The ball might stop heading in Weldon Garlington’s direction if he keeps this up.
The last two games, Garlington, Tennessee State’s kickoff and punt returner, has made opposing teams pay with 248 yards on seven touches. He also has delivered the Tigers’ only special teams’ touchdowns — a 91-yard punt return last weekend against Southeast Missouri State and a 100-yard return on the opening kickoff against Austin Peay on Oct. 1.
“He ran by me so fast I got windburn on the sidelines,” Austin Peay coach Rick Christophel said. “We knew about him. We had seen him before and knew he could do some really good things with the ball. He is ... electrifying. You get the ball in his hands and something good is going to happen.”
After a stellar career as a wide receiver at Brentwood Academy, Garlington received scholarships offers from Navy, Southern Illinois and TSU. He chose the Tigers not only because his father, Leon, played wide receiver there in 1986-87, but because it was close to home and he knew he might play early.
“The first couple of games, I didn’t really get any chances to make any returns,” Garlington said. “My purpose was to just catch the ball — don’t drop it. Being a freshman, [you] earn your spot. After a while, I started to get more room to run, and that is when you can show the ability to run and the things you learned from high school.”
The 5-foot-10, 160-pounder from Antioch is quickly making an impact. He is averaging 30.7 yards a return on 10 kickoffs, ranking sixth in the Football Championship Subdivision. Garlington has returned just six punts for a 22.8-yard average, which is the second-highest clip among FCS teams.
Last week, he was named College Football Performance’s national punt returner of the week.
“The big piece to that is the rest of the guys that are blocking for him,” TSU coach Rod Reed said. “We have to continue to be special on special teams.”
While the Tigers (2-4, 1-2 Ohio Valley Conference) have struggled in other areas, they haven’t allowed many special teams breakdowns. Opposing teams have failed to return a kick or punt for a score, and sophomore kicker Jamin Godfrey has made 11-of-17 field goals. The Englewood, Tenn., native is tied for fifth in the FCS, averaging 1.83 field goals a game.
Garlington, Godfrey and redshirt freshman-quarterback Mike German (the OVC newcomer of the week the last two games) are leading members of TSU’s youth movement. With just eight scholarship seniors, Reed has played more than 20 freshmen or redshirt-freshmen through the first six games.
The Tigers have taken their lumps — four straight losses, for example — but they also snapped a nine-game OVC losing streak last weekend with a 55-3 rout over Southeast Missouri.
“That was by design,” Reed said. “We know some of these kids are talented. The only way they are going to learn is trial by fire.”
• Fall ball: Vanderbilt won’t be the only local baseball team to begin playing fall ball scrimmages this week.
The Commodores, who reached their first College World Series in June, will host their annual Black and Gold Series at Hawkins Field on Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m. and on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Belmont, which advanced to the school’s first NCAA Regional last year before losing to Vanderbilt, began its annual seven-game Fall World Series on Tuesday. The series, which will take place at Rose Park, will be scattered over the next two weeks, ending on Oct. 29.
Lipscomb hosts Trevecca Nazarene on Thursday for a nine-inning game at 5 p.m. at Dugan Field. Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand, entering his fifth year at the helm, spent six years as Trevecca’s head coach.
• Tarr breaks record: Belmont junior forward Brandon Tarr set the school’s career scoring record last weekend in a 2-1 loss to Lipscomb.
Tarr, a native of Vietnam who grew up in Knoxville, netted his 23rd career goal in the 71st minute. He headed a shot into the corner of the goal that went past Lipscomb goalkeeper Brent McGee. Tarr is Belmont’s all-time leader in points, too, with 55. He leads the Atlantic Sun Conference with eight goals and 17 points this season.
• Coaches breakfast: The Middle Tennessee Coaches vs. Cancer Tip-Off Breakfast will be held on Nov. 1 at Lipscomb’s Allen Arena.
The event will feature all six Division I college men’s basketball coaches from the area — Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt), Kermit Davis (Middle Tennessee State), Rick Byrd (Belmont), John Cooper (Tennessee State), Scott Sanderson (Lipscomb) and Dave Loos (Austin Peay). Local sports radio personality George Plaster will emcee the event.
Registration and breakfast begins at 7 a.m., with the program starting at 7:30 on the Allen Arena court. Tickets are $25 for adults and $12 for college students. They may purchased by calling 615-341-7330.