HAMMOND – Let by senior quarterback Bryan Bennett, the defending Southland Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana football team earned a league-high 15 selections on the preseason All-Southland teams. The teams were released by the league office on Wednesday.
Southeastern, which finished No. 6 in the final Football Championship Subdivision polls in 2013, returns 15 starters from last year’s team, which finished 11-3 overall and 7-0 in league play and earned its first conference championship since 1961, as well as advancing to the quarterfinals in its first-ever playoff appearance. SLU was one of two teams to place double-digit players on the preseason All-Southland teams. McNeese State had 10 representatives.
Representing the Lions on the first team are Bennett, junior running back Rasheed Harrell, senior offensive lineman Jonathan Braddock, senior defensive end Jacob Newman, senior linebackers Isiah Corbett and Drew Misita and junior defensive back Harlan Miller. Junior Xavier Roberson is the first team choice at both all-purpose player and kick returner.
Second team SLU selections are junior wide receiver Jeff Smiley, junior offensive lineman Joe Graves, junior defensive lineman A.J. Bowen, senior defensive back Tyler Stoddard, as well as senior linebackers Justin Church and Kaleb Muse.
Bennett, the reigning Southland Conference Player of the Year, is the leader of a high-powered offense and one of six SLU offensive players on the preseason all-conference teams. The Walter Payton Award candidate is coming off a junior campaign in which he threw for 3,165 yards and 21 touchdowns, while also rushing for 1,046 yards and a single-season school record 16 touchdowns.
Bennett and Harrell (640 rushing yards, eight touchdowns in 2013) lead the way for a potent Lion rushing attack that produced a single-season school record 3,271 yards and 42 touchdowns. With Bennett, Harrell, junior running back Kody Sutton and junior running back Darrius Guy all returning, Roberson, who rushed for 538 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore, will be making the switch to wide receiver.
Roberson, also the first team kick returner after leading the nation with 35.2 yards per kickoff return and three kickoff return touchdowns last season, will join Smiley (57 catches, 744 yards, six touchdowns) among a talented group of pass catchers. Braddock and Graves will lead a veteran offensive line clearing the way for the SLU playmakers.
Miller, a Kentwood native and Buck Buchanan Award candidate, is one of eight Lion defenders to earn preseason All-SLC honors. The Sports Network first team preseason All-America selection led the Lions with 10 pass breakups and four interceptions as a sophomore. Miller and Stoddard, a multi-time All-Southland selection, lead a secondary that projects to be one of the deepest and most talented in the nation.
Though Southeastern starts three linebackers in its 3-3-5 scheme, four Lion linebackers earned preseason All-Southland notice. Corbett, who is on the College Football Performance Awards FCS National Linebacker of the Year watch list, returns after leading the Southland with 16.0 tackles for loss to go with seven sacks.
Misita, who made 78 tackles in 2013, is the top returning tackler for the Lions, while Church had five sacks a season ago. The linebacker corps will be bolstered by the return of Muse, who led the Lions with 80 tackles in 2012, after the Ponchatoula native missed the majority of the 2013 season with an injury.
On the defensive line, Newman is the top returner after tying Corbett for the team lead with seven sacks. Bowen and senior Marquel Combs will team with Newman to give Southeastern an imposing front.
The Southland Conference will release the preseason polls in conjunction with its Media Day on July 23. Southeastern head coach Ron Roberts, the 2013 Southland Conference, Louisiana and AFCA Region 5 Coach of the Year, Bennett and Corbett will represent the Lions at the event, set for L’Auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles.
The Lions will open up the 2014 season on Aug. 30, hosting Jacksonville at 7 p.m. in Strawberry Stadium. That contest will open a six-game home schedule for SLU.