After a tough loss on the road to North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals ended their 2017 season, the Sam Houston State Bearkat football team was forced to resort to the old adage, “There’s always next year.” For head coach K.C. Keeler and returning players, that is certainly true; but for the group of graduating seniors, they live on only in the record books.
While the Kats’ hopes for a National Championship ended in the Fargo Dome, the seniors’ final victory of their collegiate careers came at home on the turf at Bowers Stadium with a 34-27 win over Kennesaw State the week before in the quarterfinals.
“I love this place,” former quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe said. “I love playing in front of our fans. This place is very special to me, and for this to be my last game winning a quarterfinal game against a great team, I don’t think I could have asked for any more.”
Briscoe’s path to Huntsville was untraditional to say the least. After playing his freshman season at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the football program got shut down and he needed a new place to call home. He ultimately chose SHSU, turning down other schools including the University of Florida. Since becoming a Bearkat, Briscoe has led the team to three quarterfinals, two semifinals and was a two-time All-American with a Walter Payton Award under his belt, cementing his legacy as the best quarterback in school history.
Briscoe was surrounded by offensive weapons during his time at SHSU. One of those weapons was slot receiver Yedidiah Louis. After starting his career as a walk-on, Louis not only became the most decorated receiver in school history, but is also the Southland Conference’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
SHSU’s ground game graduated three running backs at the end of 2017, one of them being Corey Avery. Much like Briscoe, Avery also took an unorthodox road to Huntsville. After being a four-star recruit and going to Kansas University, Avery decided to leave the school and play football closer to home. During his three years, Avery became one of the school’s best running backs, as he ranks in the top five in rushing yards and touchdowns.
The seniors’ contributions did not end with game statistics, however. Running back Javin Webb did not see the field on offense against KSU, but played an integral part in helping his team win. In preparation for KSU’s triple-option rushing attack, it was Webb who approached Keeler and said that he would play that role on the scout team during practice.
“Javin Webb came to us on Tuesday morning and said I’m going to be the starting fullback for Kennesaw State,” Keeler said. “I mean here’s a senior that has a tough time getting on the field right now, and he wanted to find a way to help this team. When you get guys like that it all comes together.”
On the flip side of the ball was three-time All-American defensive lineman P.J. Hall, the stalwart of the Bearkat defense for four years. Hall has set school records for blocked kicks, sacks and is the all-time FCS leader in tackles for loss. He performed in the clutch when he made the final tackle of the quarterfinals game to thwart a trick play by KSU.
“It was pretty great,” Hall said. “We knew they were going to throw something funny at us, and I just saw the ball carrier and I just wanted to end the play the right way, and it worked out pretty well.”
With the surplus of senior talent graduating from the program, it is easy to see the holes that SHSU will need to fill before the 2018 season. Despite the talent and leadership, this senior class took with them, Dec. 20 gave the Bearkats a glimmer of hope during the NCAA’s inaugural early signing day.
- New SHSU QB Mike Dare
Keeler and the program announced that four players signed National Letters of Intent, one of whom was 6-foot-6-inch, 222-pound, transfer quarterback Mike Dare. A graduate of Elmwood Park Memorial High School in New Jersey, Dare has two years of eligibility left after playing his 2016 season at Rutgers University and Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania in 2017. Dare comes to SHSU with high expectations after being the No. 2 rated quarterback in New Jersey coming out of high school.
“[Dare] is a special talent and should immediately add competition to our quarterback group,” Keeler said. “He is a pro-style guy who can also be used in the run game, and he is as polished of a quarterback as I’ve ever recruited.”
The Kats also signed three other players all out of Texas high schools: running back Alex Williams from Memorial High School in Pasadena, running back Donovan Williams from Paris High School in Paris and safety Immanuel Sutton from Keller Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Worth.
National Signing Day will be on Feb. 7.