In one week, on Thursday August 9, the defending Southland Conference champion Sam Houston State football team reports for preseason camp at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.
The Bearkats have a tough act to follow in 2012 after rolling up 14 consecutive victories to earn the program's first No. 1 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) ranking and a berth in the NCAA Division I national championship game.
The Kats were the only FCS team to go 11-0 through the regular season, earning the team the No. 1 seed in the Division I playoffs.
Ninteen starters return from that squad along with 31 other lettermen. Already, the Bearkats have been tabbed as the preseason favorites in the annual Southland Conference head coaches poll.
Sam Houston won the Southland Conference championship with a perfect 7-0 mark, out-scoring league opponents 308-67. The Bearkats led the Southland offensively in rushing, scoring and pass efficiency and defensively in rushing, total defense, scoring, pass efficiency and turnover margin.
Ninety student-athletes will report next Thursday. Veterans will report from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and newcomers from 1 to 3 p.m. The squad will hold its first team meeting at 7 p.m. that evening.
The first practice will take place on Friday night at 7:15 p.m. Preseason camp will continue through Tuesday, August 28. Classes at Sam Houston begin Wednesday August 29. The Bearkats open the 2012 season Saturday, Sept. 8, when they play host to Incarnate Word in a 6 p.m. contest.
"We had a great season last year. But that season is over," SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said. "Every year is a new season. We have a lot of great players coming back but we lost 12 quality seniors who provided outstanding leadership for us. I think we have seniors this year who are capable of filling those roles and we're looking forward to the opportunity."
Last year, Sam Houston ranked No. 1 nationally in rushing defense, No. 2 in scoring defense and turnover margin, No. 4 in scoring offense and pass efficiency defense and No. 6 in rushing offense.
The only blemish on the Kats' record was a 17-6 loss to North Dakota State in the NCAA Division I Championship Game in Frisco in hard-fought defensive battle.
"Our team in 2011 did a great job of focusing on going 1-and-oh each week," Fritz said. "We have to do that again this season. One of our biggest goals will be to become more balanced offensively. Our quarterback Brian Bell is an excellent passer and we need to take more advantage of his abilities."
Five of the seven players who earned All-America honors, 14 of the 18 All-Southland Conference selections and all three of the league's major award winners are back.
Running back Tim Flanders, wildkat Richard Sincere and safety Darnell Taylor were named, respectively, as Southland Conference "Player of the Year," "Offensive Player of the Year" and "Defensive Player of the Year."
Defensive tackle J. T. Cleveland and safety Kenneth Jenkins also were 20111 first team all-league selections. Cleveland was named to Phil Steele Magazine's All-America squad. Jenkins stands No. 9 in SHSU career stops (240) and was the second-leading tackler for the 2011 team with 240 including 16 for losses.
End Andrew Weaver, cornerback Robert Shaw and safety Daxton Swanson give Sam Houston six returning senior starters defensively. Shaw has scored five touchdowns as a Bearkat including two on punt blocks and three on interception returns. Swanson led the Southland Conference and ranked No. 3 nationally with eight interceptions last season (a school record). Weaver totaled five sacks as a transfer from Texas A&M.
Tackles Gary Lorance, end Jarrett Brown and cornerback Bookie Sneed (all juniors) round out the list of returning Bearkat defensive starters. Sneed, Swanson, Lorance and Weaver all were second team all-league selections in 2011.
Junior Torrance Williams, who caught 33 passes for 450 yards and three TDs, returns at wide receiver while seniors J. D. Standley and T. J. Jones are back at tight end.
Senior tackles Kaleb Hopson and Riley Smith and junior guard return in the offensive line. Hopson was a second-team All-Southland selection and is a three-year starter. The Kats lost two All-America and first team All-Southland lineman in center Travis Watson and guard Chris Crockett.
"We face a lot of challenges this year. Everyone in the league is returning a lot of talented players and the league is going to be tough top to bottom. We have a tough schedule with only three home games at Bower Stadium. Nine of our 14 victories last year came at home. We also play to big FBS bowl teams in Texas A&M and Baylor. We've got to become a better football team if we're to succeed again this year."