Texan football to make long-awaited Division I debut Saturday night

TSU Sports Information
After going more than a full calendar year between games, the Tarleton Texans are set to take the field Saturday against McNeese State in their first-ever game as a D1 program.
Todd Whitten

Tarleton State University is back and ready to compete at the NCAA Division I level. After going more than a full calendar year between games, the Texans are set to take the field Saturday against McNeese State in their first-ever game as a D1 program.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be aired on television on FOX Sports Southwest Plus and on FOX Sports GO, a mobile extension of tv provider. John Liddle and Scott Garner will have the call from Memorial Stadium in Stephenville. The Tarleton Sports Network presented by the North Texas Ford Dealers will have the radio call online at TarletonSports.com/watch or on the airwaves at 90.5 FM in Stephenville and surrounding areas.

Limited tickets remain available for purchase at TarletonSports.com/Tickets. Due to COVID-19-related limitations, Memorial Stadium will only seat 50% of its capacity. Student tickets remain free of charge, but Tarleton students with a valid ID will need to order a ticket through the ticket software. Walk-up ticket sales are not permitted this spring. All tickets must be purchased online in advance.

As Tarleton prepares for its NCAA Division I debut, TSU President Dr. James Hurley will be joined by Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and state dignitaries for pregame celebrations at 5:40 p.m. to recognize this monumental occasion. An Air Force Flyover will follow the National Anthem and Chancellor Sharp will return to the field for the first coin toss of the Division I era.

Texan Alley Tailgate will open at 9 a.m. in Lot A and will be first-come, first-serve for fans. Special COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place. For maps of the area and complete tailgating policies, visit TarletonSports.com/TexanAlley. RV Parking spots will be available by reservation by emailing Daron Trussell at trussell@tarleton.edu. Non-tailgating lots will open four hours prior to kickoff.

This is the third all-time meeting between Tarleton and McNeese State and the first since 2016. The Cowboys are 2-0 in the series.

This is the first known meeting between the two programs in Stephenville. The location of the first meeting in 1949 between these schools as junior colleges was not recorded, however the Cowboys won, 20-14. The teams renewed the rivalry in 2016 in Lake Charles. McNeese State won that game, 33-3.

Tarleton and McNeese's last meeting in 2016 was the first game of the most recent coach Todd Whitten era.

Quick hits

• It has been one year, two months and 21 days between Texan football games (since Nov. 23, 2019).

• This will be a game of firsts for Tarleton State. It is the first game for Tarleton as an NCAA Division I program and also the first time the Texans will host a fellow D1 program at Memorial Stadium.

• Whitten enters the game as Tarleton's all-time wins leader (79) and win percentage (.681). While every new victory is a milestone, with his next win, he will become the first Texan coach in school history to reach 80 career victories for the purple and white.

• Whitten is also closing in on the program mark for most games coached at Tarleton. He and W.J. Wisdom are the only coaches in program history to be on the sidelines for more than 100 games. Wisdom coached 121 games in his career (71-35-15) while Whitten is at 116 and counting (79-37). The late Buddy Fornes just missed the 100-game mark, finishing his Tarleton career with 99 games.


• Four defensive players – Ronnell Wilson, Devin Hafford, Tre Johnson and Erick Willis – will lead Tarleton onto the field as the only remaining players from Whitten's first signing class back in 2016.

Tarleton State University made the jump to NCAA Division I and the Western Athletic Conference last July and is in its first year of a four-year transition period. The WAC stopped sponsoring football back in 2012, making Tarleton an independent football program for the spring 2021 season. However, the WAC has announced an expansion that will bring four football-playing schools into the WAC as early as July 1, 2021 – Lamar, Abilene Christian, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin. This move will bring football back to the Western Athletic Conference at the FCS Level. 



• The reputation of Tarleton Texan Football precedes itself as the Texans had 11 players named to the Phil Steele 2020 FCS Preseason All-Independent Team in July – the most of any of the four FCS Independent programs recognized. J.F. Thomas (WR) was named the Independent Preseason Player of the Year by Steele while the following players were named to the All-Indy Team – Khalil Banks (RB), Kendall Dearth (OG), Zach Perry (OT), Chris Radford (DL), Jordan Wells (DL), Ronnell Wilson (LB), Erick Willis (LB), Benjie Franklin (DB), Devin Hafford (DB) and Stephen Reeves (DS).

• Tarleton football senior All-American defenders Ronnell Wilson and Devin Hafford were named to Dave Campbell's Texas Football 2020 Preseason All-Texas Small College team last June. To qualify, a player must participate at a four-year institution in Texas that plays below the FBS level. The All-Texas Small College team consist of NCAA FCS Division 1 programs, Division II and Division III.

• When Tarleton coach Todd Whitten made his return to the Texan sidelines for the 2016 season, his first game back was in Lake Charles, La., against McNeese State. Now, Whitten and the Texans will host McNeese for their first game as an NCAA Division I program in Stephenville.

• Since joining the NCAA in 1994, Tarleton is 14-12 in its home openers including an 8-2 mark in home openers under Whitten. Tarleton's first-ever five home-opening wins as an NCAA school came with Whitten at the helm in 1996, 2000-02, and 2004. The Texans have won three straight home openers dating back to 2017.

• As an NCAA Division II program (1994-2019), Tarleton played 13 games against NCAA Division I opponents and have five wins in those games. Tarleton's last win against an NCAA Division I opponent came in the 2019 season opener when the Texans defeated Stephen F. Austin 37-26 in Nacogdoches. Whitten has two wins against D1 competition during his D2 tenure at Tarleton – a 39-20 win at Sam Houston State in 2003 and the 2019 win at SFA.

• Tarleton is looking to replace three key All-Americans from last year's offense – Zimari Manning (WR), Daniel McCants (RB) and Ben Holmes (QB). The Texans return J.F. Thomas to lead the receiving corps with 1,276 career yards on 59 catches, including 12 touchdowns. In the backfield, Khalil Banks readies to take lead of the rushing attack after appearing in nine games last year and racking up 644 yards on 112 attempts and nine scores.

• When Whitten tasked defensive coordinator Marcus Patton in taking over the stop troops in 2016, he inherited a defense that ranked last nationally in nearly every statistical category. As the Texans prepare to enter the Division I ranks, they'll do it as one of the elite defenses in the entire country – returning three All-Americans and five seniors with key roles in the turnaround. Tarleton is coming off back-to-back seasons in which they ranked among the top 10 in the nation in scoring defense. The Texans return three All-Americans – Ronnell Wilson, Devin Hafford and Jordan Wells. 

Up next

The Texans will head west for their first-ever matchup with an FBS-level opponent, New Mexico State. Tarleton is scheduled to play in Las Cruces, New Mexico, against the Aggies next Saturday. However, due to COVID-19 limitations in the state, the time and exact location is still to be determined. Stay tuned to TarletonSports.com for updates.

Division I debut