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Nicholls Coach plans to keep building foundation
Nicholls State coach Charlie Stubbs isn’t an architect, but he compared his first season as Colonels coach to building a house.
When he was hired last year, Stubbs said he faced a big rebuilding project, ranging from introducing a new offensive system and coaching style to recruiting the players to fit into that system.
Entering his second season at Nicholls, Stubbs said the foundation is laid, but there is still work to do before the overall project is complete.
“The first year we had put down the foundation and did things absolutely the right way,” Stubbs said. “We put a very good coaching staff together. The next was lay down the very basics what we wanted to do offensively and defensively, which is still in work now. It’s an ongoing process, but I believe that we definitely set a great foundation for the program to build on.”
Stubbs said the next step is to improve on a 4-7 season, which was highlighted by two Southland Conference wins to close out the regular season. Nicholls started the year 0-3, but it went 4-4 the rest of the way.
“Winning those last two games of the season sprung us into a great offseason of conditioning,” Stubbs said. “We’ve got stronger and more confident as a team. We had a very good spring practice, and when we went into the summer, it just carried on.”
Nicholls junior quarterback LaQuintin Caston said the Colonels had their growing pains last year learning Stubbs’ new system, but after an enthusiastic spring practice and summer workout sessions, he believes the team is headed in the right direction.
“I compare it to a metaphor that the plane is on the runway,” Caston said. “Last season was the plane on the runway. I believe this season we’re getting ready to take off as a program. Coach Stubbs and his staff did a great job of gelling us and drilling the foundation into our systems. We did a great job finishing strong last season, and we’re now looking forward to what this season has in store for us.”
Stubbs said there is a lot more excitement in the program because the players are taking more responsibility.
“I’m very happy going into this season because I actually have some leaders on the team,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t know all the kids. But now, we’ve got some leaders, so I got some guys that can definitely help with the coaches as we build it and take it to the next level.”
Another reason the Colonels are excited is because they return 46 lettermen and 21 starters (10 offense, 10 defense and one special teams) from last season. Stubbs also got his first full year of recruiting this offseason, adding much-needed depth to several positions.
“I saw some things we didn’t have talent-wise on our team last year,” Stubbs said. “Hopefully these new guys coming in will be able to fill in those gaps. We went out and recruited skill players. We wanted some guys that can make plays with the ball in their hands.”
Among the key positions the Colonels focused on improving were the offensive and defensive lines. Stubbs said the Colonels needed to build more depth up front, especially at offensive line, which was plagued with injuries and small-numbers last season.
“We went out and we put our emphasis this year in recruiting that area,” Stubbs said. “I’m real pleased to say that we have 16 offensive linemen this season. That’s a good place for us. We have some quality players that we brought in. We should have competition for position, so we should be better.”
With the offensive line in place, the Colonels are looking to expand in Stubbs’ multiple pro offense this season.
Caston, who started nine games for the Colonels last season and led the team with 1,141 passing yards and eight touchdowns and added 577 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, has battled sophomore Landry Klann and redshirt freshman Beaux Hebert for the starting quarterback job during fall camp.
While Stubbs welcomes the competition at quarterback, he said Caston will enter the season as the “No. 1 guy.”
“There’s no question about that because he earned it through his play last year,” Stubbs said. “LaQuintin played very well in the games that we were very successful in. He’s improved drastically, but there’s still some room to go in his leadership. For this offense to be successful and for us to have the year I expect us to have, he’s got to play very well.”
After a year under Stubbs’ wing, Caston said he has developed more as a leader and a quarterback. Now he’s looking forward to running an offense that has explosive players such as junior running back Jesse Turner (638 rushing yards and nine touchdowns), sophomore running back Marcus Washington and senior receiver Kenyad Blair.
“The running game is what kept us in a lot of games last year, but passing is what we’re trying to get better at,” Caston said. “We’re trying to get a feel for the defenses so they can respect us more in the passing aspect of the game. If we’re able to control the ball and control the clock with the running game, and give our defense a chance to rest on the sideline, it will just make our team play better.”
Defensively, Nicholls seeks to improve in the 3-4 defense. It started as a 4-3 defensive unit last year, but Stubbs and defensive coordinator Jeremy Atwell switched to a 3-4 to get more speed on the field at the linebacker and safety positions.
Atwell said the Colonels ran into some issues installing the new defense during last season, finishing second-to-last in the Southland’s total defense and struggling in red-zone and third-down situations.
But after focusing more on the scheme spring practice and fall camp, Atwell is more confident in the system.
“We want to be fundamentally and technically sound and play as hard as we can,” Atwell said. “We’re not going to beat ourselves. We’re going to force a team to drive and beat us. With a 3-4, it allows you to stop and think a little bit and play more of your speed. I think some good things can come from it.”
Atwell said the 3-4 will help them take advantage of the talents of returning defenders like All-Southland Conference first-team senior cornerback Bobby Felder (four interceptions and 33 tackles), junior linebacker Jordan Piper (52 tackles) and junior defensive lineman Edet Udoh.
“We want to be aggressive,” Atwell said. “We’ve got some guys that we’re excited about and their ability to play. They’ve done a great job working and putting themselves in positions to make plays. We’re expecting a big year from our defense.”
On special teams, Stubbs said the Colonels will face a difficult task of replacing standout punter Patrick Dolan, but the team added junior college transfer punter Cory Kemps, a junior college All-American last season.
“(Kemps) has got to prove himself,” Stubbs said. “Hopefully on offense, we’re playing better so we’re not using the punter not as much as last year.”
Unlike last season, Nicholls won’t have to open the season with three straight road games. The Colonels will open the season at home against Evangel University (Sept. 1) before hitting the road against Football Bowl Subdivision teams in Western Michigan (Sept. 10) and Louisiana-Lafayette (Sept. 24). Southland Conference play begins at home against Northwestern State (Sept. 24).
Stubbs said he believes the Southland Conference race is wide-open. If the Colonels (picked to finish sixth in preseason SLC polls) could start the season strong and stay healthy, he believes they can be in the mix for a conference title at the end of the season.
“We’ll take it one game at a time and continue building on that foundation,” Stubbs said. “If the ball bounces our way, some good things can happen. I want to see us definitely a lot better than year. Then again, I don’t make any predictions, but I do know this — that we could have a pretty good team.”
By Chris Singleton, Houma Today