Aug. 5, 2002
ABILENE, Texas - What a difference a year makes.
A year ago all of the preseason hype surrounded the Hardin-Simmons football team, even a No. 1 ranking by Street and Smith Magazine was bestowed on the Cowboys. A year later there are people predicting that the Cowboys - gasp - will not even win their own Conference.
It is not time to bury the Cowboys just yet. The Cowboys lose the best wide receiver in school history, both running backs, three offensive linemen and six of the starting front seven on defense from a year ago, but the cupboard is hardly bare.
"We will have good players on the field," said 13th year Cowboy Head Coach Jimmie Keeling. "There may not be a lot of starting experience returning, we will have players at every position that saw a lot of action last season."
"We had six games that were blowouts and we had a lot of those second and third team players on the field, this is the reason why. We are always working on the present while preparing for the future. That is how we have had a lot of success."
HSU will have one of its best offenses ever, propelled by second-team All-American Dustin Proctor. The senior threw for 31 touchdowns and had just four interceptions a year ago, while leading all divisions in quarterback efficiency.
The Cowboys had 121 players go through the off-season conditioning program in the spring and expect another 65-75 newcomers to go through preseason drills. Of the 121, 63 have earned a varsity letter for the Cowboys and 15 have started a game.
HSU will have the most returning experience in the secondary with all four starters returning. The least starting experience comes from linebacker, where the Cowboys lost all three starters from last season, including All-American Jared Sanderson.
"We are going to just try to line-up every play and play hard and see where it takes us. We expect to compete for the conference title and get into the national playoffs," said Keeling.
The team has come up with the saying Tradition Never Graduates and that is evident of the Cowboy program. HSU has won the last four American Southwest titles and has won there last 31 conference games. HSU does not have a player on its roster that has ever lost a conference game for the Cowboys.
The fact is the American Southwest Conference will be one of the toughest leagues in the country this season. In preseason polls Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Howard Payne, East Texas Baptist and Mississippi College have been the consensus top five teams. All have a legitimate shot at the league crown.
UMHB returns a bevy of starters from a team that lost 30-27 to HSU in the "ASC Championship" game last year in Abilene. The Crusaders also advanced to the NCAA Playoffs. Howard Payne returns 19 starters and both kickers from a team that was 8-2 a year ago. Mississippi College was 7-3 last season and quarterback Payton Perrett gives them a chance every week and East Texas Baptist went 5-5 in just there second season of competition last year. ETBU may have the best recruiting base of any team in Division III and will only continue its rapid rise.
Quarterback The Cowboys have three proven commodities at quarterback, including senior Dustin Proctor, who was 142-for-219 with 2,511 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2001. With those numbers you would think he would be the surefire starter, except that 2000 starter, junior Travis Jones returns after breaking his wrist in the first game of the year last season. They are both being pushed by sophomore Jordan Neal, who only set a NCAA all-division record with 27 straight completions as a true freshman a year ago.
How the quarterback situation works out will be interesting, however it is a good problem to have to pick between the three. Neal could end up redshirting, which he would have likely done last year if Jones did not break his wrist, if he doesn't win the job. The Cowboys have split time with quarterbacks before, including 2000 when Jones and Josh McCasland led the Cowboys to the NCAA Semifinals.
Running Back It has been a while since the Cowboys have had to go looking for a running back to take over the starting job. Four players have played a lot of the downs in the last six years starting with Patrick Baca, then Tim Pharo, then the combo of Jared Wood and Paxton Hurst last season. All four ran for over 1,200 yards in their careers. All are now gone and the load, although still likely to be split, will fall on someone new. Dustin Bookhout, a straight-ahead punishing runner is the leading contender for the ball most of the time, as he had 189 yards on 39 carries last season. Donta' Hayward, another big bruising back and Cleo Andrews will see some time at running back. Hayward had 140 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. Another player that will be in the mix for playing time will be redshirt freshman Amos Keith. The speedster will fit in well with the Cowboys high-octane passing attack and can also be a homerun threat.
Wide Receiver It is not often you lose a receiver that caught 50 touchdowns and is playing with the Kansas City Chiefs and expect to replace him, but the Cowboys think that Joe Lemberg can put up comparable numbers to Kirk Rogers. Lemberg has been a two-year starter and has 35 catches for 617 yards and eight touchdowns last season. With Proctor's ability to hit the deep-ball look for Lemberg to have 1,000 plus yards as the feature receiver.
On the outside the Cowboys expect to have a lot of young and veteran players looking for playing time. Brandon Tibbetts will probably move back to the outside this year after playing slot last year. He is a dangerous receiver that caught 14 balls for 209 yards, but broke his collarbone in the seventh game of the year. Redshirt freshman Jon Williams will have an immediate impact on the passing game with his sprinter speed. Senior Aaron Bailey (10 catches for 108 yards, one TD), sophomore Len Williams (4-57-1) senior Kane Swetnam (2-36-1) and senior Aaron Hollis (1-11) will all look for time on the outside as well. The slot will be well-manned again this year. Sophomore Lance Moore and Clint Pace played there last season after replacing Tibbetts and Josh McCasland, who broke their collarbones in back-to-back weeks. Moore was fourth on the team with 19 catches for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Pace came out of redshirt late in the year and showed flashes of potential. Also back in the slot will be Triandos Sherrard, who saw a lot of playing time as a true freshman, redshirted last season and will either start or see plenty of action in the Cowboys three, four and five wide receiver sets. He had 12 catches for 71 yards as a freshman.
Tight End The Cowboys are well off at tight end and the position could become a strength for the Cowboys, as Matt Moskosky, a transfer from the Air Force Academy joins the Cowboy squad. James LaFollette leads the returnees. He is a great blocker and a big target. Chad Gohlke, a 6-6, 240-pounder is the leading returning receiver at the position with two catches for 29 yards. Kyle Hanes and Jared Hale will also compete for playing time.
Offensive Line The Cowboys return two-time All-American Thomas Anderson at center to anchor a line that could turn out to be one of the best in school history. Anderson, a four-year starter, anchors the way at center and he will likely be flanked at guard by two new starters, replacing Josh Cadenhead and Chris Hamilton. John Contrucci will back-up Anderson for the third straight year. Garet Black and Steven Huth will vie for the position at quick guard and Adam Hernandez, Blake Parson, Matt Martinez and Josh Florence will battle it out on the strong side. Black has played both guard and center for the Cowboys and Florenece, Huth and Martinez were all part of a second-unit that saw a lot of action last season. Hernandez played defense a year ago but his 5-8, 315 pound frame will be a force to reckon with on the offensive line. Second-team All-ASC performer Joseph Williams will protect the quarterbacks back this season. He has seen a lot of action in the past two seasons and at 6-4, 280 is an imposing fixture on the line. He will be backed up by Nick Hammond, Andrew Kuehl and Richard Perez. The Cowboys have to replace Matt Morris, who was an All-American and the ASC lineman of the year last season. It will come down between two seniors and two sophomores. Seniors Scott Lovelace and Rene Garcia have seen ample backup minutes in their career and should be ready for a starting role. Seth Summers, another 315 pounder, and Efren Moreno, who did not play last season will also compete for the job.
Defensive Line The defensive line will have a new look this season with Tim Eason, being the only returning starter along the front. Eason is a three-year starter for the Cowboys and will bring a lot of leadership to the Cowboy line. Junior Adam Taylor and senior Will Harrell will look to replace left end Jake Freeman, one of the all-time leading sack artists for the Cowboys. The pair split duties as his back-up last year and both performed at a high-level. Taylor had 10 tackles, including six for loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles. Harrell had two tackles and a sack a year ago. Scott Bishop, Brad Minnix and Josh Mounger will also compete for time. At right end sophomore Toby Nash will replace Marte Amrine, who had 37 tackles and nine sacks a year ago. Matt Fanning, Clark Boone and Chris Dupnik will also compete for time. Time Eason will anchor the left tackle spot and will be backed up by four quality underclassmen in Levi Pate, Brad Gartside, Dustin Haire and Josh Howard. Eason had 47 tackles, 13 for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and three pass deflections last season. Pate led the others with 14 tackles. At right tackle the Cowboys will start Anthony Gonzalez,who saw action in all 10 games last season. He will be pushed by Dustin Black and Joe Bider. Linebacker
The Cowboys have to replace their top three tacklers from a year ago, all three of which were senior linebackers. Jared Sanderson, Jack Graves and Ryan Rylander had 119, 75 and 50 tackles respectively and also combined for 31 tackles for loss. Replacing the unit will be one of the keys to the Cowboys success this season. Senior Levi Steele (strongside), sophomore Dan Graves (middle) and junior Chad Collie (weakside) were the second-team linebackers a year ago and Steele and Collie are expected to be elevated to first-team status this year. However, there will be several players that will also contend for playing time. Steele had 25 tackles, Collie added 20 and Graves had eight. Late in the summer Graves accepted an academic position at Cambridge University and will miss the season. Also expected to contend for playing and/or starting time are sophomores Brent Gailey, Casey Freeland, Bradey Murphree, Ben Lovvorn, Adam Parker, Jonathan Whittle, Cade Wartes, and Edward Moreno. Redshirt freshman Gavin Booker will also be counted on for quality time this season.
Secondary The Cowboys have a chance to be very good in the secondary this season, after some inexperienced struggles a year ago. Four cornerbacks that started two or more games a year ago are back. Including three-year starter Melvin Dudley, who could redshirt this season, Jeremy Smith, Travis Craver and Alex Hansen. Add Abilene Christian transfer Quentin Pink and the Cowboys have plenty of quality corners. Dudley had 31 tackles and seven pass break-ups last season. Senior Zane Jillson and junior Anthony Renfro return to man the free and strong safety positions. Jillson, a three-year starter, had 48 tackles, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Renfro had 38 tackles, Both started all 10 games. Micah Putnam, Ivan Hernandez, James Hawthorne, Mitchell Finch and Devvin Anderson could all see time at corner or in the nickel defense and the Cowboys use a lot of the secondary players to fill spots on the special teams. Senior Lane Talbert, sophomores Rocky McAdams and Rad Eicke and redshirt freshmen Everette Rodgers and Chase Holland will all compete for playing time at safety. Senior Zane Jillson and junior Anthony Renfro return to man the free and strong safety positions. Jillson, a three-year starter, had 48 tackles, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Renfro had 38 tackles, Both started all 10 games.
Specialists The Cowboys return a lot of experience in the kicking game. Dusty Bigham, who hit 3-of-4 field goals and hit 57 of 66 PATs in 2001 returns as the placekicker. Mason Grimes, who also handled some placekicking duties last season, will take over the punting duties. Cade Wartes returns as the deep snapper. Joe Lemberg will use his dangerous speed to return punts for the Cowboys. He showed great return ability with 31.5 yards per punt return last year, after Josh McCasland was hurt. He had a 57-yard return in the playoff game. The kickoff returns will be handled by Lance Moore, Clint Pace, Aaron Bailey, Jon Williams and Triandos Sherrard. All could also see punt return duty.