While it was a big defeat, one of the highlights of the season for the Eastern Kentucky University football team was playing at the University of Florida in its famous stadium, nicknamed “The Swamp.”
The late-season game, the final regular-season contest, was a 52-3 Gator victory, not unexpected as the Colonels, from Richmond, Ky., are in the Football Championship Series division. It was still a fun experience for the Colonels to experience one of the most famous atmospheres in the sport.
“We were with them in the first quarter and things got out of hand after that,” said freshman Jared Bowling, a Simon Kenton High school graduate. “It was crazy. You see it on TV, everyone doing the chomp (with their arms). You play it on the video game and everyone is loud there. We’re riding the bus down to the Swamp and you have Florida fans lining the street chomping at us. You come out of the tunnel and you see 80,000 people booing at you. As bad as it was for us, it was definitely something I’ve never experienced before. It was a great learning experience for us to play that type of competition.”
EKU was 9-4 overall, 6-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference and earning an at-large berth to the FCS (formerly I-AA) playoffs, where the team lost 36-16 to Indiana State in the first round. EKU finished 21st in the final national poll. EKU has 21 overall playoff appearances but has not won a postseason game since 1994.
“It was a really good step in the right direction,” Bowling said. “The year before we were 6-6 and missed the playoffs. It was more what we were looking for. We want to win the conference every year.”
EKU had a chance to tie for the conference title before losing to Jacksonville State.
“Having a chance to win the conference against Jacksonville State was a great feeling,” Bowling said. “We want to take the next step next year.”
Bowling was a regular player on special teams this season. He was a two-time all-conference selection at SK and honorable mention all-state. He had 316 career tackles, 154 as a senior and also played basketball for four years, where he earned the Mr. Hustle Award by the conference.
Several Northern Kentuckians contributed to the Colonels this year, including junior linebacker Chris Kelly (Newport Central Catholic), freshman offensive lineman Kameron Crim (Scott), junior offensive lineman Brett Eyckmans (Beechwood) and junior wide receiver Taylor Miller (Conner).
Eyckmans started on the offensive line and was named first-team all-conference in the OVC, leading a line that led the Colonels to 31 points and 410 yards per game. In addition to his all-conference honors, Eyckmans was named the team’s offensive lineman of the year. He started every game the past two seasons and six as a freshman.
Eyckmans was first-team all-state at Beechwood and a three-year starter.
Kelly recorded 3,600 rushing yards and 230 tackles at NewCath, leading the Thoroughbreds to the 2010 state title. He was second team all-state and a team captain.
At EKU, he had 75 tackles this past season, including eight for loss, and a high of 10 in one game. Kelly was named the team’s Most Improved honoree on defense.
In 2013, he saw action in all 12 games on special teams and as a backup linebacker. He had a season-high of four tackles in a game and also recovered a fumble. He played 10 games as a freshman.
Miller had 12 catches for 107 yards this season after not playing his first three years at EKU. He had three catches in two separate conference games. He was a three-year varsity player at Conner. His senior year at Conner, he had 81 catches for 1,252 yards with 11 touchdowns, and was an all-region pick. Miller was named EKU Most Improved player on offense.
Playing with friends from different teams has been great for Bowling.
“It’s pretty fun,” Bowling said. “We joke back and forth all the time with each other. I enjoy the bond we have with each other. We all live in the same dorm and we hang out with each other all the time. It builds the team up because you’re going at each other the whole time. When you step on the field, it’s all about football and going against each other make the team that much better.”
EKU was named the Team Sportsmanship Award winner for the OVC.
Cincinnatians also contributed to EKU’s success.
Thomas Owens, a sophomore from Winton Woods, played two games at linebacker this year after contributing at running back as a freshman. In 2013, he had two 100-yard rushing games and 368 yards overall. At WW, he was a standout quarterback and played on the Warriors’ 2009 state champions.
Junior ShaQuille Prather (Hughes) has played on both sides of the ball every season for the Colonels. He was three-year captain for Hughes. He had 22 tackles this season in six games.
Former University of Cincinnati quarterback Bennie Coney split time under center for the Colonels, throwing for 1,185 yards and seven TDs. Also on the roster were senior tight end Dan Shepherd (Glen Este) and freshman defensive lineman Justin Myles (Colerain). Shepherd had two catches in two games played.
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