The combined shadows cast by Armanti Edwards, Terrell Hudgins and Andre Roberts during the past few seasons left little room for anyone else in the Southern Conference spotlight. Now that all three all-time greats have moved on to the NFL, a new era in the SoCon has begun.
"The beauty of sports, I think, is there's always someone to take the place," SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said during Tuesday's football media teleconference, "and we don't lack for outstanding players that are going to fill the breach."
The most obvious candidate to step into the spotlight is Elon quarterback Scott Riddle. A two-time second-team all-conference selection, Riddle hasn't exactly flown under the radar. The senior has put up enormous numbers in his first three seasons - he'll own every major SoCon career passing record by the midpoint of the season - and is the coaches' preseason pick for offensive player of the year.
Yet so far in his career he's always been behind Edwards, the two-time Walter Payton Award winner from Appalachian State, and former teammate Hudgins, who holds the Division I record for career receptions - thanks in part to Riddle's sharp passing.
"He's been really embracing his role as a senior and one of the leaders on our team," Elon coach Pete Lembo said of Riddle.
Riddle said he's glad to see Edwards go, but not because he wants the spotlight to himself.
"It is good to have Armanti out of the league. Now maybe we can take those guys (the five-time SoCon champion Mountaineers) down," he said.
Riddle is one of three Payton Award candidates in the SoCon, joining Appalachian State running back Devon Moore and Samford running back Chris Evans.
The SoCon also has four defensive players up for the Buck Buchanan Award: ASU end Jabari Fletcher, safety Mark LeGree and linebacker D.J. Smith and Samford linebacker Bryce Smith, the coaches' preseason pick for defensive player of the year.
All SoCon teams will wear a "GC" decal on their helmets next season as a show of support for the people in the Gulf Coast states affected by the BP oil spill. "We just think this is the right thing to do," Iamarino said. ... It was like old times in the SoCon during the teleconference as the triple-option offense, now run by Wofford, Georgia Southern and The Citadel, was a hot topic. Georgia Southern's Jeff Monken is the only new head coach in the league.
Among the players who could have a breakout season is University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior quarterback B.J. Coleman, who enters his second season with the Mocs.
Coleman, a preseason second-team all-conference pick, threw for 2,348 yards last season, completed 56.6 percent of his passes and had 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his first season as a starter.
Between Riddle and Coleman, Furman coach Bobby Lamb said, "You're looking at two premier quarterbacks there that can certainly make a lot of plays."
A player who is determined to earn his share of the spotlight is one of Lamb's Paladins, senior Adam Mims. A first-team preseason pick at wideout, along with Appalachian State's Brian Quick, Mims had 74 catches for 878 yards last season, the most of any returning receiver.
"I've kind of ingrained in my mindset this year that I just want to dominate everything I do, whether that's catching the ball or running routes or blocking," Mims said. "I just want to be a dominant force on the field."