Citadel vs. ETSU (copy)

Cam Jackson and The Citadel Bulldogs play their SoCon opener at ETSU on Saturday. (File/Michael Pronzato/Staff)

At 1 p.m. Saturday, the funeral for former Citadel Bulldog Mitchell Jeter will begin at Rock Hill High School, where he starred in football and wrestling.

At the same time Saturday, about 188 miles to the northwest, Jeter's former teammates at The Citadel will kickoff their Southern Conference opener at East Tennessee State, beginning their quest for a third straight league title.

“No doubt about it, we're playing for Mitch,” said Russell Hubbs, a junior linebacker from Rock Hill who met Jeter as a sixth-grader when they wrestled each other. “We're playing for Mitchell, for his family and for his kids.”

Jeter, 23, died in a two-car accident last weekend, a wreck that also killed a family of three from Laurens. The SoCon defensive player of the year in 2015, Jeter had just joined the Army after a try at a pro football career in Canada, and leaves behind two young daughters.

Citadel players learned of Jeter's death last Sunday morning during a team meeting while the Bulldogs were on the road due to Hurricane Irma.

The Citadel won by 48-7 at Presbyterian last Saturday in a game that was moved from Johnson Hagood Stadium, spent that night in Johnson City, Tenn., and stayed Monday and Tuesday at Lookup Lodge near Greenville, practicing Monday at Clemson's indoor facility. The Bulldogs returned to campus on Wednesday.

It was not the ideal week that Bulldogs coach Brent Thompson might have drawn up heading into the league opener.

“It's been a tough week,” Hubbs said. “The hurricane thing, we did that last year and we planned it out a lot better this year, but we'll play any team anywhere.

“We were all shocked about Mitchell, but we've got a job to do this weekend, and we'll do it.”

Thompson said it was important for the Bulldogs' travel squad to return to campus and re-unite with the entire team.

“We needed to get the rest of the team together,” he said. “It's a little bit tough practicing with just a travel squad out there, so it was important to get everyone together and focused on ETSU.”

The Citadel will be going for the 500th victory in program history at ETSU, where the 13th-ranked Bulldogs last played in 2003. The Citadel beat the Buccaneers, 45-10, last season at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

The game will mark ETSU's first SoCon game in its new stadium, 7,694-seat William B. Greene Jr. Stadium. The Bucs were 5-6 last year, with victories over Kennesaw State of the Big South and SoCon foes Western Carolina and Samford, which made the 24-team FCS playoff field.

This season, ETSU is 1-1 with a 31-10 win over Limestone and a 52-10 loss to defending FCS national champ James Madison and former Citadel coach Mike Houston.

“I talked to Coach Houston and he says they were very good and very sound on defense and played them very tough,” Thompson said.

ETSU quarterback Austin Herink, a 6-3, 206-pound junior, has hit 59.6 percent of his passes for 357 yards through two games, with three touchdowns and one interception. Junior Jajuan Stinson is offensive coordinator Mike O'Cain's top rusher, with 101 yards and a TD on 29 carries through two games.

The Citadel, meanwhile, has seen something of a two-QB system develop in its first two games. Starter Dominique Allen has rushed for 148 yards and three touchdowns, while backup Jordan Black has 142 rushing yards and a TD to go with four TD passes.

“I think it poses a lot of problems for defenses,” Thompson said. “Sometimes there are two different game plans, an idea of what we can run with Dom in the game and an idea of what we can run with Jordan in the game. It's a nice dual threat to have.”

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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