team All-South Region selection, as well. Jones was a D3football.com Preseason All-America First Team selection.
Childress was the 2017 ASC Special Teams Player of the Year after averaging 12.9 yards per punt return with a touchdown, 20.8 yards per kick return and 40.1 yards per punt. Childress was an All-Region selection last year and a First Team All-ASC pick at slot back and punter.
McMurry has completed the reclassifying process from NCAA Division II and is eligible for the NCAA Championship.
Belhaven enters its fourth and final year of transition into Division III athletics and will not be eligible for selection to the NCAA Championship this year.
With nine eligible members, the ASC will once again have an automatic qualifier for the NCAA Championship in 2018. The regular-season champion will be selected to the playoffs, which begin on Nov. 17.
The 2018 season gets underway Aug. 30 as McMurry hosts Trinity, East Texas Baptist takes on University of Wisconsin-Platteville at home, and Belhaven hosts Millsaps (Miss.).
The NCAA Division III Football Championship playoffs begin Nov. 17, with the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl national championship game scheduled for Dec. 14 or 15 at Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shenandoah, Texas.