Aug 31, 2013 01:09 Numbers grow at Nicholls State, and so does the optimism Numbers grow at Nicholls State, and so does the optimism Matt Sullivan| Special to The Advocate Aug. 31, 2013 Comments Tulsa's Daeshon Bufford brings down Nicholls State's Tuskani Figaro in 2012. (AP Photo/Tulsa World, Tom Gilbert)For the past three seasons, wins for Nicholls State have been as scarce as a south Louisiana cool spell in the summer. A 4-7 mark in 2010 followed by back-to-back records of 1-10 has cast a shadow on a program that has experienced five straight losing seasons and nine overall since 2000. But there could be light at the end of the tunnel for the Colonels and fourth-year coach Charlie Stubbs. The return of 57 letterwinners and 22 starters has provided optimism that Nicholls could make strides in getting out of the basement in the Southland Conference, a league where it has dropped its past 14 games dating to 2010. “We’ve built the program up to where our numbers have increased dramatically,” Stubbs said. “We have a lot of players on the roster who have started games for us, so we have a lot more experience coming back. This year, we were able to add some players that have playing experience from (the Football Bowl Subdivision). Hopefully they can blend in real quick and add experience to our team.” There’s experience on both sides of the ball for the Colonels with nine starters returning on offense and eight on defense. One of the keys will be the play of junior tight end Nick Scelfo. The St. Michael the Archangel product earned All-Southland honors for the second straight year after averaging 13.6 yards on 22 receptions. “I’ve seen him really grow up all the way around,” Stubbs said of the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder. “He’s always had good hand-eye coordination in catching the football. He’s just a very good athlete, and now I’m seeing him understand more about the position at tight end, not just being a route runner.” Running back Marcus Washington, the leading rusher in 2012, returns for his senior season after finishing fourth in the league at 59.8 yards per game. With quarterback Landry Klann slated to miss the 2013 season with a shoulder injury, four players will have a shot at directing the offense. Returning players Beaux Hebert, the son of former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, and Lafayette native Tuskani Figaro are the players most familiar with the system. Newcomers looking to battle for the spot are former East St. John product Kalen Henderson, a transfer from Tulsa who will have two years of eligibility remaining, and true freshman Dash Duncan, a St. Michael product. Up front, four starters from 2012 return and will be joined by Rafe Plaisance, who missed last year. Abasi Salimu, Eric Alt and Caleb Cline return to their starting roles, with Brandon Holmes penciled in at center after starting as a freshman. Five starters return on the front seven for the Colonels, but they have to replace Jordan Piper, who led the Southland in tackles. Cole Frazier, Lorenza Young and Edet Udoh return up front, with linebackers Chris Bermond and Davin Bovie joining them. Seniors T.J. Lumar, Siegan Vergenal and Jordan Hanberry are key returners in the secondary. Three-year letterwinner Andrew Dolan returns for his final season as the place-kicker after connecting on 7 of 8 field goal attempts last year. Even with a ton of experience, Stubbs and the Colonels will face some daunting challenges to open the season. Nicholls begins a stretch of three straight games against FBS opponents Aug. 31 in its opener at national power Oregon. Following that are games at Western Michigan on Sept. 7 and Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 14.