HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana offensive coordinator Greg Stevens has been encouraged what he’s seen from his Lion offense as the second week of fall camp continues.
Southeastern held its third practice in full pads Tuesday morning and Stevens has liked what he’s seen from his unit since the team came together after the opening week of split-squad practices.
“We’re coming together as an offense and we’re seeing all 11 guys on the same page,” Stevens said. “The effort has been good and we’re improving every day.”
Stevens is in the second season of his second stint with the SLU football program. Stevens oversaw the Lion offense in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, with the latter campaign seeing Southeastern set new program standards in nearly every offensive category on the way to the first FCS playoff berth in school history.
After spending four seasons at Eastern Illinois, Stevens returned to SLU before the 2018 season. His return to Hammond found him facing a different Southland Conference than his debut stint.
“The league was pretty top-heavy back in 2012 and 2013 and some weeks were easier than others, but that’s not the case now,” Stevens said. “It’s much more competitive top-to-bottom. We have to be ready to play every time out and we’re facing a bigger challenge week in and week out.”
The SLU offense is led by quarterback Chason Virgil, who returns after throwing for a Southland Conference-high 3,034 yards in his debut season in Hammond. Both head coach Frank Scelfo and Stevens have cited Virgil’s increased comfort with not only his role in the Southeastern scheme, but as one of the leaders of the team, as a reason for optimism.
Virgil will have no shortage of weapons in the passing game. Juwan Petit-Frere (40 catches, 796 yards, 5 TD in 2018), CJ Turner (36-422-2 TD) and Austin Mitchell (21-352-3 TD) give Southeastern its top three wide receivers returning, while Lorenzo Nunez and Marquis Williams, among others, are other veteran options at wide receiver.
First team All-Southland tight end Bransen Schwebel and fullback Damien Dawson also return for the Lions. Schwebel had a breakout season with 30 catches for 484 yards and three scores as a junior, while Dawson was a key run blocker for Southeastern.
“Our veteran guys are a year stronger from the work they’ve done in the weight room,” Stevens said. “They’re also more comfortable with Chason and we’re seeing our timing improve because they all now have a season of working together.”
Scelfo went into camp believing the Lion pass catchers would be one of the team’s strengths. Early returns have backed up his beliefs, as in addition to the veteran corps, new receivers Michael Corner Jr., Ed Magee and Anthony Spurlock, as well as tight end Matt DeBlasio, have made positive early impressions.
In the running game, Devonte Williams returns after leading the team with four rushing touchdowns and earning first team All-Southland honors at punt returner. The Lion ground attack also should be bolstered by the return to full health of Marcus Cooper.
The Altair, Texas, native averaged a school-record 10.1 yards per carry in an all-conference freshman campaign in 2017, but was limited to just 16 carries in an injury-marred 2018 campaign that saw him earn a redshirt after playing in just four games.
Up front, All-Southland tackle Pat Allen leads a veteran corps that also returns Drew Jones, Jarius Gooch and Alfred Beverly III. An impressive offseason and start to camp has vaulted Rendon Miles-Character into the driver’s seat for the tackle spot opposite Allen. Southern Miss transfer Wyatt Richthofen is among the newcomers looking to make an impact up front for the Lions.
For the Lion offense to improve from 2018’s effort, Stevens wants to see more consistency in execution.
“We had some great moments offensively last year, but we struggled to perform consistently,” Stevens said. “We had some games last year where we started really well and just couldn’t finish. For us to take the next step, we have to all be on the same page, minimize our mistakes and perform consistently.”
Southeastern will continue week two on Wednesday with a 9 a.m. practice. The Lions open up the 2019 season versus No. 6 Jacksonville State on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in Strawberry Stadium.
2019 Fall Camp Schedule
Wednesday, August 7 – 9 a.m.
Thursday, August 8 – 9 a.m.
Friday, August 9 – 9 a.m.
Saturday, August 10 – 9 a.m.
Sunday, August 11 – 3:30 p.m.
Monday, August 12 – 9 a.m.
Tuesday, August 13 – 9 a.m.
Wednesday, August 14 – 9 a.m.
Thursday, August 15 – 9 a.m.
Friday, August 16 – 9 a.m.
Saturday, August 17 – 9 a.m. / 11 a.m. – Season Ticket Party
Sunday, August 18 – 3:30 p.m.
Monday, August 19 – 9 a.m.
Tuesday, August 20 – 9 a.m.
Saturday, August 24 – 1 p.m. – Media Day