Eastern Illinois eyeing turnaround season, two Panthers named to preseason All-OVC team


(WCIA) — The Ohio Valley Conference held it’s annual football media days on Monday, with the event taking place virtually. Eastern Illinois will open the season with a Week Zero game against rival Indiana State on August 28th.

The Panthers are heading into year three under head coach Adam Cushing — it’s a quick turnaround for them who played their last game of the 2020-21 season in April. Despite only winning two games in the last two seasons, the Panthers are hopeful of a turnaround with a more experienced team. Cushing had a dozen freshman in the starting lineup last season.

“They now have that game experience, and understand how hard it is to win a Division-I football game, they understand that those tiny little things throughout the offseason add up to that. Our guys are ready to build on that, and turn it into those W’s that we’ve been looking for consistently.”

“Not being able the finish the way that we’ve been preaching about now, it’s fuel to the fire,” says junior running back Jaelin Benefield. “It keeps you ready, keeps you on your toes, and ready to go out there and do what we came here to do.”

Benefield is among the team’s returning starters, who had 258 rushing yards in six games last season. The team also returning linebacker Jason Johnson, and kick returner Matt Judd. Judd and Johnson were named to the OVC Preaseason All-Conference team. Jason had 66 tackles in just six games, ranking 8th in the FCS. Judd, a transfer from Illinois, ranked 13th in the FCS for kickoff return average.

“The summer’s been outstanding, you can tell guys are just happy to be there, it’s a ‘get to attitude’ rather than ‘have to,’ and all the guys are just bought in,” says Judd. “Just the development of the guys as a whole is just outstanding, you see guys growing, getting stronger, faster. But it’s been awesome coming back and finally getting back into the summer football, rather than spring football.”

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