CARBONDALE — A familiar name is returning to the SIU football team's starting lineup against Murray State.
Keenan Agnew, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle from Chesterfield, Missouri, won the starting job over veteran Blake Parzych, the school announced Monday with its first depth chart of the season. Agnew is the younger brother of former Saluki fullback Ray Agnew and former running back Malcolm Agnew.
Ray played in the NFL. Malcolm is currently the running backs coach at North Dakota.
"Anybody who knows the other two who came through here knows what kind of person they are, and what kind of commitment to their teammates, and how they go about their business of working. He's no different," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "He knows how to work. He knows what the expectations are in and out of the building. He's come along and developed. We knew that coming out of high school he needed that redshirt year to get stronger and faster. He changes every few weeks. He has a bright future here."
Agnew had 75 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks as a senior at De Smet Jesuit High School. A two-star recruit by Scout.com, he was a two-time all-conference selection and a two-year captain. Third-year sophomore Anthony Knighton, SIU's sacks leader last season with 6.5 as a redshirt freshman, junior Malik Haynes and third-year sophomore Jordan Berner are expected to start alongside Agnew.
Parzych, a 6-3, 295-pound junior, started eight of 11 games last season. His 19 tackles were tied for the fourth-most by a Saluki defensive lineman.
Agnew, who stands 6-foot tall and weighs 264 pounds, is the only redshirt freshman expected to start Thursday night when the Salukis open at Murray State, but is not the only one in the two-deep. Calvin Francis Jr. is set to back up ZeVeyon Furcron at left guard, Lucas Davis is scheduled to back up left tackle Ernest Dye Jr., Michael Elbert will back up Jeremy Chinn at strong safety, and two linebackers, Luke Giegling (middle linebacker) and Bryson Strong (weakside linebacker), will also get some snaps at Roy Stewart Stadium as backups.
SIU is not expected to start a single senior on the defense. Six are expected to start on offense, quarterback Sam Straub, right guard Josh Podzielinski, fullback Jaylon Graham and wide receivers Darrell James and Raphael Leonard. James was a preseason all-conference pick in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Murray State returns 17 starters and 56 letterwinners from last year's 3-8 squad. The Racers are playing the Salukis for the first time since 2016.
• War for the Wheel: SIU and Southeast Missouri State announced this year's game at Saluki Stadium on Sept. 15 will be the first "War for the Wheel," where the winner will get to keep an authentic ship's wheel on its side of the Mississippi River.
When the series began in 1913, the two teams used to cross the Mississippi by boat. One year, SIU's boat sank, and the players had to swim to shore. The game was played as scheduled.
"This matchup has evolved into a spirited rivalry over the years, including the first-ever college football game at Busch Stadium in 2013," Hill said in a statement. "Creating a 'trophy' to play for just adds to the excitement."
The SIU-SEMO rivalry is the oldest in each school's history. The Redhawks hold a 40-37-8 lead in the all-time series, although the Salukis have won 10 of the last 12 meetings.
"This is a fun way to celebrate the longtime football rivalry between SEMO and SIU," Redhawks coach Tom Matukewicz said. "These schools have a lot of history and tradition, and I think the War for the Wheel makes the rivalry more special for fans on both sides of the Mississippi River."