LAKE CHARLES – McNeese will kick-off its 2017 spring training session on Friday afternoon at the A.I. Ratcliff Practice Fields for the first of 15 scheduled outings over the next 3 ½ weeks.
The first two practices will be conducted in helmets and no pads with the first one in full pads will be on Wednesday, March 22.
Two scrimmages are scheduled, the first on April 1 at 10 a.m. at the A.I. Ratcliff Practice Fields, and the second, the Blue-Gold Spring Game, on April 8 at 1 o’clock, in Cowboy Stadium.
“We’ve had a really good offseason so far,” said second-year head coach Lance Guidry who will reassume the duties as the defensive coordinator this season. “We’ve focused on getting bigger and stronger in the weight room.
“We’re ready to get out there and bring to surface what we’ve been working on.”
Guidry added a couple of coaches to his staff that will bring some experience, knowledge and excitement to the sidelines. Ben Norton returns for his second stint on the Cowboys’ staff and will coach the offensive line while coordinating the running game while Wayne Cordova will coach the Buck Safeties while assuming administrative duties.
Norton last coached at McNeese in 2005 and in the 2006 Southland Conference championship season while Cordova played linebacker for McNeese from 1996-99 and was a member of the ’97 National Championship Runner-Up team.
McNeese returns nearly everybody on both sides of the ball from a team that finished 6-5 last year while implementing a new offensive scheme. Three of those five losses came by eight points or less.
“Offensively, we want to pick up where we left off last season as far as our type of play,” said Guidry. “We’re looking at getting better after being in this new system for a year.”
Offensively, the Cowboys return 97 percent of its total offensive yards production (4,695 yards out of 4,854) that includes Southland Conference and Louisiana Newcomer of the Year, quarterback James Tabary who threw for 3,036 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
Also returning are the team’s top three rushers in Ryan Ross (601 yards, 5 TDs), Justin Pratt (457, 5 TDs), and Lawayne Ross (218, 2 TDs), while David Hamm, who missed the 2016 season, will rejoin the team. Hamm rushed for 251 yards and a touchdown in 2015.
McNeese will return the bulk of its receiving corps including the top five on the leaderboard Darious Crawley (41 catches, 701 yards, 7 TDs) and Kent Shelby (40-509, 5 TDs), Kylon Highshaw (31-421, 3 TDs), Parker Orgeron (29-373, TD), and Tavarious Battiste (15-289, TD in five games played).
Defensively, the top seven tacklers from 2016 all return, including defensive linemen Jammerio Gross (59 tackles) and Chris Livings (47 tackles). Those two led the team in sacks (15 ½ combined) and tackles for a loss (27).
Returning safeties Andre Fuller (second on team with 58 tackles with one interception) and Damion Morgan (2 INTs and 49 tackles), along with Jermaine Antoine (team-high three INTs) accounted for six of the Cowboys’ eight interceptions last season.
Both of McNeese’s starting linebackers also return – Ashari Goins (57 tackles, 5 TFL) and Christian Jacobs (42 tackles, 2 ½ TFL).
“On defense, we basically have everyone back,” said Guidry. “We’re going to go back to doing some of the things we used to do. We will play a lot faster.”
The spring game will be headlined by the 1997 and 2002 National Championship game head coaches Bobby Keasler and Tommy Tate, each of who will take the helm of either the Blue or the Gold squad.