HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … Stephen F. Austin.
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (4-7)
The Southland (tied for 6th in SLC)
COACH: Jeff Byrd – 1st year (0-0 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 19.6 ppg (92nd in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 29.5 ppg (90th in FCS)
SUM IT UP: You can't write a 2018 preview about Stephen F. Austin football without mentioning the coaching change that happened this summer (just last week, to be precise). Clint Conque had been working to rebuild the SFA program the past few years, but was put on administrative leave in June for violations of university policy, and then he resigned in early August. Obviously that's not an ideal situation for SFA, but interim head coach Jeff Byrd has stepped right in all summer and has stated repeatedly that this group is focused (see quote below) and motivated. So, let's start with that.
When you look at what the Lumberjacks did last year, they very nearly knocked off the Southland champs on the road (Central Arkansas, 24-20) and didn't exactly lay down for FCS powerhouse Sam Houston State in front of 27,000 fans. There were sparks of positivity, and one thing to build on this year is having 11 players returning who started at least one game on offense — which includes two very capable quarterbacks in 1,000-yard passer Jake Blumrick and former TCU signal caller Foster Sawyer (3 starts before knee injury in 2017). The offense seems poised to be much better than it was last year (92nd in the FCS in scoring). On defense, there is some incredible individual talent like Alize Ward, who is one of the nation's top returning defensive backs. The "D" will need to rebuild some for this team to have a winning record.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: If the 'Jacks can put the coaching transition behind them, there is some serious potential here. In all, 19 players return who started games on offense and defense last year, with another 3 back on special teams. Let's face it, this team was on the verge of being top third in the Southland last year. The schedule is much improved, as it only plays one FBS team this year (two last year) and key matchups like Central Arkansas and Northwestern State are at home. Road trips to McNeese and Nicholls won't be easy, nor will the annual battle with Sam Houston State, but this is certainly a program that can put up 6 or 7 wins and give the school its first winning season since going 8-5 in 2014. But to repeat: A) It must deal with the coaching transition well and B) It must improve on its statistical averages in the "points per game" department — on both sides of the ball. This can happen.
TOP RETURNEE: WR Tamrick Pace (2nd Team All Southland; 53 catches, 645 yards, 5 TDs)
THE NEXT BEST: DB Alize Ward (2nd Team All Southland – 4 INTs, 14 passes defended, 75 tackles, 3.5 TFLs); DB Trenton Gordon (led team in tackles with 76); QB Jake Blumrick (1,654 yards passing, 8 TDs); PK Storm Ruiz (14 field goals, perfect on PATs); LB Teddy Britton (7.5 TFL, 51 tackles, 2 FF); LB Ryan Woods (55 tackles, 5.5 TFLs); OL Devonte Jones (All Southland Honorable Mention).
TOP NEWCOMER: RB/KR Jae'lon Oglesby (Memphis transfer and former 4-star Clemson signee – led Memphis in kick returns last year; 6,000 yard rusher in H.S.).
DID YOU KNOW?: Stephen F. Austin State University is named after the man also known by some as the "Father of Texas" himself — Stephen F. Austin, who the state capitol is named after. Austin brought 300 American families into the territory in 1825 while the area was still under Mexican control. He served as Secretary of State under President Sam Houston for a time during the short-lived span of the Republic of Texas (1836-45).
THE QUOTE: "Based on day one, it has been great. But it has been great during the summer, too. They've had accountability for each other and not missing things and being on time and everybody was here. Those are the kinds of things you kind of figure out about your team early. If you have to struggle with where you are and what you're doing and all that stuff then – but they've kind of policed themselves and that makes me really, really excited. If I don't have to walk around and deal with problems every day then we can just deal with football and that makes us all better." — interim head coach Jeff Byrd said at the beginning of fall drills
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #AxeEm
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @SFA_Football
— Lumberjack Football (@SFA_Football) August 2, 2018
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