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Hatters place five on preseason All-America list

With the start of the 2014 college football season less than 40 days away, the Stetson Hatters collected a few more preseason honors.

Donald Payne #7 and Chris Atkins #1Five members of the Stetson squad were named to the comprehensive preseason All-America team for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) by USA College Football.

That group was led by defensive back Donald Payne who was a second team selection.

Payne (in photo on left with Chris Atkins), a native of Fayetteville, Ga., headlined the Hatters’ first season back on the gridiron. In addition to being named the Pioneer Football League Defensive Freshman of the Year, he was a three-time PFL Defensive Player of the Week during the season.

Payne finished the year with a team-high 113 tackles, including 71 solo stops. He tied with Drake’s John Hugunin for most overall tackles in the PFL and led the league in solo stops. He ranked second in the PFL with 16 tackles for losses of 86 yards including 4.5 sacks, which tied for 16th in the league. He forced two fumbles and recovered three, had a pair of interceptions and was credited with 12 pass breakups. He ranked third in the PFL in passes defended.

Nationally, Payne ranked 27th in fumbles recovered, 10th in passes defended, fifth in solo tackles, 16th in tackles for loss and13th in total tackles.

Fellow defensive back Chris Atkins, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., was named to the third team All-America list. Atkins led the PFL last year with six interceptions. That total was good for fourth in the nation in per game average and tied for third nationally overall. He ranked second in the PFL and seventh nationally in total passes defended.

Atkins finished the year with 39 total tackles to go with his six interceptions, one of which he returned 48 yards for a touchdown against Birmingham-Southern.

Three other Hatters were selected as honorable mention All-Americans. That group included defensive end Davion Belk, running back Mike Yonker and punter James LaGamma.

Belk, a native of Chicago, was a stalwart on the defensive line who also served as a team captain, along with Payne, QB Ryan Tentler and center Fletcher Eldemire, all season. Belk finished fifth on the team in total tackles with 58, but was second to Payne with 9.5 tackles or loss. Of those, three were sacks.

It is not often that a team has a fullback as one of the leading receivers, but that is what Mike Yonker did in 2013. A native of Cocoa Beach, Fla., Yonker finished with the highest yards per catch average on the team among the 10 receivers with at least 10 catches. He finished fourth on the squad in total receiving yards despite having just 18 receptions.

To go with the 18 receptions, Yonker had 17 rush attempts on the year and finished fifth on the squad in all-purpose yards. He was also a regular contributor on special teams with five tackles.

LaGamma, was a secret weapon for Stetson throughout the year. The Weston, Fla., native had just two of his 73 punts go for touchbacks, while placing 18 punts inside the opponent 20 yard line. He had eight punts of longer than 50 yards, including a long effort of 70 yards against Florida Tech.

In addition to averaging 38.7 yards on his punts, LaGamma also connected on six field goals and converted a fake field goal into an eight-yard touchdown run in the season opener against Warner. He was named the PFL’s special teams player of the week for his effort in that game. He was successful on 16-of-18 PAT kicks during the year.

LaGamma put the ball down inside the 10-yard line 10 times during the year. The Hatters opponents had an average starting field position of the 30 yard line after all punts during the season, even after returns.

The Hatters will report for the start of training camp on August 1 and will travel to face Warner University in Lakeland on August 30 in the 2014 season-opener. The home opener is scheduled for the following week, against Florida Tech, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 6.

Season tickets for Stetson’s six home games at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium, “The Best Little Stadium in College Football,” are available for as little as $90 through the Stetson Athletics Ticket Office. The office is located inside the Edmunds Center on Pennsylvania Avenue and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Season tickets can also be purchased by calling 386-738-HATS (4287) or by visiting www.GoHatters.com/tix. For more Hatters sports news visit GoHatters.com.