FOOTBALL IS BACK: Bearkats Ready to Host OPSU Aggies

They are the fourth most winningest program in Division I football over the last five years. They have been a national semi-finalist four out of the last five years and they have been named the number two team in the FCS Coaches Poll for this upcoming season.

They are the Sam Houston State Bearkats and they are ready to make a run for the National Championship, but first they must take care of business this Saturday at Bowers Stadium in the season opener against the Oklahoma Panhandle State Aggies in the annual Orange Out game.

The last time fans watched the Bearkats, they witnessed a crushing 62-10 defeat to Jacksonville State in the FCS playoffs; but with some new additions, and with spring and summer camps in the books, the Bearkats are back and looking to put on a show this Saturday.

“There’s great pride, in the fact that we’ve won 56 ball games over the past five years,” SHSU head coach K.C. Keeler said. “It’s just more recognition that we’ve had a great run. We’ve established ourselves as one of the best.”

This past summer, the team further established their dominance as a program by leading the conference in preseason All-American selections. A total of 13 Bearkats were named to the pre-season All-America team, seven being first teamers.

Of those named was junior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe.

Briscoe split time last year with former Bearkat Jared Johnson, who transferred to UTSA last spring.

“I felt a loss at losing such a phenomenal person, and an outstanding player like Johnson,” Keeler said. “Johnson transferring really gave Jeremiah a chance to step into a leadership role. He’s become a really strong leader at the helm.”

One group of players that will need the leadership from their captain is the outside receivers. The Bearkats lost seniors Gerald Thomas and LaDarius Brown due to graduation, which means the team needs other players to step up and fill the void they left.

The Bearkats are relying on sophomores Grant Finney and Davion Davis to fill those shoes and be the cornerstones of the wide receiving corp. Freshman Nathan Stewart and Coree Compton are also expected to produce.

“Nathan has had a great training camp,” Keeler said. “So has Coree Compton. There’s some real talent in that position. We thought it could be an area of weakness, but it has actually turned out to be an area of strength for this team.”

One area that is strong for the Bearkats is the defensive line.

The squad, which boasts three pre-season All-Americans, is headlined by junior standout P.J. Hall, who topped the conference in sacks last year and is the program’s all-time leader in tackles for loss.

“P.J. has had a very good training camp as well,” Keeler said. “He is in better shape than he was last year at this time and that gives us the opportunity to move P.J. around on the line. I think this is the deepest defensive line I’ve ever coached in my 22 years.”

Another position with great depth is the running backs. Pre-season All-American junior Corey Avery is expected to lead the ground game this season.

“Avery is one of the best backs I’ve ever coached,” Keeler said. “But we’ll need them all because we plan on playing a lot of snaps.”

The Bearkats’ schedule noticeably lacks a “paycheck” game this season. This type of game is usually a showdown between an FBS and an FCS school, and is normally seen within the first three games of the season. It’s called a “paycheck” game because FBS programs basically pay FCS schools to play them so they can essentially get an easy win.

In the past, SHSU has accepted “paycheck” games to challenge themselves. They faced Texas A&M in 2013, LSU in 2014, and most recently, Texas Tech in 2015.

Initially, The University of New Mexico was scheduled to play the Bearkats week one, but ended up cancelling.

“New Mexico dropped us four months or so ago,” Keeler said, “We had to scramble to find a game, but there weren’t a lot of takers. Teams saw how we played Tech last year, and thought, ‘if we are going to play an FCS team, why play Sam Houston?”

There was a silver lining in the New Mexico cancellation, and that being the home opener against OPSU this Saturday.

“If New Mexico hadn’t cancelled, we wouldn’t have played at home until the middle of October,” Keeler said, “So we’re excited to play in front of our fans.”

Opening weekend should generate a great fan turnout, especially since it’s the Orange Out game, and the city of Huntsville hasn’t seen any Bearkat football in over eight months. Fans will flood the seats of Elliot T. Bowers Stadium wearing the color orange.

“Orange Out last year was amazing,” Keeler said, “The energy was amazing. It’s exciting. We’ll make sure to play better this year.”

Last year’s Orange Out loss to the lower ranked Lamar Cardinals left a sour taste in Keeler’s mouth; as did the game two seasons ago against Division II Colorado State-Pueblo.

“This game will be different than those,” Keeler said, “Pueblo could have beaten any team in our conference that year, and after two weeks of being told they should have beaten Tech, the kids were kids, and didn’t focus on their next opponent.”

The Bearkats are fully focused on OPSU and their senior quarterback Shane Truelove.

Truelove averaged 52 yards per game on the ground, and 162 yards through the air last season. The Aggies lost their starting running back though, so the team will look towards Truelove’s arm for most of the offensive workload.

“Our guys are excited,” Keeler said, “They can’t wait to get out there and hit someone not on their team.”

If the Bearkat defense can get to Truelove and slow down the Aggies’ high-powered offense, which averaged 43 points per game last season, and the offense can get their outside receivers involved, the fans, and coaches should go home happy.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Bowers Stadium.

There are 6 comments

  1. MrMustang1965

    That's a VERY misleading headline!!! LOL Sam Houston is playing the Oklahoma Panhandle State Aggies, not the University of Oklahoma Sooners!

  2. John Vindiola

    I would love to know if there are story specific things you are having a problem with, or if all your problems were with the old headline.

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