‘Top of the mountain’

Todd Drexler/Big South ConferenceCharleston Southern football coach Jamey Chadwell and the Buccaneers were picked to finish first in the Big South preseason poll on Tuesday.

CHARLOTTE — Defending champion Charleston Southern should win the Big South Conference football title again.

At least that’s what media members are predicting after making CSU a near-unanimous pick to win the league title on Tuesday during Big South media day.

The Buccaneers, 10-3 overall and 6-0 in the Big South last season, earned 16 of 18 first-place votes. Liberty, picked second, and Kennesaw State, picked third, each received one first-place vote.

This is the first time CSU has been selected the preseason favorite in football.

“I had an inkling, based on winning last year and having a good nucleus coming back, that we would be the pick, but it’s certainly different for our program,” said CSU coach Jamey Chadwell, who has a 28-10 record in three seasons. “For the three years that I have been here, we have been fighting for respect. Now that we have sort of reached the top of the mountain, we have two choices. We can either look down and fall or we can keep climbing. Hopefully we have done a good job of stressing to our players what has gotten us to this point and that we need to continue to prove ourselves.”

Charleston Southern also walked away with top individual honors at the event. Senior running back Darius Hammond is the preseason offensive player of the year, while junior defensive lineman Anthony Ellis is the preseason defensive player of the year. CSU becomes the fifth school in league history to capture both individual preseason awards.

Hammond received preseason honors at running back, kick returner and punt returner, marking the first time in league history a player has been preseason all-conference at three positions.

“It’s a great honor to be highly thought of, but I could not do anything with my teammates,” said Hammond, who totaled 1,865 all-purpose yards last season. “I love playing my role in the return game, and last year I was able to contribute more as a running back. It doesn’t matter what the coaches ask me to do, I just want to perform and win games.”

Also selected to the first-team offense from CSU were linemen Erik Austell and Jackson Williamson. Along with Ellis, chosen to the first-team defense were linebacker Solomon Brown and defensive back Troy McGowens.

“We have such a great defense, so I was surprised to be the one of our defense chosen (player of the year),” said Ellis, who posted seven sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2015. “Awards are nice, but I still have to go out and prove myself every day. I will play just as hard this year as I ever played.”

The Buccaneers open fall camp on Monday in preparation for the Aug. 27 season opener at five-time FCS national champion North Dakota State. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

(First-place votes in parentheses)

1. Charleston Southern (16)

2. Liberty (1)

3. Kennesaw State (1)

4. Monmouth

5. Gardner-Webb

6. Presbyterian

OFFENSE

QB — Trey White, Kennesaw State

RB — Darius Hammond, CSU

RB — Darrell Bridges, Presbyterian

WR — Zac Parker, Liberty

WR — Darren Ambush, Monmouth

WR — Justin Sumpter, Kennesaw State

TE — Joseph Purter, Presbyterian

OL — Erik Austell, CSU

OL — Malik Letatau, Kennesaw State

OL — Jackson Williamson, CSU

OL — Alex Thompson, Monmouth

OL — Caleb Smith, Gardner-Webb

DEFENSE

DL — Anthony Ellis, CSU

DL — Darnell Leslie, Monmouth

DL — JaRon Greene, Liberty

DL — Obinna Ntiasagwe, Presbyterian

LB — Chad Geter, Gardner-Webb

LB — Solomon Brown, CSU

LB — Aaron Cook, Gardner-Webb

LB — Payton Minnich, Monmouth

DB — Mike Basile, Monmouth

DB — Troy McGowens, CSU

DB — Taylor Henkle, Kennesaw State

DB — Chris Turner, Liberty

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK — Matt White, Monmouth

P — Trey Turner, Liberty

LS — Joseph Smith, CSU

KR — Darius Hammond, CSU

PR — Darius Hammond, CSU

PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

Offense — Darius Hammond, RB, CSU

Defense — Anthony Ellis, DL, CSU