ATHENS — The Concord University Mountain Lions 2018 football team has seven seniors, 40 returnees and is ranked 11th and last in the Mountain East Conference by the MEC coaches. But optimism was the rule at the CU media day Tuesday.

Third-year head coach Paul Price opened the session by saying that Saturday’s opening day brought roughly 110 players out, which, he said, provided plenty of depth.

“We look to be more explosive on offense this year, with more experience. Defensively, we were concerned with our defensive line, but we have a couple of transfers to give us size and mobility in the middle and to work with Justin Noble and Ryan Gatrell, who’ll be our ends,” he said.

A bonus at cornerback, he said, is the return of senior Caudlier Shepherd, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility. He’ll join Ke’Shawn Hall and Jonathan Roebuck in the backfield.

The linebacker corps features Zach Malone, the MEC’s top returning tackler and Andrew Jakubwsky.

The team opens play on Sept.1 at West Virginia Wesleyan with the first game at Callaghan Stadium being Sept. 6 against the University of Charleston.

“Everybody has a chance to play. I’ve told my coaches to nominate three freshmen to pay special attention to see what they can do for us this year or at the least next year,” Price said.

While no position is guaranteed so soon, Price said Adam Fulton, a starter in seven games as a freshman, will be entering camp as the starter at quarterback. J.J. Burris, a junior, gets his first crack at being the featured running back. Tywan Pearce and Brandon Plyler will return at receiver. Pearce can run the ball on end arounds and is the top kick returner, while Shepherd handles punts.

The offensive line is anchored by senior center Derek Dressler and includes Jack Skidmore, Nathan Toney, Cole Bridgers and Keontae Rose.

The kickers are in flux with Alec Yost coming into camp as the incumbent kicker and Luke Walls being recruited as the punter, with Fulton and Jamal Fisher as other possibilities.

Price said, “We always look to have a winning season. We have a good foundation in place where we can beat any given team on any given Saturday.”

Dressler said, “If we are going to be successful, we need to mesh with each other. We’re guys who the younger players come to and ask, ‘What’s going on? And we tell them.”

Malone said, “We’re the people who keep everybody motivated and make them feel welcome.”

Gatrell said, “We already had a spring of reps, and we need to share what we learned with the new guys.”

Noble said, “These guys are really hard workers. Our goal is to be competitive for a conference championship.”

— Contact Jeff Harvey at delimartman@yahoo.com.