"So I still think there's uh a learning curve from the coaches, so to speak, in terms of what these guys can do on a consistent basis. So, it's going to be interesting because I think these other young men are talented also, so all I was saying, if you remember, is that yeah, when we start practice tomorrow Tyler is the number 1 guy." -Coach Matt Viator
“It's exciting to get started,” said Matt Viator who will be entering his ninth season as the head coach of the Cowboys. “A couple of weeks ago we got all of our freshmen and transfers certified, so that's exciting.”
Of those 95 to report to camp, 16 are returning starters from a squad that finished 10-3 last season and advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs. That starting group includes all-conference selections Antoine Everett (OL), Everett Ellefsen (DE), Aaron Sam (DB), Bo Brown (LB), as well as preseason all-conference selections in Zach Hetrick (TE), Quentin Marsh (OL), Kelvin Bennett (RB), Ernest Celestie (WR), Gabe Hamner (DB), and Jean Breaux (P).
“The anticipation is really high in terms of what we're doing,” said Viator. “We just kind of have to lighten up and chill out a little bit because it's going to be a long, marathon camp in terms of getting to September 6. You want to get off to a fast start but you don't want to get off so fast that you bottom out anytime. Just keep ascending throughout camp and improving.”
With the late start to the season (McNeese does not have a game on opening weekend of Aug. 30), the Cowboys have been able to take advantage by not scheduling any two-a-day workouts.
“It actually has a little (Viator speaking about how the late start has helped the camp schedule). I you look at our schedule, we're kind of a little more spread. Unless the weather really affects us in any way, I don't plan on us doing any two-a-days. Matter of fact, I'm the kind of guy that has three schedules and the one we're going to use, unless something happens, we're actually not going to have any, but it can be adjusted at any time.”
In addition to the 16 returning starters and the 10 preseason all-conference selections, the Cowboys added some spice to both sides of the ball with several transfers that are expected to make an immediate impact, most notably junior quarterback Daniel Sams who came to McNeese from Kansas State following a season where he rushed for over 800 yards for the Wildcats.
Viator quickly addressed the quarterback situation.
“I was asked the other day ‘when you think you'll name a starter (quarterback)?' and the answer is ‘I don't have a clue. In a sense it's different that Daniel hasn't played and now you also have the health in Will Briscoe. It's a different dynamic to what I'm accustomed to in terms of having two or three guys that have been here for several years. I still think there's a learning curve from the coaches on what these guys can do on a consistent basis. Tyler has had a fantastic offseason. He's going to come into the camp ready as well. It's going to be interesting because these other young men are very talented. Everyone will have every opportunity to compete.”
Strengthening the offensive backfield with Bennett (774 yards in 2013) and Dylan Long (335 yards) will be transfers Nate Holmes from Arkansas and Derrick Milton from Mississippi State.
“I really like what they bring,” said Viator about the stable of running backs. “I think they're different, in a sense, of what they do, which I like. KB (Bennett) is just a straight-ahead, fast slash runner. Nate is fast but is more out of the backfield, catch the ball, more dynamic and makes moves in the open field. Derrick is a little bigger than what we had. He kind of reminds me like a (Marcus) Wiltz, but is a little bigger than Wiltz. And then you got Dylan Long. He's the more downhill, bull. They all different qualities about them, which I really like.”
Everett and Marsh will anchor a strong line that includes returning starters Nick Gorman and Ben Jones, while at the wideout position, both Ernest Celestie (31-565) and Wes Briscoe (9-115) received an extra year from the NCAA and will be joined by senior Jereon McGilvery (11-219), junior David Bush (20-194), sophomore Damon Gladney (7-114), and freshman Kent Shelby.
Defensively, the front four consisting of Ellefsen, Kevin Dorn, Sean Brown and newcomer Brian Hine could make up one of the most talented and physical lines in quite some time for McNeese. Throw in experienced players Danyel Hunter and Cameron Smith as well as Anthony Yruegas and possibly true freshman Jalen Bowers, the Cowboys are looking good at that spot.
Returning starters Brown and Deonte Thompson at the linebacker position will get some added depth with the addition of redshirt freshman Ed Duplessis as well as returning lettermen Wallace Scott and Keylon Bruno.
The backfield is expected to be the quickest and fastest in quite some time with Sam anchoring the defense with a position change to free safety. TCU transfer Jermaine Antoine will add physicality and quickness to a unit that includes a lot of young talent including true freshmen Dominique Hill and Andre Fuller. Add in returning starter Hamner as well as Brent Spikes, Ja'Len James, Carlos Carroll and Shea Nutt, just to name a few, and defensive coordinator Lance Guidry will have the DWA rolling on all cylinders.
The Cowboys will hold two scrimmages during camp, Aug. 16 and 23, and will open the season on Sept. 6 at Nebraska.
by Matthew Bonnette
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