Now, as the Kats prepare to defend their championship, preseason honors for 2012 continue to head towards Huntsville.
Junior running back Tim Flanders from Midwest City, Okla., has been named to the Walter Payton Award watch list. Senior safety Darnell Taylor from Mesquite is on the list of top candidates for the Buck Buchanan Award.
More than a third of the 54 players named to the 2012 preseason All-Southland Conference team in July were Bearkats. Eleven Sam Houston players were first team selections and seven earned second team preseason honors.
"I think this is a season of great anticipation for us," head coach Willie Fritz said after Sam Houston received first place votes from each of the league's other head coaches in the annual Southland preseason poll. "We've got so many guys back. It was a fantastic run last season."
A look back shows just how remarkable the flood of regional and national accolades has been for the Bearkat football program. In the six seasons from 2005 to 2010, six Bearkats were honored with All-America recognition. In 2011, seven players were named as All-America a total of 20 times.
Ten times Bearkats were named as first-team selections with Darnell Taylor leading the way with four first-team honors.
When the Kats swept through the Southland Conference postseason awards, it almost seemed like a foregone conclusion. Willie Fritz was named coach of the year, Flanders player of the year, "wildkat" back Richard Sincere from Galveston offensive player of the year and Taylor defensive player of the year.
But the national awards kept rolling in for the Bearkats. Fritz was named the American Football Coaches Association national FCS coach of the year. Fritz quickly deflected most of the recognition to his coaching staff and the Bearkat players.
"An award like that is really just a reflection of the team and coaches you have," Fritz said. "You can't win a coaching award without having a great season, so everyone really gets the credit for this."
But the players received plenty of individual recognition on the national level as well. Toward the end of the season, Flanders was named to the Walter Payton Award watch list and finished seventh in the final voting. The Walter Payton Award is sometimes referred to as the Heisman Trophy for FCS football. It is given out to the best offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
It was the sixth time a Bearkat had been a finalist for the award (Chris Chaloupka 1999, Josh McCown 2001, Dustin Long 2004, D.D. Terry 2006 and Rhett Bomar 2008). Flanders ended up finishing seventh in the voting last season.
"This is an honor, especially since I didn't get onto the watch list until mid-season and had a few games where I finished at halftime," Flanders said. "It was exciting to get 10 first place votes. That's something to look forward to this season. To be associated with an award named for one of the all-time great running backs in football is really something."
Last season Flanders was recognized by six different news outlets for All-America honors, including a pair of first-team selections from the American Football Coaches Association and College Sporting News. No Bearkat has ever been listed on more post season honor teams than Flanders did last season.
While Flanders topped the list for the most All-American honors, Taylor garnered the most first-team recognitions. In addition to joining Flanders on the AFCA and CSN first team, Taylor was also on the Sports Network and Phil Steele first-team lists. Only Michael Bankston (1991) and Jonathan Cooper (2001) have earned four different first-team recognitions in the same season.
Offensive lineman Travis Watson earned three first-team selections in 2011 , while Chris Crockett and Sincere each earned one. Daxton Swanson and JT Cleveland were the other two Kats to earn national honors with Swanson a third-team pick and Cleveland a fourth-team selection.
All the attention the Bearkats received last winter and this summer has put a target on the Sam Houston football team.
"Every team that is No. 1 is going to have pressure on them. Everybody is coming for you," two-time All-Southland Conference safety Kenneth Jenkins said. "We can't afford to get the big head. We know we need to be better than last year and continue to do the things that made us successful."
Sam Houston State begins its 2012 football campaign Saturday, Sept. 8, when the Bearkats play host to Incarnate Word at 6 p.m. at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium. The Kats face a challenging schedule that includes important Southland showdowns with 2011 NCAA playoff participant Central Arkansas and 2009 and 2010 league titlist Stephen F. Austin at Reliant Stadium. Sam Houston also takes on Baylor and Texas A&M in non-conference action.
"The challenge for the coaching staff as we prepare for the coming 2012 season is to bring the guys back to Earth to get us back to doing what we were last season," Fritz said. "Our success came because of a lot of hard word and taking it one game at a time."