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SLU has look on contender in Southland
The Southeastern Louisiana Lions have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming football season.
After posting the program’s first winning season since 2004 and contending for the Southland Conference title last season, the Lions return 51 lettermen, including 19 starters.
For the first time in recent memory, head coach Mike Lucas’ team was picked to finish in the top half of the league standings.
While preseason predictions mean little, it’s still a reflection of how far the Lions have come and the vast potential that the program has going into this season.
“We are in a position as a program to accomplish goals that we set back in 2007, when we first came here as a staff,” said Lucas, who is starting his fifth season as head coach. “A lot of returning guys started that first season against some very tough opponents when they were true freshmen.
“Now, they’ve got the experience and are able to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. Now, we just have to perform.”
The only big gray area for the Lions is at quarterback, a position held by Brian Babin during the Lions’ 6-5 season last year.
Babin threw for 2,602 yards and struck for 25 touchdown passes with just eight interceptions in leading an offense that averaged 31 points and 388.5 yards per game.
Tyler Beatty (6-4, 210), a transfer from Baylor, played in nine games last season, when he threw for 483 yards, including 297 and three touchdowns in a 25-21 win over Central Arkansas.
Lucas has true freshman Gavin Webster available. Webster, who was voted Louisiana’s Mr. Football his senior year in high school, completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and threw for 2,956 yards and 37 touchdowns at Luther High School.
Lucas said he was able to sign Webster because the player was a late qualifier with his grades, which led larger schools to pass on him and sign other players.
With the Lions returning receiver Simmie Yarborough (6-1, 205), who had 57 receptions and 12 touchdown catches last season, some productive running backs and four starters in the line who have 70 starters among them, all that Lucas lacks is a play-maker at quarterback.
“A lot of our season will come down to our quarterback play,” the coach said. “We have a lot of confidence in Tyler Beatty.”
Lucas said Webster (6-0, 190) is a run-pass threat who reminds him a lot of former Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards, who is a receiver for the Carolina Panthers.
The Lions’ defense could be one of the better units in the league, with all 11 starters returning and depth at most positions.
The line has 10 players in the playing rotation, led by ends Devan Walker (6-3, 245) and Nathan Clophus (6-3, 265).
The linebacking corp returns Mark Newbill (5-11, 215) and Ryan Godare (6-0, 215). Newbill had 110 tackles, while Godare added 87 last season.
The secondary features Re’Keem Wilson (5-11, 190) and Tommy Connors (6-1, 215).
Wilson led the SLC in interceptions with four last season. Connors was a preseason All-American before last season who was redshirted after suffering an early injury.
The Lions return punter Beau Mothe, but will have to replace kicker Jeff Turner.
By Kevin Gore, The Daily Sentinel