The University of Memphis will conduct its annual Senior Day ceremony this Saturday before the Tigers kick off against Connecticut. Unlike the previous five such ceremonies, this one will not mark the final college game for the honorees. All 21 seniors will be in uniform for a bowl game and, with a win against the Huskies, would play that bowl game as champions of the American Athletic Conference. A win Saturday would also make this just the sixth Tiger class to win nine games as seniors.
• You didn’t see five members of this class on the field all that much, unless you looked carefully at special teams. But they toiled through two-a-days in August, stretched muscles and tendons in the weight room, and devoted themselves to a football cause under coach Justin Fuente. Football’s too brutal a game for “role players.” These young men have earned — with sweat and grit — the ovation they’ll hear Saturday: Sam Billings (DS), Melvin Jones (DE), Larry Lawrence (DT), Kevin McIntyre (OL).
• You’ve probably read the Brandon Hayes story a few times now. After starring at White Station High School, Hayes endured a redshirt season and two seasons lost to injury before climbing his way up the depth chart to a starring role at tailback. He leaves the U of M as the eighth player in Tiger history to rush for 2,000 yards in his career. Linebacker Ryan Coleman transferred to Memphis from Idaho State after the 2011 season and has started 17 games over the last two seasons. Safety Fritz Etienne played a season at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas before transferring to Memphis. A reserve in 2013, Etienne has started every game as a senior. Cornerback Andrew Gaines has been one of three senior starters in the Tiger secondary and has three interceptions this season. Nykiren Wellington started 11 games on the offensive line as a junior and has been on the field as a reserve this season. Joe Craig and Adrian Henderson have been part of the deepest core of receivers the Memphis program has enjoyed in years. And linebacker Tank Jakes? Check out his numbers: 58 solo tackles, six sacks, 15 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, an interception, and a safety. Jakes is a lock for all-conference and will receive votes for the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
• Nine Tiger seniors deserve an extended salute for having played in 2011, the dreadful 2-10 season under Larry Porter that resulted in Porter’s dismissal and the hiring of Justin Fuente. They are the only group in Memphis history to win but two games as freshmen and then reach a bowl game as seniors.
Linebacker Derek Howard has been a special-teams regular and played in at least 10 games each of his first three seasons, just like defensive lineman Kendrick Golden, who has played in more than 40 games over his career. Right tackle Al Bond will make his 41st career start against the Huskies Saturday. Over one stretch this season, Bond was on the field for 401 consecutive offensive snaps. Mitchell High alum Keiwone Malone transferred from Alabama before the 2011 season and has caught 113 passes over his career, tied for 8th in Tiger history. Bakari Hollier has been a regular in the much-improved Tiger secondary and leads the team this season with eight pass break-ups.
Nose tackle Terry Redden — a graduate of Whitehaven High School — has started 28 games as a Tiger and made life miserable for opposing interior linemen. Before the season began, Fuente suggested Redden could be the most valuable member of his defense. Linebacker Charles Harris — another Whitehaven alum — has started every game since his sophomore season and is one of two current Tigers (along with Jakes) with more than 100 solo tackles in his career. Defensive end Martin Ifedi earned first-team all-conference honors as a junior and will leave the program with the most sacks (22.5 through last Saturday) in Memphis history. And finally, cornerback Bobby McCain. The closest thing to an offensive force on the Tiger defense, McCain will make his 42nd career start against UConn. He has 11 career interceptions and returned a fumble 59 yards for a touchdown in the September win over Middle Tennessee.