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SLU welcomes No. 6 Jacksonville State to open 2019

SLU welcomes No. 6 Jacksonville State to open 2019

Author: Action News 17/Wednesday, August 28, 2019/Categories: Front Page, Lion UP


HAMMOND, La. – The Southeastern Louisiana football team will open the 2019 season on Thursday, hosting No. 6 Jacksonville State for a 7 p.m. contest in Strawberry Stadium.

In addition to kicking off the Lions’ 12-game schedule, Thursday’s contest will provide a litmus test to see how SLU compares to the FCS elite. The sixth-ranked Gamecocks are the highest-ranked non-conference FCS opponents Southeastern has faced since taking on No. 6 South Dakota State in 2014.

JSU has won the Ohio Valley Conference championship each of the past five seasons and is a prohibitive favorite to extend the streak to six in 2019. The Gamecocks have advanced to the FCS playoffs each of the past six seasons.

“These are the type of non-conference games we want to play,” Southeastern second-year head coach Frank Scelfo said. “Jacksonville State is where we want to be as a program – consistently competing for championships year in and year out. We’re ready for the challenge and we’ll have to play well in all three phases. We need all of Lion Nation’s support Thursday night in Strawberry Stadium.”

Thursday’s game against the Gamecocks will also be Faculty/Staff Appreciation Day at Strawberry Stadium. All SLU faculty and staff can receive two complimentary tickets by presenting their Southeastern faculty/staff ID.

To avoid ticket lines, faculty and staff are encouraged to pick up their tickets prior to game day at the Southeastern Athletics Ticket Office, which is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and from 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. on Friday. On game day, tickets may be picked up at the ticket booths in Friendship Circle or Strawberry Stadium.

The game will air on ESPN+ and on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network (KSLU-FM (90.9), Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and The Boss 1400 AM/103.7 FM). Fans can also listen live at www.LionSports.net/listenlive and via the Lions Game Day Experience and TuneIn Radio apps.

The Lions will be opening the season at home for the first time since the 2014 season, when SLU defeated Jacksonville (Fla.), 44-3. JSU will also be the first ranked non-conference opponent to visit Hammond since No. 15 New Hampshire in the 2013 NCAA FCS quarterfinals.

About Southeastern:
Southeastern was 4-7 overall and 4-5 in its first season under Scelfo. The Lions’ win total included wins over FCS playoff participant Lamar and No. 11 McNeese. Scelfo’s first full recruiting class added an influx of talent, but the improvements made by SLU off the field have raised the Lion leader’s expectations.

Like the majority of their 2019 opponents, Southeastern returns its starting quarterback. Chason Virgil returns after leading the Southland with 3,034 passing yards in his debut season in Hammond. Junior Cole Kelley, who transferred in from Arkansas, provides the Lions with quality depth under center.

The most experienced members of the running back corps are senior Devonte Williams and redshirt sophomore Marcus Cooper. In 2018, Williams led SLU with four rushing touchdowns in his first season after transferring from Indiana. He also made an impact in the return game, averaging 14.2 yards per return on the way to earning All-Southland Conference notice.

Offseason surgery limited Cooper to just four contests during a redshirt season in 2018. However, the Altair, Texas native is back to full speed and rounding into the form that saw him earn All-Southland Conference honors in 2017 as a freshman, averaging a school-record 10.1 yards per carry.

One of the bright spots in fall camp has been sophomore Taron Jones, who saw limited action as a freshman out of Mandeville High School in 2018. After nagging injuries lingered during the spring, a fully healthy Jones has impressed the offensive staff this fall.

SLU features three of the top pass catches from a season ago in Juwan Petit-Frere (49 receptions, 796 yards, 5 TD), CJ Turner (36-422-2 TD) and Austin Mitchell (21-352-3 TD). Lorenzo Nunez has made the full-time switch to receiver, while Javon Conner and Marquis Williams return from injuries.

Other returners include Jacq’co Price and Shyron White. Southeastern also has added Anthony Spurlock, who transferred from Western Kentucky, and a freshman class led by the duo of Ed Magee and Michael Corner Jr.

At tight end, Bransen Schwebel returns after earning first team All-Southland Conference honors a season ago and teams with junior Damien Dawson to give SLU a versatile tandem. Newcomer Matt DeBlaiso is expected to provide another talented pass-catching option, while Tanner Olsen adds quality depth.

The Lions are hoping to make strides on the offensive line and all signs are positive. Pat Allen, Jarius Gooch, Drew Jones, Alfred Beverly and Rendon Miles-Character all return with starting experience.

Southeastern is hoping to have improved depth up front. The addition of Wyatt Richthofen, who transferred from Southern Miss, as well as the improvement of redshirt freshmen Brennan Lanclos and Brendon Kelley, among others, is expected to help provide SLU with multiple options in the trenches.

A total of 10 returning letter winners will be a part of the veteran defensive line corps. Seniors Fred Brown and Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund are among the returners, along with Ronald Cherry III, Tainano Gailua, Josh Carr Jr., David Fields, Feletoa Ailua, Will Douglas, Noah Vance and Dwaine Thomas.

Fortifying the veteran group is Steven Wright, who is expected to be a force in the middle in his debut season with the Lions. The senior sat out 2018 after transferring from Virginia, where he played in 24 games and started four for the Cavaliers.

The most experienced linebacker on the roster is Mike Mason, who saw action in nine games as a reserve in 2018, finishing the season with 26 tackles.

While Mason is the leader and the starter at one linebacker spot, several Lions are competing to be Mason’s running mate in defensive coordinator Lance Guidry’s 4-2-5 scheme. Zeke Jenkins, newcomer Alexis Ramos and freshman Davion Nassri, among others are battling for playing time, as spring starter Arlen Williams battles through nagging injuries.

No position on the SLU roster has seen as many additions during the offseason than the defensive backs. The new additions combine with a solid returning nucleus to raise expectations for the back end of the Lion defense.

The Lions’ top returner in the secondary is Xavier Lewis, who earned honorable mention All-Southland Conference accolades in his debut season in Hammond after transferring from LSU. Lewis is one of three senior returners in the secondary, along with Tre’ Spann and Dejion Lynch, that provide leadership for the Southeastern defensive backs.

A pair of sophomores – Donniel Ward-Magee and Ferlando Jordan – have consistently earned praise through fall camp from Scelfo and Guidry for their improvements.

Both Matt Wright and Marcell Selmon Jr. return after injury-marred 2018 to give Southeastern more options. Justin Douglas, Shawntrez Spates, Derek Turner II, Patrick Johnson and Dontrell Smith, among others, are expected to contribute to an improved secondary unit.

About Jacksonville State
The Gamecocks are 52-12 under head coach John Grass and are prohibitive favorites to continue their conference title streak. Junior quarterback Zerrick Cooper was selected as the league’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. A total of seven JSU players were on the Preseason All-OVC Football Team.

Joining Cooper on the Preseason All-OVC squad are senior wide receiver Josh Pearson, junior tight end Trae Barry, senior offensive linemen Darius Anderson and Hunter Sosebee, senior linebacker Jalen Choice and senior safety Marlon Bridges.

JSU has won a league-record five-straight OVC titles and has also won 39 of its last 40 OVC games heading into 2019. The Gamecocks are the only Division I program – FCS or FBS – that has won its last five conference championships outright. It marks the sixth-straight year and the eighth time in the past 10 years that they have been picked atop the league’s preseason poll.

Despite suffering its first Conference loss since the 2013 season last season, Jacksonville State finished the year 7-1 in OVC play to win its record fifth-straight OVC Championship. The Gamecocks would go on to top East Tennessee State in the first round of the FCS Playoffs before falling to Maine in the second round.

JSU finished the year ranked No. 10 in the STATS Top 25 poll and the team has now been ranked in the Top 10 in 70 of the past 73 polls. After ranking fifth nationally in total offense (497.3 yards/game) and seventh in scoring offense (40.0 points/game) last year, the team returns Cooper and Pearson, who earned multiple All-American honors a year ago. Cooper passed for 32 touchdowns last season, the third-most in OVC single-season history, and accounted for 3,787 yards of total offense, the sixth-most in league history.

Pearson caught a school-record 17 of those touchdown passes, which was the most of any Division I player in 2018 and the second-most in OVC history. Pearson finished the year with 67 catches for 1,123 yards, both second-most in a single season in JSU history.

The offense will be bolstered by two Preseason All-OVC selections from the offensive line in guard Anderson and tackle Sosebee. Barry serves the JSU offense as a blocker and pass catcher. He was a Freshman All-American two seasons ago before netting a First Team All-OVC nod as a sophomore in 2018.

A year ago, the Gamecocks led the OVC and ranked 15th nationally in total defense (311.3 yards/game). This year’s edition of the Gamecocks will be led by Bridges, who has been a First Team All-OVC pick in each of his first three seasons and was also an All-Newcomer pick in 2016. Bridges had 69 tackles and a pair of interceptions last season.

He is joined on defense by Choice, who led JSU with 88 tackles and also notched a team-high 12 tackles for a loss. He also had five hurries and an interception to pace the defense.

Senior safety Traco Williams was not on the preseason squad after earning Second Team All-OVC honors last season. He returns with cornerback Yul Gowdy, who was an OVC All-Newcomer pick and a Freshman All-American in 2018.

Up Next
Southeastern will open its road schedule in Daytona Beach, Florida next Saturday at 3 p.m. (CDT) versus Bethune-Cookman.

 
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