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McNeese State Cowboys looking for fourth title under Viator
Just a few plays is all that stopped the McNeese State University Cowboys from winning their fourth Southland Conference title under head coach Matt Viator last season.
“Going into the offseason, our biggest emphasis was finishing every game,” Viator said. “We actually won a couple of close ones too.
“It is frustrating in the since that we where so close. Stephen F. Austin drove 80 something yards in the last few seconds. Then we have the ball at the three yard line first and goal and four plays we don’t get anything against Central Arkansas. We would at least had won a share last year. I would hope going in that we could put ourselves in that position again and maybe we can do better.”
Now in his sixth year leading the Cowboys, Viator hopes the Cowboys can live up to their preseason billing of being picked to win the conference along with two-time champ Stephen F. Austin.
“SFA is the obvious choice for me since they are the defending champions,” Viator said. “Our players and coaches have to understand that it (preseason poll) doesn’t mean anything. High expectations are good but it’s a preseason poll. You do want to set the bar high.”
McNeese has finished no worse than second in the conference in five years under Viator.
One of the driving forces for the Cowboys this year should be their backfield which is loaded with Andre Anderson, Marcus Wiltz, Champlain Babin and Javarius Murray. Anderson was the Cowboys leading rusher last year with 855 yards after taking over the starting spot from Wiltz who was injured and played in only five games.
“I would love to play a whole season with these guys healthy,” Viator said. “We could even play two of them at a time and all of them are special teams guys.
“They can all return kicks and Marcus Wiltz was an all-state linebacker so I know he can cover kicks. The year before that Javarius Murray was our best cover guy. Those guys can help us in so many areas even if they are not the main back.”
Fist team All-SLC pick Miguel Gauthreaux returns to anchor the Cowboys’ offensive line at right guard. McNeese also returns three linemen, all from the Lafayette area, who will be starters this year in Jonathan Landry (LG), Taylor Johnson (LT) and Alex Savoie (RT).
Cody Stroud is currently slated to be the Cowboys starting quarterback but will be pushed by Riley Dodge, a transfer from North Texas, and Will Briscoe.
The Cowboys’ have always been known for their defense and last year was no different except for a few hiccups.
“I think that we were a lot more solid last year than we were in 2009,” Viator said. “We really improved on third down defense and red zone defense.
“We got in trouble big play wise few times. It really hurt us against Central Arkansas.”
McNeese has just four returning starters on defense this year led by defensive lineman Desmund Lighten who will move from tackle to defensive end. He was named as one of the top 10 defensive linemen in the Football Bowl Subdivision in preseason polls.
Ford Smesny will be starting in the Cowboys secondary for the fourth year. He will be joined by a pair of returning two-time All-Conference selections in cornerback Seth Thomas and safety Malcolm Bronson.
The Cowboys also return punter Ben Bourgeois and kicker Josh Lewis.
Pick up the Sunday edition of the Southwest Daily News to read the next article in this series on the Northwestern State University Demons.
By RODRICK ANDERSON, Southwest Daily News