NORFOLK, Va. — Ten South Carolina State University players were named Friday to the 2017 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Preseason All-Conference team, while Coach Buddy Pough’s team was picked to finish third in the race for the league title.

The picks were made in voting by MEAC head football coaches and sports information directors. The announcements came at the MEAC's annual Football Press Luncheon at the Norfolk Marriott Waterside Hotel.

Bulldog All-America and All-MEAC linebacker Darius Leonard, a redshirt senior, was named MEAC preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season and was one of five Bulldogs earning All-MEAC First Team honors. It was the third such honor for the Lake View native.

North Carolina Central, the defending champion, was chosen as the preseason favorite to win the MEAC, followed by North Carolina A&T State and S.C. State. Bethune-Cookman and Hampton rounded out the top five spots of this year’s preseason predicted order of finish.

Leonard (6-3, 235), the 2016 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, lived up to expectations last season, finishing with a MEAC-leading and career-high 124 tackles, including 14.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. He collected a season-high 19 tackles in a loss against FBS National Champion Clemson.

Also last season, Leonard was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the top defensive player in the FCS. He was well-recognized on the postseason awards circuit, earning All-American honors from STATS FCS, AFCA Coaches, Sheridan Broadcasting Network (SBN), Box-to-row and HERO Sports.

In addition, Leonard was named the Mel Blount National Defensive Player of the Year as selected by SBN and Box-to-row National Defensive Player of the Year. He became the fourth straight Bulldog player to be named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year.

During this year’s preseason, he has been selected as the MEAC Defensive Player to Watch by Athlon Sports and as a finalist for the Butkus Award honoring the nation's best linebacker.

The four other Bulldogs earning preseason All-MEAC First Team honors are redshirt senior linebacker Dayshawn Taylor, graduate defensive back Jason Baxter, and senior offensive linemen Robbie Stephenson and Justin Evans.

Offensive lineman Victor Ishmael, Jr., kicker Tyler Scandrett, defensive lineman Greg Newell and defensive back Devondre Powell, all seniors, are preseason All-MEAC Second Team, while senior defensive end Ty Cravens was named to the All-MEAC Third Team.

The Bulldogs open the 2017 season on Sept. 3 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, against Southern University in the annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge, which will be televised live on ESPN2. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. ET.

Season tickets to S.C. State home games are available. For more information, go online to www.scsuathletics.com or contact the S.C. State Ticket Office at 803-536-8579 or 1-800-298-9157.

S.C. State players arrive on campus Wednesday for fall practice.

MEAC order of finish

1. North Carolina Central; 2. North Carolina A&T State; 3. South Carolina State; 4. Bethune-Cookman; 5. Hampton; 6. Florida A&M; 7. Norfolk State; 8. Morgan State; 9. Howard; 10. Savannah State; 11. Delaware State

All-MEAC

  • First Team Offense: QB Lamar Raynard Jr. N.C. A&T State; RB Anthony Philyaw Sr. Howard; RB Yahkee Johnson Sr. Hampton; RB Ramone Simpson Jr. N.C. Central; WR Elijah Bell So. N.C. A&T State; WR Brandon Norwood Sr. Florida A&M; WR Frank Brown Sr. Bethune-Cookman; TE Leroy Hill Jr. N.C. A&T State; C Darriel Mack Sr. N.C. A&T State; OL Brandon Parker Sr. N.C. A&T State; OL Nick Leverett So. N.C. Central; OL Robbie Stephenson Sr. S.C. State; OL Justin Evans Sr. S.C. State; PK Uriel Hernandez Jr. Bethune-Cookman
  • First Team Defense: DL Kevin Thompson R-Sr. Bethune-Cookman; DL Chris Lee Sr. Norfolk State; DL Ja’Quan Smith Gr. N.C. Central; DL Antonio Brown Sr. N.C. Central; LB Darius Leonard R-Sr. S.C. State; LB Dayshawn Taylor R-Sr. S.C. State; LB Reggie Hunter Sr. N.C. Central; DB Alden McClellon Jr. N.C. Central; DB Jason Baxter Gr. S.C. State; DB Diquan Richardson Sr. Bethune-Cookman; DB Zerius Lockhart Sr. N.C. A&T State; P Nathaniel Tilque Sr. N.C. Central; RS Khris Gardin Sr. N.C. A&T State
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