April 21, 2017

(STATS) - UT Martin football coach Jason Simpson feels one of the rewarding aspects of spring practice has been the way his veteran players have raised the standard of play and expected the younger players to meet it.

The Skyhawks are coming off a second-place season in the Ohio Valley Conference, and with 15 starters back for Simpson's 12th season, they believe they can supplant three-time defending champion Jacksonville State atop the standings.

Their spring preparation concludes Saturday with their annual Navy & White game at Hardy M. Graham Stadium.

The defense had the upper hand in UT Martin's first scrimmage and the offense responded in the second scrimmage, suggesting the Skyhawks have good balance to attack their lofty goal this season.

"We have a lot of returning players coming back, especially in positions like the secondary," Simpson said. "However, we have to build some depth behind those starters. We lost some good players on the defensive line, some all-conference guys, so we want to see who will be those lead guys up front.

"We graduated a couple of fantastic offensive linemen, so we are looking for those new guys to come in and play at a certain level. We also have a fifth-year senior quarterback, so we are excited to see the standard and level that he can take himself to. We have a history of fifth-year quarterbacks around here putting up some good numbers and leading us to a lot of wins, so I certainly expect Troy (Cook) to be in that same boat."

Cook, a former transfer from Florida State, threw for 2,321 yards and 22 touchdowns in his first season as a starter last year and is complemented by veterans in the skill positions. On defense, safety Kahlid Hagens will be one of the top defensive players in the OVC.

UT Martin finished 7-5 last season, but three of the losses were against FBS opponents.

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