NASHVILLE --- The Tennessee State football squad garnered more honors on Friday. Eight members of the Big Blue were named to the Phil Steele All-Ohio Valley Conference Team, highlighted by Chris Rowland who was named Special Teams Player of the Year for the conference.
Rowland earned a spot on the first team as a punt returner and second team at wide receiver. With the Tigers playing just nine games due to two weather cancelations, the junior finished with 963 all purpose yards in eight games played, sitting out the contest at Vanderbilt due to injury. Rowland caught 57 passes for 727 yards and five touchdowns, ranking amongst the top receivers in the nation with 7.1 receptions per game (11th) and 90.9 receiving yards per game (21st). The Nolensville, Tenn. product was a threat on special teams averaging 13.0 yards per punt return, totaling 182 yards on 14 attempts. Rowland was number one in the OVC, eighth in FCS play in punt returns and was 36th in all purpose yards, with 120.4 yards per game.
Chidi Okeke, Raekwon Allen, Dajour Nesbeth and Thomas Newberg joined Rowland on the first team. Mekhi Brown was named to the second team, while Treon Harris and DeVon Johnson were named to the third team.
Okeke and Allen were the only Tiger linemen to start and play in all nine contests. The duo anchored an offensive unit which ranked 20th in the country in passing and ranked 31st in total offense. Okeke and Allen led a unit to a 105 yard per game increase in total yardage from a year ago, averaging 431.3 yards in 2018.
Nesbeth led the Tigers with 58 tackles and 42 solos. The preseason All-OVC selection picked off four passes on the season, averaging 0.4 interceptions per game which ranked 14th in the nation. Nesbeth topped the OVC and was 19th in the country with 1.2 passes defended per game.
Newberg has served as the long snapper on every punt and field goal attempt for the past three seasons. The junior highlighted his career with a touchdown reception as a sophomore on a fake field goal during the Homecoming contest against Austin Peay. Newberg has been perfect in his snaps for the last two years.
Brown finished with 26 stops, 16 solo, 6.5 for loss and shared the team lead with 4.0 sacks. The redshirt junior sparked the comeback at Eastern Illinois with a strip sack in the final minute of the first half, leading to a score to cut into an early 21 point deficit.
Johnson closed out his senior season with three touchdown receptions against UT Martin, but earned a spot as a kickoff returner. Johnson returned 16 kicks for 423 yards (26.4 yards/return) which topped the OVC and was 15th in the country. The redshirt senior finished the year averaging 107.7 yards per game.
Harris impressed in his first season as a wide receiver catching 35 passes for 476 yards and five touchdowns in just seven games. The senior averaged 13.6 yards per catch and posted a career best eight receptions and 109 yards while scoring a touchdown at Vanderbilt. Harris hauled in two scoring passes against Tennessee Tech and caught and passed for touchdowns at Eastern Illinois.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Chidi Okeke, LT
Raekwon Allen, RG
Dajour Nesbeth, CB
Chris Rowland, PR
Thomas Newberg, LS
Chris Rowland, WR
Mekhi Brown, DE
Treon Harris, WR
DeVon Johnson, KR