With the beginning of each year, most students are getting reacquainted with the habitual cycle of classes, studying, eating and sleeping. However, the fall semester also allows many students to get reacquainted with something equally important – college football.
In his second year, head coach Todd Whitten saw Sam Houston State have a drastic turnaround as the Bearkats improved their record from 3-7 to 6-5. With former Oklahoma quarterback Rhett Bomar leading the offense, some talented transfer recruits, and a more experienced coaching staff, it’s understandable for some to feel this team has a legit shot at a conference title, last won in 2004.
“Offensively, I think we’re going to be strong up front,” Whitten said. “We’ve got a strong offensive line, and I think we have a good group of running backs. The question mark will be at wide receiver. We have a bunch of new guys and it all depends on how well they develop.”
Part of the success in 2006, can be attributed to last year’s Southland Conference “Offensive Player of the Year” D.D. Terry. The former Bearkat and current Jacksonville Jaguar rushed for over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns in only his first year at running back.
“D.D. [Terry] was a great player, but he is no longer here, so now it’s going to be different,” Bomar said. “We’re going to do some zone-read and put more pressure on defenses.”
In to fill the large, vacated shoes of Terry is running back Chris Poullard. Sophomore Poullard, who in 2006 rushed 15 times for 74 yards and a touchdown, will be called on to do more in his second year.
“Anytime you lose a 1,200 yard rusher it’s difficult to fill,” Whitten said. “This year we won’t rely so heavily on one back. There will be a lot more involvement by a couple more backs.”
Bomar’s targets in the offensive scheme will be new wide receiver Trey Payne, from Baylor, and Catron Houston, who in 2006 had 12 receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown for the Bearkats. Bomar’s best offensive option may be in last season’s first-team all Southland conference tight end Blake Martin. Martin, who had 39 receptions for 481 yards and a pair of touchdown receptions, has a strong chance to live up to all the preseason hype that himself and offensive tackle Brandon Hale have garnered. Both were named to preseason Southland conference and All-American teams.
Arguably the Bearkats’ biggest problem from the 2006 season was their lack of a pass-rush. The Bearkats compiled only eight sacks in their 11 games, the lowest in conference.
To try and improve their ineffective pass rush the Bearkats brought in transfers Ryan Gloston (Blinn) and Chris Brown (Texas). Brown played as a true freshman and was also part of the 2005 National Championship team. Brown will be joined by former defensive sack specialist, David Branch, who redshirted the 2006 season after compiling seven sacks in 2005, nearly the amount the 2006 team compiled as a whole.
“This year we will be more solid against both the run and pass,” Branch said. “Last year we didn’t have as many sacks as we should have. This year we will be better against the run, and get more pressure to help out the defensive backs. All around we will have a better defense.”
In the preseason poll, Southland Conference coaches voted the Bearkats third, while the Sports Information Directors named them second. McNeese State was selected first by both Sports Information Directions and coaches in the polls.
“I think we have a chance to be improved over last year,” Whitten said. “We’re very athletic at the quarterback position and I think that will help improve the other positions. Our improved pass-rush is probably what sets this team apart most from last season.”