STEPHENVILLE-Tarleton kicks off its 2007 gridiron campaign here Saturday, hosting East Central University at 6 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

“We’re looking forward to finally playing and competing against somebody after a month of practice,” Tarleton Head Football Coach Sam McElroy said.

East Central won only two games in 2006, posting records of 1-4 in conference play and 2-8 overall in their first season under Head Coach Kurt Nichols.

McElroy believes the Tiger team the Texans face Saturday will be one that has vastly improved since last year.

“They’re a talented group, especially their skill people,” McElroy said. “They have a good quarterback who we recruited.”

Starting at QB for ECU is Marcus Johnson, who Nicholls says is the best double-threat signal caller he’s ever coached. Johnson is one of several Tigers who played under Nicholls at Cisco Junior College before his move to ECU last year.

Who would be taking snaps as Johnson’s counterpart in the opener has been the biggest question around Tarleton since training camp began.

QB Scott Grantham has been announced as the starter, winning the position battle over David Durrell and Logan Cordes. Grantham, a freshman, transferred to Tarleton from NCAA Division I New Mexico State, where he was a red shirt. Durrell will serve as his back-up and will handle the holding duties in the kicking game. Cordes is no longer with the team.

McElroy says the Tigers are big and strong up front on the offensive and defensive lines, and that recruiting has greatly improved their secondary, one of their biggest weaknesses in 2006.

The Tigers return eight starters on offense from a year ago, and bring back nine on defense. Among the returning offensive regulars is Stephenville native Kory Dowell at WR. Dowell starred for SHS before beginning his college career. Saturday kicks off his third season as a starter for the Tigers.

Big play receiver Mark Hodges headlines the returning regulars, along with RB Charles Huffman.

Tarleton has not faced the East Central since 2004, when the Tigers upset a heavily favored Texan squad here, 21-17. Before that bout, Tarleton had won four straight and seven of the previous nine battles between the two schools. The two schools have met on the playing field 14 times since 1966, with each winning seven.

Being the first game of the season, the Texans and Tigers will be competing against nerves and mental errors as much as battling the opponent on the other side of the ball.

“We have some young guys playing, and there’s always some first game jitters,” McElroy said.

Tarleton dropped its opener last fall as part of an 0-3 start that likely cost the Texans a playoff spot. They will be looking for a better start this year with 19 starters back from a squad that rebounded to finish 6-4 and claim a share of the South Division Title in 2006.

“Jitters,” as McElroy called them, are something there is no time for in college football, especially for a team with a trip to the playoffs on their mind.