southtownstar
PICTURESQUE 
Weather Updates

SouthtownStar Athletes on Campus: DJ Bland has big dreams for football season at Eastern Illinois

DJ BlEastern Illinois | Supplied photo

DJ Bland, of Eastern Illinois | Supplied photo

storyidforme: 69293251
tmspicid: 24561348
fileheaderid: 12262582

Updated: August 21, 2014 6:44AM



As he prepares for his final season of college football, Eastern Illinois cornerback DJ Bland is approaching everything with a heightened sense of purpose and urgency.

Being that he is a fifth-year senior, the Dolton native knows that if he’s going to fulfill his goal of winning a national championship, it has to happen in 2014.

“This is my last chance at it,” Bland said. “There are a lot of guys who I came in with who are still here. They remember that we were 2-9 (in 2010) and 2-9 (in ’11) and 7-5 (in ’12) and 12-2 (in ’13).

“As the years go by, we know we’re getting better, but we want to win the national championship. This is a good group of guys, and we know if we put it all together we can accomplish all of our goals as a team.”

Winning the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision national title seems a realistic goal for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Bland and the Panthers, who are ranked No. 4 in the FCS preseason poll.

Eastern Illinois, which opens its season Aug. 28 at Minnesota, is a combined 14-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference the past two seasons, winning back-to-back conference titles. Last season, the Panthers lost to eventual national runner-up Towson 49-39 in an FCS quarterfinal in Charleston.

“Being ranked No. 4 is nice,” Bland said. “But it’s just a number at the end of the day. We have only one goal in mind, and that’s to win the national championship.

“We know that having a number next to our name is exciting and people will be coming for us. We know that we have to play our best every week. We are back-to-back OVC champs and we finished in the final (eight) last season, so we have to bring our ‘A’ game every game because people think they have a chance of beating us this year.”

Bland, who prepped at De La Salle, is one of 15 returning starters for the Panthers, whose first home game is Sept. 6 vs. Southern Illinois.

Last season, the three-year starter totaled 39 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. Bland also tied for second on the team in pass breakups with eight.

“We made a great run last year,” Bland said. “We thought that could have been us winning the national championship, but we fell short. We know we have to improve upon that.

“We want the No. 1 spot and to win the national championship. We’re not just going to settle for winning the conference. It’s go hard or go home.

“It’s a great atmosphere at Eastern,” Bland added. “The community and the students are excited. We’re looking forward to the season. We can’t wait and the community can’t wait to get football back in Charleston again.”

Finding Mr. Wright

Oak Forest graduate Jack Murphy was one of three players receiving postseason honors as a member of Wright State’s baseball team.

Murphy, a senior third baseman/catcher, was given the 2014 Raider Award, in addition to earning a place on the 2014 All-Horizon League Second Team. Murphy batted .281 in league play with 11 RBI in 20 games, including a four-RBI performance in an 11-6 win April 12 over visiting Milwaukee and a two-RBI effort in a 16-11 win May 3 over visiting Youngstown State.

For the season, Murphy appeared in 40 games, making 29 starts for the Raiders. He batted .254 overall with one home run and 15 RBI. He added 19 runs and four doubles.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.