2024 Gardner-Webb Football Preview

Gardner-Webb Athletics

2023 Record: 7-5 (5-1 Big South-OVC)
Returning Starters: 3 (1 Off, 2 Def)
2023 Offensive Rank (YPP): No. 109
2023 Defensive Rank (YPP Allowed): No. 12

Returning All-Conference Players: None

Notable Incoming Transfers: QuaSean Holmes (Saint Francis; RB), Miles Richardson (Austin Peay; DB), Camden Overton (Chattanooga; TE), Tyler Riddell (ETSU; QB), Jeff Bowens (Illinois State; DB), Ren Hefley (Middle Tennessee State; QB), Ze'Vian Capers (Western Kentucky; WR), Jordan Bly (Old Dominion; WR), Jaden Lindsay (Appalachian State; OL)

New head coach Cris Reisert will face one of the most extensive rebuilds in college football as Gardner-Webb only returns three starters from last season. Over 15 players decided to transfer to ETSU with former head coach Tre Lamb this offseason, but the Runnin' Bulldogs were aggressive in the transfer portal. Gardner-Webb added over 20 transfers this offseason, including the fourth-most FBS transfers among FCS programs.

One of the most significant additions was former Presbyterian quarterback Ren Hefley, who played last season at Middle Tennessee State. Hefley led the Pioneer League in passing yards and touchdowns during his one season as the starter, finishing with 3,933 passing yards and 39 passing touchdowns.

Hefley will be tasked with building chemistry with a revamped wide receiver core. Former Murray State wide receiver Taylor Shields is expected to lead the unit after earning All-OVC honors in 2022. He posted 815 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns over the past three seasons. Jordan Bly, Josh Sterns, Ze'Vian Capers, and Anthony Lowe all joined the program this offseason and should compete for significant playing time.

The Runnin' Bulldogs added former Saint Francis running back QuaSean Holmes, who could emerge as the leader of the rushing attack. Holmes rushed for 500 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games the past two seasons. Holmes is expected to split snaps with Temple transfer Edward Saydee and Mars Hill transfer Joraye Morrison. Camden Overton will bring much-needed experience at tight end after seeing action in 23 games at Chattanooga.

Gardner-Webb's defense was integral to the Runnin' Bulldogs' winning a share of the conference title last season. The unit ranked No. 2 in the conference in total defense and led the conference in yards per play allowed (4.7).

Defensive tackle Ayden Bell is the lone returning starter for the Runnin' Bulldogs in the front seven. Former Tiffin defensive end Robert Holtz will be a name to watch after recording 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season. Linebacker is the biggest question mark for Gardner-Webb next season. Western Michigan transfer Quinton Cannon brings plenty of experience, while Marshall transfer Jackson Marshall could be a breakout player to watch for the Runnin' Bulldogs.

All-American defensive back Raequan Ousley entered the transfer portal but announced his return to the program in April. Over the past two seasons, Ousley has recorded 81 total tackles, three interceptions, and 27 pass breakups. The Runnin' Bulldogs also reloaded in the secondary, landing multiple players who could make an immediate impact. Illinois State cornerback Jeff Bowens brings 31 games of experience and has recorded 83 total tackles and three interceptions. Former Austin Peay cornerback Miles Richardson and Delaware safety Steven Rose are also expected to be major contributors next season.

Gardner-Webb enters next season as one of the biggest question marks in the nation. There have been mixed results for programs who have signed large transfer classes at the FCS level, but there is no debating that the foundation has been laid for the future. Despite the significant roster turnover, Gardner-Webb has a chance to make history by winning a share of the conference title for the third consecutive season. It remains to be seen if the Runnin' Bulldogs can be the surprise of the season or will face growing pains in the first season under head coach Cris Reisert.

Zachary McKinnell


Zach McKinnell is the Founder and Senior Editor of FCS Football Central. He is also a columnist for HERO Sports and a contributor for Athlon Sports. In 2022, he became an official voter in the FCS Stats Perform Top-25. He is a former contributor for Vols Wire, part of the USA TODAY Sports Network, and Fly War Eagle on FanSided. Zach graduated from Auburn University in 2018.