The annual Southeastern Louisiana University coaches caravan made its final stop in Baton Rouge on Tuesday night, a sign that football season is here.
“It’s time to stop all the talking,” Lions football coach Ron Roberts told an overflow crowd of alumni at Ralph and Kacoo’s. “It’s time to get to work on the football field to give you something to smile about and to be proud about.”
SLU reports to campus on Thursday and will practice for the first time at 7 p.m. Friday as it begins preparing for its season opener Aug. 29 against Southeast Missouri in Strawberry Stadium.
Roberts, whose first Lions team went 5-6 and 5-2 in the Southland Conference in his first season last year, said this year’s team will be bigger and stronger, which was a primary goal of his.
He cited as evidence the fact that at this time last year, only two Lions weighed 300-plus pounds, and this year, 16-18 players are expected to hit that threshold when they report. He said 100-plus players have been taking part in strength and conditioning building this summer.
“They’ve done their part,” Roberts said. “Throwing the football is all pretty and nice, but you still win football games by being physical at the line of scrimmage and being able to run the football and stop the run. We’ve gotten more physical through conditioning and recruiting, and that’s going to help us this fall.”
Roberts said SLU will have more depth and more competition across the board.
“We’ve improved, but we’ve got to get better as a football team,” he said. “We’ve got to improve on what we did last year.”
He proudly noted that the Lions swept their SLC games against in-state rivals Nicholls State, McNeese State and Northwestern State, which hadn’t happened since 1972.
The five conference wins were the most since 1978 and the Lions had their highest finish in the Southland since reviving the football program in 2003.
Last year’s team featured four players who have gotten opportunities to make NFL rosters, including cornerback Robert Alford, a second-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons who was the first Lion drafted since 1984.
Linebacker Devan Walker of Catholic High is in camp with the San Diego Chargers after signing as an undrafted free agent. Two other undrafted free agents signed briefly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens before being released.
“That’s pretty exciting for our program,” Roberts said. “It helps us with recruiting. It paints a picture for kids that the future is bright and their dreams can come true here.”
Roberts also mentioned $150,000 in facility improvements, as well as a new video board scheduled to make its debut at the season opener.
Three Lions have been named to preseason watch lists, including junior quarterback Bryan Bennett, a transfer from Oregon who was named to the College Football Performance Awards quarterback list.
Senior linebacker Cqulin Hubert was named to the Butkus Award list, and sophomore running back Xavier Roberson was named to the College Football Performance Awards kick return list.
Roberts told the crowd he expects that they’ll be able to go to work on Mondays this fall “and brag about us,” going so far as to say, “I fully expect we will go to the NCAA playoffs.”
Reaching the NCAA playoffs was a common occurrence during Roberts’ tenure at Division II Delta State before he was hired by SLU. He took four of his five teams to the postseason.
The tour previously stopped in Amite, Mandeville and Metairie. Roberts was accompanied by interim athletic director Jay Artigues, baseball coach Matt Riser, men’s basketball coach Jim Yarbrough, women’s basketball coach Lori Davis Jones, women’s tennis coach Jason Hayes and volleyball coach Geno Frugoli.