BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – The 2016 All-Ohio Valley Conference football teams were released this afternoon as eight University of Tennessee at Martin players were voted as the league’s best by the conference’s head coaches and sports information directors.
UT Martin was represented on the All-OVC first team by junior guard Robert Burleigh and junior safety Kahlid Hagens. The senior offensive duo of wide receiver/tight end Ben Axline and center Kenneth Crenshaw were joined by senior defensive linemen Keith Jones and Damani Taylor, along with junior safety Tae Martin on the All-OVC second team. Junior wide receiver Londell Lee rounded out the postseason honors by garnering the distinction of an All-Newcomer.
Jacksonville State senior quarterback Eli Jenkins was named OVC Offensive Player of the Year for the second season in a row, while junior defensive end Darius Jackson was tabbed OVC Defensive Player of the Year. Safety Marlon Bridges was honored as OVC Freshman of the Year while John Grass won his third-straight Roy Kidd OVC Coach of the Year honors to sweep the postseason honors.
A native of Jackson, Tenn., Burleigh anchored an offensive line which ranked as one of the best in the country. Burleigh was responsible for just one sack on the season while pacing an offensive unit which ranked 24th nationally and first in the OVC in sacks allowed per game (1.25). As a squad, the Skyhawks posted a sack per dropback percentage of 4.79 percent to lead all league foes. He started in all 12 games for the Skyhawks at right tackle while grading out at 84 percent or better all season. Manhandling opposing defenses, he was responsible for 42 knockdowns on the season.
Hailing from Maplewood, Mo., Hagens put the finishing touches on a strong junior campaign after being named National Defensive Player of the Week once and OVC Defensive Player of the Week three times. Hagens led the defense with 93 tackles on the year – including 45 solos – while pacing the squad with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He tallied five pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and a pair of forced fumbles. Hagens posted a season-high 15 tackles against Cincinnati while posting four games with double-figure tackles. He also became just the fourth player in the OVC to tally multiple interceptions in a single game with two against Southeast Missouri.
A native of Shelbyville, Ky., Axline provided a dependable offensive target which led the OVC in scoring for much of the season. Axline started in 11 of 12 games this season while leading the team with 35 catches for 659 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 54.9 yards per game while hauling in 18.8 yards per catch. His best game came against Austin Peay where he notched the most receiving yards in Division-I program history with eight catches for 198 yards and a touchdown – including a 71-yard reception which broke the game open. He also eclipsed the 100-yard mark against Hawai’i, hauling in three catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Hailing from Stone Mountain, Ga., Crenshaw served as a mainstay on an offensive line which ranked as one of the best in the country. Crenshaw was responsible for just one sack on the season while pacing an offensive unit which ranked 24th nationally and first in the OVC in sacks allowed per game (1.25). As a squad, the Skyhawks posted a sack per dropback percentage of 4.79 percent to lead all league foes. He started in all 12 games for the Skyhawks at center while grading out at 84 percent or better all season. Manhandling opposing defenses, he was responsible for 37 knockdowns on the season.
A native of Florissant, Mo., Jones posted a strong senior campaign while anchoring a Skyhawk defense which ranked second in the OVC in total defense. Jones tallied 33 tackles on the season while leading the Skyhawks with 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He also tallied four quarterback hurries. He made his presence known against Tennessee State where he tallied a season-high six tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack. Two weeks later against Murray State, he tallied two tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in the road victory.
Hailing from Martin, Tenn., Taylor notched his second All-OVC second team honors in his two years while starting in all 12 games at defensive end. Serving as the perfect complement to Jones, the Skyhawk defense also ranked second in the OVC rushing and pass defense. Taylor tallied 35 tackles on the season while recording 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He also tallied seven quarterback hurries along with a both a forced fumble and recovery. His best game came against Southeast Missouri where he notched his fourth game with five tackles while tallying 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks on Senior Day.
A native of Murfreesboro, Tenn., Martin posted an explosive season in the secondary for a defense which held each of its 12 opponents to less that 300-passing yards week in and week out. Martin started in all 12 games while tallying 53 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions. He also tallied six pass breakups, three defensive touchdowns, one blocked kick and a forced fumble. He led the country with a kickoff return for a touchdown against Tennessee Tech while returning an interception for a touchdown against both Bacone College and Murray State.
Hailing from Palos Heights, Ill., Lee earned All-Newcomer honors for both his activity in the passing game and as a punt returner. Lee tallied 25 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver while tallying 18 punt returns for 244 yards and a touchdown. He earned OVC Specialist of the Week honors after returning a punt 79 yards for a touchdown at Hawai’i. He ranked fifth nationally in both punt return touchdowns (one) and punt return average (13.6 ypr). His best games of the season as a receiver came against Southeast Missouri where he tallied four catches for 113 yards and a touchdown while notching seven key receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown at Tennessee State.
The Skyhawks concluded the 2016 season with a 7-5 record, including a 6-2 mark in league play – marking the program’s fourth 6-2 finish under FCS National Coach of the Year finalist Jason Simpson. The 2016 season marked UT Martin’s 10th season with an overall record of .500 or better since joining the Division-I ranks in 1992. Eight of the aforementioned 10 seasons have occurred in Simpson’s 11-year tenure.