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Looking Toward MTSU

From the MTSU web site:

October 30, 2006

Blue Raiders sweep SBC football awards
Trio becomes first to sweep since 2001

MT Media Relations

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee pulled a sweep of
the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week awards for the first
time since 2001 as announced by the league office today.

Quarterback Clint Marks was the SBC Offensive Player of the
Week, while Damon Nickson brought home the defensive award,
and Colby Smith earned the special teams honor.

Vote: Damon Nickson candidate for NFL's Davis Dandies
The Blue Raiders swept the awards in back-to-back weeks in
2001 (Sept. 24 and Oct. 1) for the only other time the feat has
been accomplished.

In the road win over Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday, Marks
completed 19 of 26 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown. It
went down as the seniors' 17th 200-yard passing game of his career and the third of the season.

Marks, who also scored a rushing touchdown, hit eight different receivers and had five passes of 20 or
more yards.

Defensively, Nickson became the first player in school history and the Sun Belt Conference to register
four interceptions in a game when he turned in the rare effort in the 34-20 win over the Ragin' Cajuns. The Milton, Fla., native did more than intercept passes as he collected six tackles, a forced
fumble, averaged 29.5 yards on two kickoff returns, and had a 14-yard punt return. Nickson also earned the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week on Sunday.

For the second time this season, senior Colby Smith was voted the Special Teams Player of the week after another solid effort in the win at ULL. As a placekicker, Smith scored 10 points and hit both field goal attempts to run his season total to 38 points. In the punting department, Smith boomed five punts for a 46.4-yard average and placed two inside the 20-yard line.
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From the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tenn.:

Article published Oct 30, 2006

MTSU still avoiding title talk
Stockstill doesn't want team looking ahead to bowl

By ADAM SPARKS
[email protected]

Despite notions to the contrary, MTSU coach Rick Stockstill has not included the Dec. 22 New Orleans Bowl on his itinerary.

He hasn't booked a flight to the Big Easy, perused hotel options or looked at the accomodations at the Superdome, where the Sun Belt Conference champion plays in the annual bowl.

The Blue Raiders haven't even done a Mapquest.com search for directions to all the hot spots in New Orleans.

The trip isn't on MTSU's map, so to speak.

"Nobody better say a word, and I'm not going to say a word about (the New Orleans Bowl)," Stockstill said after his Blue Raiders beat Louisiana-Lafayette 34-20 Saturday to become the Sun Belt's new favorite.

"I couldn't care less about that because we've still got three conference games left. If it happens, it happens. We'll know if we're going to New Orleans after Thanksgiving," Stockstill continued. "I couldn't care less what people think or say or make reservations and all that stuff. It couldn't mean a hill of beans to me right now. I'm just not going to go there."

A little irritated? Maybe, but Stockstill knows the conference's recent history and parity. He also can do the math in figuring that MTSU is barely halfway through its seven-game league schedule.

MTSU (4-0) and Troy (2-0) are the only undefeated teams in Sun Belt play, and they meet Nov. 25 in Murfreesboro for the season finale. But several other scenarios will be met before then.

The Blue Raiders have three conference games remaining, including their homecoming game Saturday against a suddenly legitimate title contender Florida Atlantic (2-1). MTSU also plays at Arkansas State, who was unbeaten in conference play before a 29-0 loss to FAU over the weekend.

MTSU quarterback Clint Marks echoed his coach's sentiments about the New Orleans Bowl.

"We can't be talking about it," Marks said. "The only way you get there is by taking it one step at a time, and that's what we're doing. We're not to that step yet. We're at FAU, and anything else is far away right now.

"We're proud of the win (over ULL), but we're going to look at the next one as being just as important as this one. We can't get too ahead of ourselves. FAU is next, and we're going to approach it like we did (ULL)."

The Blue Raiders savored their win in the meeting of unbeaten teams over the weekend. But today, they will prepare for FAU in hopes of winning their homecoming game after spoiling the same event for ULL.

"As far as statement game, I don't think (the ULL win) is one more than any other one," MTSU junior receiver Taron Henry said. "Every game is a chance to make a statement for us. Make one statement this week and try to make another next week. We just focus on making the most of each game and not look ahead."
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From the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tenn.:

Will fans respond to first-place MTSU

By ADAM SPARKS
[email protected]

Oh, the harsh Middle Tennessee winter is on its way.

OK, so maybe the Midstate isn?t quite as cold as some may think. But go to MTSU?s Floyd Stadium Saturday and get a real feel for the climate.

Regardless of the Blue Raiders? level of success, November has never been a good month for home attendance at football games. When the cold days come, the people usually don?t ? and that even goes for winning seasons like MTSU?s 8-3 campaign in 2001.

But now the Blue Raiders are 5-3 and 4-0 in Sun Belt play. They are vying to claim their first bowl eligibility since 2001 and first outright conference title. And by the way, Saturday is homecoming.

The latest forecast calls for sunny skies with temperatures in the low 60s for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff against Florida Atlantic.

MTSU is closing in on its all-time attendance record, but crowds have typically dwindled around this time.

The conditions should be gorgeous Saturday, but the true forecast will be gauging how many fair-weather fans come out to see the first-place Blue Raiders.

? Adam Sparks, 278-5167
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grayowl said

Oh, the harsh Middle Tennessee winter is on its way.

GrayOwl,
You must get a kick out of the reference to cold weather. I know I do. I grew up in Chicago and lived in Durango for some time. Middle Tennessee has nothing on the upper mid-west.

In fact, yesterday it was sunny and mid 70s here in Southern Illinois (about 3.5 hours north of MTSU). This weekends weather will maybe dip into the 40s at night, but it should be about 55 during the day. Talk about fair weather fans. GO OWLS!!!

You can run kitties, but you can't hide!!!
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OwlFan1, you're right. The crazy guys around here would tank up on 'anti-freeze' and be skiing in shorts with no shirts if they had a Middle Tennessee 'winter' cold spell. Durango, huh? That's a wonderful part of the state. We get down there from time to time. There is, by the way, a pretty good winery near Durango (Sutcliffe). Meanwhile, pity the kids (and parents) who will go trick-or-treating tonight in Breckenridge. Forecast for 4 p.m. is 21 degrees, 5 p.m. is 19 – and then it starts getting cold. It'll be dark by 4:30 (western mountains make for early sunsets up here). Time for a good, old-fashioned hot-buttered rum.
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grayowl, I can feel for the kids. Growing up in the Great White North I can remember more than a few times when we would wear our costumes over our snow suits to go trick-or-treating. Good times.

President of the No Homers Club. Keepin' it real since 2001.
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owlfan1 said

grayowl said

Oh, the harsh Middle Tennessee winter is on its way.

GrayOwl,
You must get a kick out of the reference to cold weather. I know I do. I grew up in Chicago and lived in Durango for some time. Middle Tennessee has nothing on the upper mid-west.

In fact, yesterday it was sunny and mid 70s here in Southern Illinois (about 3.5 hours north of MTSU). This weekends weather will maybe dip into the 40s at night, but it should be about 55 during the day. Talk about fair weather fans. GO OWLS!!!

It's colder here than in southern Florida, and I think that's what has them wondering. It's obvious that FAU won't bring as many fans as anyone else we've seen at Floyd including FIU, so really a great attendance depends on entirely what our fans do. The game is televised so it could be less in numbers than expected.

It's homecoming so there will be no less than 20,000 for sure.
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From the Murfreesboro, Tenn., Daily News Journal:

Tuesday, 10/31/06

MTSU's Nickson wins another national honor

By ADAM SPARKS
The Daily News Journal

MURFREESBORO - Middle Tennessee State junior safety Damon Nickson is now the first and second Blue Raider to garner a National Player of the Week award in the Division I-A era.

Nickson has been named the FWAA/ Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in MTSU?s 34-20 win at Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday.

On Sunday, Nickson was named National Defensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation for the same game.

Nickson?s four interceptions against ULL, including one returned 28 yards for a touchdown, set a new school and Sun Belt Conference record and was one pick shy of the NCAA record.

Against ULL, Nickson also had a forced fumble and a team-high six tackles.

This marks Nickson?s second school record in the last three games, as he posted 187 kick return yards and an 88-yard touchdown against Louisville.
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From the Murfreesboro, Tenn., Daily News Journal:

Article published Nov 1, 2006

MTSU's Mr. October

Junior safety Damon Nickson has broken out on a national scale

By ADAM SPARKS
[email protected]

Damon Nickson's breakout surprised almost everyone but himself.

"I firmly believe that there's a time for everyone to step and become a leader and take on a bigger role," Nickson, MTSU's junior safety, said. "This looks to be that time for me, and I thought this season would be big for me. But I had no idea it would happen like this."

After two and a half years of stellar but uneventful play, Nickson has reeled off one of the best individual months in school history.

His October included two National Player of the Week awards, two Sun Belt Conference weekly honors, plenty of national recognition, two school records and one league mark.

Against Louisville Oct. 6, Nickson debuted at kick returner with an 88-yard touchdown, the first opening kick return for a score by a Blue Raiders since 1985. The play sparked MTSU's primetime appearance on ESPN2, the school's second ever national telecast, in front of the largest home crowd in school history.

Last Saturday at Louisiana-Lafayette, Nickson set a school and Sun Belt record with four interceptions, including one returned for a 28-yard touchdown.

Posting the most picks in a single game in college football this season, Nickson garnered National Player of the Week honors from both Bronko Nagurski and the Walter Camp Foundation.

While the first-place Blue Raiders improved to 4-0 in Sun Belt play, Nickson led the team in tackles in all three October games.

But again, perhaps only Nickson saw it coming.

"We were sitting on the plane together (headed to the UL-Lafayette game), and Damon said, 'I just have a feeling I'm going to make a big play in this game,'" MTSU junior cornerback Bradley Robinson said. "Then right before the game, he looked at me again and said, 'Hey B, watch this. I'm about to have a big game.' Sure enough, he had four interceptions and a touchdown. He had a huge game, and he felt like he would."

The degree of Nickson's feats are even more eye-opening considering he had flown under the radar through most of his career.

A part-time starter since his freshman year, Nickson had only one career interception before his five picks in the last three games.

He was a solid safety before this season, but it took the last month of heightened play to become the Blue Raiders' second leading tackler.

MTSU first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz doesn't think Nickson's recent rise is an overnight success.

"It's hard to say the guy has arrived all the sudden because he picked off four passes," Diaz said. "I thought he was a pretty good player before that. He just happened to reap the fruits of his labor all on the same day."

Diaz also thinks Nickson's light bulb ignited during the Louisville game, but not because of his touchdown return or first interception of the season. It was when Nickson failed to bat down a Cardinals' touchdown pass that put the game mostly out of reach just before halftime.

"I think the turning point for him was the Louisville game. The interception that went through his hands and the touchdown right before halftime that got past him just absolutely crushed him," Diaz said. "The question always is, Who's going to be the best player on our defense? He had a play to be that guy there, but he didn't make it. But in the second half in the same situation, he made that play (with an interception).

"From that point on, he's realized that he wasn't happy anymore being a role player or just a starter. He said, 'I want to be that guy that teammates look toward to make that play.'"

In only a month of work, Nickson has climbed into the top 10 nationally in kick return average and interceptions, two statistics not included in his identity in past years.

But with growing success and confidence, Nickson has been given more responsibilities.

After already making his debut at kick returner three games ago, Nickson did likewise at punt returner and wide receiver in the last two games.

As a playmaker for one of the league's top defenses, Nickson has been a catalyst in MTSU's hopeful conference title run.

But Nickson's impact on the program in terms of exposure nearly trumps his play.

Regardless of the type of the effect, Nickson's ascent has spelled success for the Blue Raiders.

"This is definitely Damon's breakout," Robinson said. "Everybody around the country saw him on ESPN2 run back a kickoff against Louisville in primetime. Who could ask for a better opening than that? And then he gets all this attention for the four picks.

"But we love Damon for making those plays. When he gets recognition, Middle Tennessee gets recognition and both have gotten a lot lately."


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From the Murfreesboro, Tenn., Daily News Journal:

Article published Nov 1, 2006

Target already on MTSU

Leave it to one of the Sun Belt?s most veteran coaches to foreshadow a game with possible conference title implications a month before it?s played.

MTSU shares the Sun Belt lead at 4-0 after defeating previously unbeaten Louisiana-Lafayette 34-20 last week. Troy is also atop the standings at 2-0, but will not face the Blue Raiders until Nov. 25, MTSU?s season finale.

So why on the Sun Belt teleconference this week did Troy coach Larry Blakeney laud MTSU as the conference favorite?

Blakeney said, ?Middle is the odds on favorite, … and they have some big home games. I know they have us (Troy) at home later on. But you have to look at Middle because somebody has got to beat them.?

Blakeney practically echoed that sentiment on his weekly press conference at Troy, as the Trojans prepare for Louisiana-Lafayette.

Of course, Blakeney knows that if his squad wins its next three conference games, the trip to Murfreesboro would be a battle of the league?s only unbeaten teams.

That?s when a month of praise for the Blue Raiders and a month of telling his team it?s not up to MTSU?s level might pay off. It?s never too early to prime your team for perhaps its biggest game, especially when the message is subliminal.

? Adam Sparks, 278-5167
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