By McNeese SID Matthew Bonnette:
LAKE CHARLES – Let the 2014 football season begin.
That was the unanimous feeling on Wednesday at the annual Southland Conference Football Media Day event at the L’Auberge Resort.
All 11 league teams were represented by their respective head coaches and two student-athletes, each having an equal number of minutes to meet face-to-face with the print media followed by a session with ESPN3 and ending with television media interviews.
The day began with the release of the conference sports information directors and coaches preseason polls, both of which has McNeese picked for a second place finish behind defending champion Southeastern Louisiana. The two teams will meet on November 15 in Hammond.
SLU defeated McNeese 41-7 in Lake Charles last season to hand the Cowboys their only league loss while keeping the team from notching its 14th conference title.
“That game still gives me a bad taste in my mouth,” said senior defensive end Everett Ellefsen. “I saw their guys with their championship rings on and I took a picture of them with my phone. I’m going to print it out and put it on all of the guys’ lockers for camp to remind us what we lost last year and what we’re going after this season.”
McNeese returns 16 starters including Ellefsen, a preseason all-conference first team selection. Joining him at Wednesday’s media day was preseason all-American offensive lineman Antoine Everett.
“We have four starters returning on the offensive line and three of us made all-conference,” said Everett. “We’re all a year older, more mature, and moving forward nicely.”
“We had a really good spring and a great summer,” said head coach Matt Viator who is entering his ninth season and is the only coach in Southland history to never post a losing season with a minimum of eight years coached. “We had a tremendous turnout for our summer voluntary workouts and we’ve got a great group of guys coming back.
“I’m real excited about the players we have returning and also the transfers we have in. Losing guys in key positions is tough but hopefully our program is in good enough shape to where we have guys fill in the spots nicely.
“The expectations are high here every year. It makes it fun. You set the bar high and push yourself. If we do things right and keep progressing, I think we have a chance to be a pretty good football team.”
One of the areas that will grab a lot of preseason attention is the quarterback position. McNeese lost three-year starter Cody Stroud to graduation and only junior Tyler Bolfing has minimal playing experience. The Cowboys landed a huge transfer over the summer in Daniel Sams who started a few games at Kansas State last season.
“Tyler was our starter during spring practice with Will (Briscoe) behind him,” said Viator. “Getting (Daniel) Sams is a big positive. He’s a tremendous athlete that will bring a lot of competition to the position. Competition is good.”
When asked about a two-QB system, Viator didn’t shy away from the possibility.
“I like it. But to do it, you have to have two guys who run different systems. If you bring a guy in that runs the offense the same way as the first guy in there, what’s the point. But I really like running an offense like that.”
Following McNeese in the polls were Sam Houston State, Central Arkansas, Northwestern State, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar, Abilene Christian, Nicholls, Incarnate Word and Houston Baptist.
Also on Wednesday, the league announced its involvement of instant replay that all conference schools will be doing this season for all home games. The Southland is the first conference in the FCS to implement instant replay.
“I think it’s a really good deal for us,” said Viator. “To be the first FCS conference to do this is big. It’s going to be great for the league and for FCS football.”
McNeese players report for camp on Aug. 7 and will open the season on Sept. 6 at Nebraska.
2014 Southland Conference Preseason Polls Coaches’ Poll
1. Southeastern Louisiana (9) 99
2. McNeese (2) 92
3. Sam Houston State 79
4. Central Arkansas 70
5. Northwestern State 59
T6. Stephen F. Austin 52
T6. Lamar 52
8. Abilene Christian 36
9. Nicholls 35
10. Incarnate Word 21
11. Houston Baptist 10
1. Southeastern Louisiana (10) 100
2. McNeese (1) 89
3. Sam Houston State 78
4. Central Arkansas 72
5. Northwestern State 61
6. Stephen F. Austin 55
7. Lamar 45
8. Abilene Christian 39
9. Nicholls 36
10. Incarnate Word 20
11. Houston Baptist 10
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