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Southern Utah hopes turnaround will continue
Four years ago, Southern Utah went 0-11, losing by an average of three touchdowns per game.
As a new season dawns, the once-inept Thunderbirds are positioned to be one of the best teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Hello, Ed Lamb.
A former linebacker at BYU who starts his fourth season at Southern Utah, Lamb has done a remarkable coaching job.
Last year, he guided the Thunderbirds to a 6-5 record, including a 31-24 loss in the final game at Eastern Washington, which eventually won the FCS national championship.
Southern Utah returns 17 starters from the team that flirted with a playoff berth, including junior quarterback Brad Sorensen.
“He has a really strong, accurate arm,” Lamb said. “He’s also very competitive.”
Sorensen threw for 3,163 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. He completed 67 percent of his passes behind a huge offensive line that averages 313 pounds per player and returns all five starters.
Lamb calls the deep, experienced offensive line his “most exciting position,” thanks in part to center Gavin Farr.
A Northridge High product, Farr was named the Great West Conference’s outstanding offensive lineman last year as a redshirt freshman.
Southern Utah is loaded at running back, too.
Seniors Austin Minefee and Deckar Alexander are one of the best 1-2 combinations in the country.
Minefee has led SUU in rushing for the past two years, while Alexander was its top rusher in 2008.
Last season, Minefee and Alexander combined to rush for more than 1,500 yards.
The Thunderbirds’ biggest problem on offense is replacing receivers Tysson Poots and Fesi Sitake. They combined for 167 receptions and 16 touchdowns last season.
On defense, Southern Utah returns seven starters, including preseason All-American Tyler Osborne.
A 245-pound senior from Weber High School and Snow College, Osborne had a team-high seven sacks as SUU’s pass-rushing defensive end in 2010.
Senior Blake Fenn from Union High in Roosevelt, Utah, is the only returning starter at linebacker, but the Thunderbirds’ secondary is formidable.
The leaders are senior cornerback Dion Turner and senior safety Erron Vonner. Both were all-league selections last season.
Southern Utah, which jumps from the Great West to the Big Sky Conference next year, must overcome a road-heavy schedule to make a successful exit. The Thunderbirds play only four of their 11 games at Eccles Coliseum, including just one after Oct. 1.
Undaunted, Lamb says, “I like the way the schedule lines up. It’s a good challenge for our guys. … We’ll find out early if we can live up to the hype.”
By Steve Luhm, Salt Lake Tribune