The start of the 2020 National Football League season has finally arrived, with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs defeating the Houston Texans 34-20 in Thursday’s season opener. The rest of the league begins play either Sunday or Monday, and local athletes are among those expected to receive playing time in Week 1 of the NFL season.
Hickory High School graduate Ryan Succop will suit up for the first time as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The veteran kicker, who turns 34 on Sept. 19, was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs with the final pick of the 2009 NFL draft and remained with the Chiefs until August of 2014.
After spending the last six seasons with the Tennessee Titans, Succop signed with the Bucs on Sept. 1. He has made 236 of 287 field-goal attempts in his career for an 82.2% success rate, including a career-long 54-yarder in 2011, and is 338-for-348 on extra-point attempts (97.1%).
Tampa Bay is expected to contend with the New Orleans Saints for the top spot in the NFC South, and the Bucs are scheduled to visit the Saints on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. in a game that will be televised on Fox. In addition to Succop, other notable acquisitions for the Bucs this offseason included quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Leonard Fournette.
Here’s a look at other local professional athletes, beginning with three other NFL players:
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Kyle Dugger, New England Patriots safety
Dugger was drafted by the Patriots in the second round of April’s NFL draft, and will sport No. 35 when he takes the field for Sunday’s home game against the Miami Dolphins. The 24-year-old is listed third on New England’s depth chart at the free safety position, but after a standout career both defensively and as a punt returner at Lenoir-Rhyne, the Patriots could choose to use him on special teams.
Nick Easton, New Orleans Saints offensive lineman
A former football and track and field star at Hibriten High, Easton appeared in 24 games for the Harvard University football team from 2010-14. The 28-year-old Lenoir native enters his sixth season in the NFL, having spent time with the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings and now as a backup offensive lineman for the Saints, who host the aforementioned Succop and the Bucs on Sunday.
Tyler Shatley, Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman
A 2009 graduate of East Burke High who also played at Clemson University, Shatley is one of the longest-tenured players on the Jaguars’ roster. Listed second on Jacksonville’s depth chart at the center position ahead of their season opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at home, the Valdese-born 29-year-old has played in 78 career games (15 starts) since making his NFL debut as an undrafted free agent in 2014.
Matt DiBenedetto, NASCAR Cup Series driver
After narrowly qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Hickory resident DiBenedetto finished 21st in the Cook Out Southern 500 last Sunday at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. The series shifts to Virginia’s Richmond Raceway tonight for the Federated Auto Parts 400 in a race that can be seen at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network, and DiBenedetto needs strong finishes this week and next if the 29-year-old hopes to move into the top 12 in the standings and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Hunter Harvey, Baltimore Orioles pitcher
Since making his 2020 debut on Aug. 30 after beginning the season on the injured list, Bandys High alumnus Harvey has pitched five innings in five games out of the Orioles’ bullpen. The 25-year-old right-hander took the loss in Wednesday’s 7-6 road defeat at the hands of the New York Mets, but had supplied Baltimore with three consecutive scoreless appearances prior to that, and the Catawba native entered Friday’s action with a 3.60 ERA and three strikeouts against two walks.
Madison Bumgarner, Arizona Diamondbacks
Like Harvey, Bumgarner recently returned from the injured list after struggling in his first four starts of the season. The last outing for the 31-year-old South Caldwell High graduate resulted in a no-decision against the MLB-leading Los Angeles Dodgers at home Thursday, but Arizona did win the game 5-2 and the left-hander was able to lower his ERA to 7.52, although he will still be looking for his first win of the season in his next start.
J.T. Poston, PGA Tour competitor
Hickory High graduate Poston failed to win a tournament during the 2019-20 PGA Tour season, finishing his season with a tie for 59th during the BMW Championship Aug. 27-30 at Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois. The 27-year-old isn’t playing in the 2020-21 season-opening Safeway Open at Silverado Resort in San Francisco, which began Thursday and continues through Sunday.
Josh McKinney is the sports editor for the Hickory Daily Record.
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