Fifth of a series of stories on Louisiana's collegiate football teams heading into the 2013 season. This story previews Nicholls State's Colonels.
For the first time since Charlie Stubbs took over as head coach, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for Nicholls State's Colonels this season.
Of course, NSU has no way to go but up, since the Colonels have won only twice in the last two years. Last year, hurricanes caused the squad to miss more than a week of practice, and one game against Oregon State had to be rescheduled until the end of the season.
Once again, the schedule makers haven't done NSU any favors with three FBS teams on the non-conference schedule. And before the season even started, projected starting quarterback Landry Klann will miss the season after off-season shoulder surgery.
But now, at least, Stubbs feels like he's going into the season with a fighting chance as far as experience and depth goes. Nicholls has 22 starters back among 57 lettermen, both figures easily the highest in this decade, and every position except for the quarterback slot has a solid corps of returnees.
"This is easily the most talented football team we've had since I've been here," Stubbs said. "We'll see how quick we can get them all to blend, but we have a lot of guys back with experience and there's no substitute for that."
Last year's unit came close to an opening-game upset over FBS newcomer South Alabama and won over Evangel two weeks later. But the Colonels couldn't get over the hump in Southland Conference play and went winless in the league for the second straight year.
"We felt we were pretty equal with everybody in the conference," said junior tight end Nick Scelfo, a second-team all-league pick after a 37-catch, 489-yard season. "Our win-loss record hasn't reflected that, but I think we're in a much better situation to start the season."
"That was tough," said senior defensive back T. J. Lumar of last year's struggles. "We had an uphill battle right from the get-go with the schedule and the storm, and then we started getting a lot of injuries and they piled up."
That won't happen as much this year, Stubbs said.
"If we do suffer injuries, we don't have to drop down to a true freshman this year like we've done in the past," he said. "We started three true freshmen in the last game (against Oregon State), and they got some great experience."
The injury bug has already hit with the loss of Klann, leaving Beaux Hebert and Tuskani Figaro to run the offense. Hebert, son of former New Orleans Saints standout Bobby Hebert, played in four games last year and ran with the top offense for most of the spring and fall. But Figaro made a mark last year, rushing for 134 yards and three scores against Evangel before a shoulder injury ended his season.
Whichever one plays, he'll have some offensive weapons, including the return of four starters on the offensive front and standout left tackle Abasi Salimu leading the way. Two FBS transfers, Ashton Duhe (SMU) and Nick Chartain (Memphis) will make that a solid unit.
Running back Marcus Washington was an all-league pick as a sophomore and has over 1,400 yards in his career along with a stellar 4.9 average per carry. Dalton Hilliard Jr. provides backup support there, and six players who had 10 or more receptions are also returning along with Washington, who caught 25 passes last year. Erik Buchanan gave NSU a deep threat with a 28.3 average per catch.
"Marcus is our bell cow on offense," Stubbs said. "We feel like we can run the ball and that'll set up the pass."
Four starters also return in the defensive front seven in NSU's 3-4 alignment, but the Colonels will have to replace SLC tackle leader Jordan Piper at one linebacker slot. Senior linebacker Chris Bermond was second on the squad with 64 stops last year, while NSU has senior Lorenza Young and junior Cole Frazier returning up front.
B. J. Lewis and Toren Joseph are back at the corners while Lumar had 43 tackles and two pass interceptions last year.
Andrew Dolan provides a weapon on special teams after leading NSU in scoring and missing only one field goal try in the final six games.
"We're nowhere near where we need to be," Stubbs said. "We've got to learn to finish ... we didn't do that last year, but we've made significant progress."
Aug.31 at Oregon
Sept. 7 at Western Michigan
Sept. 14 at UL Lafayette
Sept. 21 LANGSTON
Sept. 28 ARKANSAS TECH
Oct. 12 NORTHWESTERN STATE
Oct. 19 at Stephen F. Austin
Oct. 26 McNEESE STATE
Nov. 2 at Lamar
Nov. 9 at Sam Houston State
Nov. 16 CENTRAL ARKANSAS
Nov. 21 at Southeastern La.
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