When Tennessee State’s football coaches went searching for a big-play threat, they didn’t have to look far, and from all indications won’t have to wait long for the payoff.
The staff convinced Ravenwood’s Chris Rowland to follow his family tradition and sign with TSU, where he has wasted no time making an impact on the Tigers’ offense and special teams.
The dynamic 5-foot-8, 170-pound freshman already is working with the first and second teams at running back and receiver while also returning kicks and punts.
“I kind of sort of did come in expecting to play early because when they recruited me, they were telling me they wanted me to bring something they haven’t had with this ball club in a while, which is explosiveness,” Rowland said.
Rowland already has made plenty of impressive plays in preseason camp. In the first scrimmage on Saturday, he returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
He’s also already become a favorite target of quarterback Oshay Ackerman-Carter.
“Chris is out here making plays against our ones on defense,” Ackerman-Carter said. “He’s picking up the offense real well and he’s also a threat on special teams. He’s just going to be an all-around weapon for us.”
TSU’s offense needs the help. The Tigers finished seventh in the Ohio Valley Conference last season in total offense (332.6 yards) and sixth in scoring (24.6 points).
Rowland is naturally eager to play as quickly as possible and willing to step in wherever he’s needed most. He does, however, believe he is most effective at running back.
“I think I’m more dangerous if I can get the ball directly in my hands so I don’t have to think and catch the ball,” Rowland said. “If I can get it quickly and go ahead and make a move.”
In leading Ravenwood to the Class 6A championship last season he had 47 receptions for 924 yards and nine TDs while rushing for 744 yards on 98 carries and scoring 10 TDs.
Rowland also averaged 49.6 yards per kickoff return and 18.6 yards on punt returns. He returned a total of five kicks for TDs.
“He is a guy that we feel like can come in and contribute right away,” TSU coach Rod Reed said. “When we recruited him, he was just electric. His body is mature. He works out with his dad a lot wrestling.”
Rowland’s father, Tony, wrestled at Maplewood and Middle Tennessee State, where he qualified for the NCAA Championships and the 1980 and 1984 Olympics. He is a personal wrestling trainer.
“I’ve been very, very impressed,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Parker. “He’s picked it up well. Because of that, we’re going to move him around a little bit and try to give him the ball quite a bit.”
Along with the promise from the coaching staff to use him early, Rowland said he chose TSU because several members in his family have attended the school.
“My grandfather Fredrick Smith was a professor here, my grandmother was a majorette and my mom was also in the band,” Rowland said. “My grandfather on my pop’s side was in the band also. I wanted to make my family proud and go here.”
Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 and on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.