The top 10 Middle Tennessee football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
QB Brent Stockstill, Soph.
The Blue Raiders have their quarterback of the future. And they’ll have him for the next three seasons. The head coach’s son was sensational in his debut, falling just 53 yards shy of Jameis Winston’s freshman passing record. Stockstill is just 6-0 and 209 pounds, but he throws precise darts and has an excellent feel for the game. He completed two-thirds of his 490 passes for 4,005 yards, 30 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. And he’s just getting started in Murfreesboro.
WR Richie James, Soph.
Major programs saw a small high school quarterback. Middle Tennessee recognized the potential. Advantage Blue Raiders. James was a rookie revelation in 2015, earning Freshman All-American honors for catching 108 balls for 1,346 yards and eight touchdowns. The 5-9, 177-pound speedster was dominant from start to finish, and he’ll continue to improve as he grows older and works with fellow sophomore QB Brent Stockstill.
CB Jeremy Cutrer, Sr.
Last year, Cutrer introduced himself to Conference USA. This season, he says hello to NFL scouts. Cutrer isn’t the typical Blue Raider in that he was headed to Baton Rouge before failing to qualify academically at LSU. In his first season after transferring from Mississippi Gulf Coast, Cutrer was named second-team all-league with three picks, a team-high 13 pass breakups and two blocked kicks. If the 6-2, 170-pounder’s numbers slip, it’ll be because opposing quarterbacks choose not to challenge him.
WR Terry Pettis, Sr.
Pettis really benefitted from the opening up of the passing game, delivering a career year in 2015. The Blue Raiders’ version of a tight end used his length, 6-5 and 240 pounds, to school opposing defenses for 29 receptions for 612 yards and four touchdowns. Pettis is a legitimate seam-buster, particularly when teams direct too many resources to stopping Richie James on the outside.
C Daniel Stephens, Sr.
All-league voters said otherwise, but Stephens made his case as Middle Tennessee’s top blocker of 2015. He started every game at guard, rarely suffering through inconsistent swings in performance. Stephens, who is now shifting inside to center, goes 6-2 and 306 pounds, and his blue-collar, no-nonsense work ethic provides the Blue Raiders with an identity and an attitude up front.
RB Desmond Anderson, Soph.
Last season, Middle Tennessee employed a three-headed backfield. With Jordan Parker gone and Shane Tucker moving to receiver, Anderson is going to get a chance to be the feature back in 2016. Anderson showcased flashes of his potential as a true freshman, twice rushing for 100 yards before being lost to injury. The 5-10, 173-pound budding playmaker wound up gaining 378 yards and four scores on 83 carries, his audition to headline the running game and complement Brent Stockstill’s passing.
OT Maurquice Shakir, Sr.
Shakir has wound up being a find for MTSU since he transferred from Santa Monica (Calif.) College. He started all but one game in 2015, garnering honorable mention All-Conference USA for his work in the trenches. Shakir is a powerful 6-3, 316-pounder, though he can still improve at creating holes for the running backs.
CB Michael Minter, Jr.
Minter played very well in his first season as a starter. He missed two games, yet finished fifth on the team with 55 tackles to go along with six stops for loss and nine pass breakups. The 6-0, 172-pound Atlanta native did well in coverage, but was even better in run support. Minter plays with a safety’s mentality, and will be even better in Year 2 as a starter.
DT Shaquille Huff, Sr.
Now that Patrick McNeil has graduated, Huff is the Raiders’ undisputed leading man on the interior. He’s a third-year starter, with the low center of gravity at 6-1 and 329 pounds to create traffic jams. Huff registered 23 tackles a season ago, but six were behind the line of scrimmage, an indication of his quickness and agility for a big man.
DE Steven Rhodes, Sr.
Rhodes is one of the inspirational leaders in Murfreesboro, having served five years in the United States Marine Corps. He’s a grinder off the edge who will not be outworked in the quest for the pocket. Now, the 6-3, 244-pound Rhodes is a liability against the run. But he can be a plucky pass rusher, making 35 tackles, six stops behind the line and 2.5 sacks in his first season as a full-timer.