2021 CSJ Southland Spring Football Preview

Sam Houston State quarterback Eric Schmid (3) celebrates his touchdown run with Tyler Scott during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Houston Baptist, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Houston. (Eric Christian Smith/Contributor, Houston Chronicle)

Courtesy of Rob Butler

With three playoff teams in 2019, including 2018 champion and 2019 co-champ Nicholls, the Sam Houston State Bearkats seek a return to form following seven straight NCAA trips from 2011-17 that began with two title game appearances. They hope to emerge the winners of the Southland’s 2021 Spring season.

One that will not make it this spring: McNeese, playoff-ineligible for academic reasons. The Cowboys have their third head coach in three seasons with Frank Wilson at the helm.

Lamar has a new boss too – but there will be some growing pains this spring with 40 true freshmen. Cardinal fans should be patient but optimistic – Blane Morgan and staff put together one of the top recruiting classes in FCS this year.

Fearless Predictions

  1. Sam Houston State
  2. Nicholls
  3. McNeese* (ineligible for postseason play)
  4. Southeastern Louisiana
  5. Incarnate Word
  6. Northwestern State
  7. Lamar

The Southland held a preseason vote where they favored Nicholls to win the Southland spring football season.

Incarnate Word

UIW head coach Eric Morris has been at the helm of the Cardinals for the last two seasons. In his first season (2018), the Cardinals won six games (tying a program record for single season wins), securing a share of the Southland Conference Championship and the program’s first berth in the FCS Playoffs. During the 2019 season, UIW won five games, including two over top-25 ranked opponents. The 11 wins under Morris mark the best two-year stretch in UIW’s 11-year history.

Impact Players

DE/LB Kelechi Anyalebechi: The Cardinals’ returning sack leader and All-Southland performer should be one of the best pass rushers again in 2021.

WR Kamden Perry: Played in 10 games and started four in 2019; caught 37 passes for 378 yards, averaging 10.2 yards per catch; had a long catch of 28 yards; had a career-high 105 receiving yards on a personal-best 11 catches at SFA.

WR C.J. Hardy: Played in 11 games in 2019 and had five starts; caught 29 passes for 411 yards, ranking second on the team in receiving yards; averaged 14.2 yards per catch and had a long catch of 41 yards; recorded a career-best 102 receiving yards against Nicholls, accomplished on seven catches.

Key Game: vs. Sam Houston State on February 20

Lamar

Blane Morgan, previously the QB coach at San Diego State, replaces Mike Schultz, who was fired on Nov. 25, 2019 after the Cardinals’ disappointing 4-8 season that ended in last place in the Southland Conference standings.  Morgan, 42, comes to the Cardinals with nearly 20 years of experience, although Lamar will be his first head coaching job.   Ron Antoine will be an invaluable asset for the Cardinal football program – he grew up in Beaumont and has returned to be the offensive coordinator for the Lamar Cardinals football team.

Impact Players

TE Jeremy Davis:  Transferred to LU and he redshirted in 2019. Davis spent the first two years of his career at Missouri Southern State where he was known for his strong pass blocking skills. He played in 18 games for Missouri Southern, hauling in 11 passes for 120 yards and four touchdowns.

QB Jalen Dummett: As a JUCO QB, completed 235-of-413 (.569) passes for 2,695 yards during his two seasons with Feather River; he also passed for 14 touchdowns during his two seasons; also carried the ball 270 times for 1,467 yards averaging better than five yards per carry (5.4 ypc); rushed for better than 73 yards per game during his career; also recorded 23 rushing touchdowns.

K Bailey Giffen:  One of the surprises of the season in 2019; took over as the team’s primary kicker in the first game of the year and never looked back; played in 12 games; second team All-Southland Conference; led the Southland Conference with 21 field goals.

Key Game: vs. Northwestern State on February 20

McNeese

After losing former head football coach Sterlin Gilbert to Syracuse, those in charge at McNeese worked quickly and got a bargain hiring former University of Texas-San Antonio head coach Frank Wilson. The jury is out on how Wilson will perform as the Cowboys’ head coach, but this seems like a perfect – Wilson is a Louisiana native and an excellent recruiter. 

Impact Players

QB Cody Orgeron: Had a solid spring in 2020 where he took snaps with the No. 1 offense most of the time, including the spring game; expected to be the starter in the season opener; was one of 44 counselors at the Manning Passing Academy held last summer. 

DL Camron Peterson: Played in the first seven games of 2018 before an injury sidelined him for the final four contests; finished the season with 10 tackles, one sack, a TFL, a pass breakup and two QB hurries; had a season-high two tackles four different games – at Northern Colorado, at HBU, at BYU and vs. Stephen F. Austin; had his lone sack against HBU.

DL Isaiah Chambers: Playing for the University of Houston in 2019, appeared in 10 games and tied for the team lead with 5.0 sacks; recorded 13 tackles (six solo) and logged 6.0 tackles for loss.

Key Game: vs. Nicholls on April 3

Courtesy Houma Today

Nicholls

Nicholls State University head coach Tim Rebowe leads a program which has won two straight SLC titles – the Colonels claimed nine wins for the second year in a row in 2019 and made their third consecutive appearance in the FCS playoffs. Nicholls finished ranked No. 14 in both T op 25 FCS Polls.  Ex-LSU redshirt quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr., who left Missouri early in 2019, is the leading candidate to replace 2019 Southland Offensive Player of the Year Chase Fourcade.  

Impact Players

QB Lindsey Scott Jr:  At East Mississippi Community College in 2017, he led his team to an 11-1 record and the 2017 NJCAA national championship and MACJC state title; named to Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) Second Team and was voted the Mississippi Bowl Committee’s Player of the Year; ranked third among the NJCAA’s 2017 national statistical leaders in passing yards per game (290.1), fourth with 29 passing touchdowns and fifth in pass completion percentage (64.8) 

LB Ty’Ree Evans: At Southern Miss from 2018-2019, he appeared in 12 games for the Golden Eagles in two years, totaling seven tackles; five stops came in 2019, including two against Troy; had a sack versus UTEP; earned a redshirt in 2018.

OL P.J. Burkhalter: Started all 14 games on the offensive line at center and guard; was one of the top linemen in the nation, earning five All-American honors — four on first team; was named Southland Offensive Lineman of the Year; offense led the Southland with 197.1 yards rushing per game, which ranked 25th in the FCS. 

Key Game: vs. Southeastern Louisiana on April 10

Northwestern State

The Demons went 3-9 in 2019, which was tied for eighth in the conference. The 2019 NW St Demons produced a record-breaking quarterback and a pair of wide receivers who finished in the top 10 in the conference in receptions and the top 60 nationally in receptions per game.  QB Shelton Epplerthrew for 3,587 yds and 28 TDs; Quan Shortshad 100 recs for 994 yds and 11 TDs; Akile Davishad 59 recs for 762 yds and 4 TDs.  All three graduated so head coach Braid Laird is looking to fill holes on offense.

Impact Players

S P.J. Herrington: Two-year letterman for the Lions; named second-team Mississippi Association of Community and Junior College All-North Division in 2017; led East Mississippi with four interceptions and was fourth on the team in tackles with 40; also added a team-best seven pass breakups in 10 games – all in 2017.

WR Marquise Bridges: Second-leading receiver for the 2019 NJCAA national champions; caught 43 passes for 782 yards and six touchdowns, earning first-team Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges all-state honors; had a pair of 100-yard receiving games – 134 vs. Southwest Mississippi Junior College (6 catches, 2 TDs) and 130 vs. East Mississippi Community College (9 catches, 1 TD).

WR Kendrick Price: Emerged as a reliable playmaker in the second half of the 2019 season; appeared in all 12 games, starting the final four; led the Demons with a 14.3 yards per catch average and was third on the team in receiving yards (372) and tied for fourth in receptions (26).

Key Game: vs. Nicholls on March 6

Sam Houston State

Head coach K.C. Keeler is excited about his offense this spring, especially with Eric Schmid returning at QB for the Bearkats.  Bolstering SHSU’s return to the playoffs after two years away is a unit that led the FCS in rush defense and the Southland in total defense.  It returns Joseph Wallace and All-Southland selection Trace Mascorro up front and Zyon McCollum in the secondary. 

Impact Players

QB Eric Schmid: Phil Steele preseason All-Southland Conference third teamPlayed in eight games during the 2019 season, making six starts at quarterback; missed four games due to injury suffered vs McNeese; completed 58.8 percent of his passes for the year, throwing for 1,733 yards with 12 TDs and five interceptions; also rushed for 112 yard and four touchdowns on the ground.

DB Zyon McCollum: Preseason All-Southland Conference second team; Phil Steele preseason All-Southland Conference second team; during the 2019 season, he wassecond team All-Southland Conference; played in nine games, missing the final three games after suffering season-ending injury in first quarter at Central Arkansas (10/26/19); ranked fifth in the SLC with 11 passes defended.

DL Joseph Wallace:  Preseason All-Southland Conference first team; Phil Steele preseason All-Southland Conference first team; during the 2019 season, he was All-Southland Conference second team; part of Bearkat defensive line that ranked No. 1 in the FCS in rushing yards allowed per game for the year.

Key Game: vs. Nicholls on March 13

Southeastern Louisiana

After beating three top-10 teams, winning a playoff game, and finishing nationally ranked in 2019, Southeastern Louisiana extended Southland Coach of the Year Frank Scelfo through 2024.  The Lions lost starting quarterback Chason Virgil (3,791 yards) from an offense that averaged 354.4 yards passing and 484.8 total yards – both second nationally.   But 6-7 backup Cole Kelley, an ex-Arkansas QB, returns, as do receivers C.J. Turner (78 catches, 963 yards) and Austin Mitchell (57 catches, 896 yards).

Impact Players

QB Cole Kelley: Played in all 13 games as the backup quarterback in 2019; completed 69 of 93 passes for 816 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions; rushed for a team-high 10 touchdowns; carried the ball 89 times for 200 yards; his 74.2 completion percentage and 179.1 pass efficiency rating were the highest single-season totals in program history.

WR Austin Mitchell: Earned All-Southland Conference honors in 2019 after serving as the team’s top deep threat; one of FCS-high five Lions with 500 or more receiving yards in 2019; caught 57 passes for 896 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns; single-season totals for receptions (10th), receiving yardage (4th) and receiving touchdowns (5th) – all in 2019 – are among the top 10 in school history.  

WR C.J. Turner: Played in all 13 games during 2019 and broke out with one of the most prolific receiving seasons in program history; led team with 78 catches and 963 receiving yards; caught seven touchdowns; single-season totals for receptions (2nd), receiving yards (3rd) and receiving touchdowns (7th) – all in 2019 – are among the best in school history.

Key Game: at Nicholls on April 10

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