Story courtesy of the Southland Conference
Photo courtesy of Sam Houston State Athletics
– A total of 35 of the 52 Southland Conference football players who earned all-conference honors after the 2011 season return for the 2012 season and garner spots on the preseason all-conference teams, the league office announced Tuesday in advance of next week’s media day at L’Auberge du Lac Resort in Lake Charles, La.
Twenty-five of the 26 first-team selections, including all the defensive members, highlight the two teams that also see nine second-team picks return for an automatic spot on the preseason squads. Four of the conference’s individual award winners from last year are back, including Sam Houston State juniors Tim Flanders and Richard Sincere, the league’s player of the year and offensive player of the year, respectively, along with senior teammate Darnell Taylor, the reigning defensive player of the year, and Stephen F. Austin junior Willie Jefferson, the conference’s newcomer of the year a season ago.
Four Southland institutions have at least six student-athletes named to the preseason all-conference teams. Sam Houston State, which put together an undefeated regular season en route to winning the 2011 conference title, leads all universities with 19 selections, including a conference-best 11 first-team honorees. Stephen F. Austin and Central Arkansas each have nine all-conference selections. The Lumberjacks have four first-team members while the Bears place three players on the first team. McNeese State is next with six, followed by Northwestern State and Nicholls State with four each. Southeastern Louisiana completes the preseason all-conference teams with one selection.
Sam Houston State returns 19 starters from a team that advanced to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game in Frisco, Texas, after claiming its fourth Southland Conference championship. On the first-team offense, the Bearkats return quarterback Brian Bell, running back Flanders, “wildkat” Sincere and offensive linemen Kaleb Hopson and Dan Jenkins.
Flanders, one of the nation’s top returning running backs and a top candidate for the Walter Payton Award, led the league in rushing and scoring last season with 109.6 yards per game and 9.6 points per game. He also led the league with 2,058 all-purpose yards thanks to rushes totaling 1,644 and receiving yards totaling 414. Flanders averaged 137.2 all-purpose yards in the Bearkats’ 15 games. Flanders also recorded more than 200 all-purpose yards of rushing twice last season against Montana (287) and New Mexico (240). Flanders led the league in rushing, rush attempts (298), rushing yards, rushing touchdowns (22) and scoring.
Sincere also put together a great sophomore campaign last season, finishing toward the top in most offensive categories. Sincere led the league in yards per rush (7.6) and was second in yards per play (7.3), touchdowns (13), rushing touchdowns (nine) and rushing yards (979), third in rushing yards per game (65.3) and in all-purpose yards (1,464) and fifth in rushing attempts (129).
The Bearkats’ other first-team selections include defensive linemen J.T. Cleveland, Andrew Weaver and Gary Lorance and defensive backs Taylor, Kenneth Jenkins and Daxton Swanson. Taylor led the team with 124 total tackles, including 79 solo stops and three forced fumbles.
Sam Houston’s second-team picks include tight end T.J. Jones, offensive lineman Matt Boyles, defensive lineman Preston Sanders, linebacker Darius Taylor, defensive backs Bookie Sneed, Matt Foster and Robert Shaw and punter Matt Foster. Gone, however, are center Travis Watson, the conference’s football scholar-athlete of the year last season, Chris Crocket and linebacker Will Henry, all of whom were first-team all-conference selections a season ago.
Stephen F. Austin has four first-team selections, including receivers Cordell Roberson and Gralyn Crawford on the offensive side and lineman Willie Jefferson on the defensive side. Crawford also was named to the first team as a return specialist. Roberson and Crawford led the league in most of the receiving categories last season. Roberson was first in receiving touchdowns (nine), second in receptions per game (5.73), receiving yards per game (72.2), receptions (63) and receiving yards (794). Crawford led the league in receptions per game (6.55) and receptions (72), was third in receiving yards per game (70.9) and fourth in receiving yards (780) and receiving touchdowns (seven). Crawford also ranked towards the top in kick and punt returns. On kick returns, he ranked fourth in return yards average (23.7), return yards (806) and total returns (39) while returning one kick for a touchdown. On punts, Crawford was second in the conference in return yards (257) and return yards average (13.5) and third in total returns with 19.
Jefferson led the conference with 15.0 sacks a season ago, including 13 solo stops. He also ranked third in tackles for loss with 15.0, accumulating 114 negative yards in tackles.
The Lumberjacks’ five second-team selections include quarterback Brady Attaway, H-back Mike Brooks, offensive lineman John Steel, defensive lineman Malcolm Mattox and linebacker Ryan Epperson.
Central Arkansas places nine on the preseason all-league teams, including three first-team honorees. Running back Jackie Hinton and lineman Dominique Allen headline the offense for the Bears while linebacker Seth Allison is the lone defensive selection.
In 11 games last season for the Bears, Hinton led the team in rushing with 673 yards on 145 attempts while scoring four touchdowns. Hinton averaged 61.2 yards per contest on the ground to help UCA reach the postseason at the Division I level for the first time in school history. Allison was the leader on the defensive side for the Bears, recording 110 tackles, including 65 solo, while tallying 4.0 sacks on the year.
The Bears place six members on the second team with wide receivers Jesse Grandy and Dominique Croom, offensive lineman Corey Howard, kicker Eddie Camara, defensive lineman Matt Hornbuckle and defensive back Jestin Love.
Of McNeese’s six all-conference picks, two are first-team honorees. Lineman Alec Savoie is the lone offensive selection while defensive back Malcolm Bronson is the only Cowboy representative on the defense. Savoie leads an offense that ranked second in the league in rushing last season with 148.1 yards per game, which helped them also rank second in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 31 minutes per game. Bronson returns to a defense that was second in the conference in pass defense (194.5 yards per game) and third in total defense (331.6 yards per game). Bronson also led the team in tackles with 80, including 55 solo stops, and was second on the team with three interceptions.
The Cowboys place four members on the second-team with two on offense and two on defense. On the offensive side are linemen Jonathan Landry and Miguel Gauthreaux while defensive lineman Pat Williams and return specialist Darius Carey are on the defensive team.
Northwestern State places four on the preseason all-conference teams, all earning first-team honors. On the first-team offense are lineman Larry Calcote and place kicker John Shaughnessy, while linebacker Derek Rose and defensive back Jamaal White are the Demon representatives on defense. Calcote helped the Demons offense rank second in the league in red-zone efficiency, converting 81.2 percent of the time. Shaughnessy led Northwestern’s special teams by converting 87.5 percent (14-for-16) of his field goals with a long of 45 yards. Rose, a two-time all-conference selection, recorded 61 tackles, including 45 solo, for the Demons last season. White finished fourth on the team with 49 stops and led the team with four interceptions.
Nicholls State’s preseason honors include two first-team and two second-team selections. Sophomore tight end Nick Scelfo earns first-team offense honors while punter Cory Kemps is named to the defensive team. Scelfo was third on the team a season ago in receiving with 18.9 yards per game while scoring a touchdown. Kemps led the conference in punt average with 42.8 yards per punt with a long of 60 yards. Running backs Marcus Washington and Jesse Turner earn second-team preseason honors for the Colonels.
Southeastern Louisiana’s all-conference pick is defensive back Robert Alford, who makes his appearance on the second team. Alford was tied for the team-lead in tackles with 90, including 53 solo and five tackles for a loss, and was tied for second on the team with 2.0 sacks.
Returning student-athletes who earned all-conference honors at the conclusion of the 2011 season were automatically named to the preseason teams. Head coaches from the eight schools that play football in the Southland Conference voted for the remaining 17 positions, which included one on the first-team offense, 10 positions on the second-team offense and six on the second-team defense. Coaches could not vote for their own players.