HUNTSVILLE – For the Sam Houston State Bearkats, the 2017 season cannot get here soon enough. But in the meantime, the defending Southland Conference champions are getting back to work after kicking off spring drills at Bowers Stadium.

“We are really pleased with the day-to-day effort, intensity and pace of the way practice has gone,” head coach K.C. Keeler said. “It’s really been impressive. It’s been a physical first five days, which is one of the reasons we broke it up the way we broke it up. We can get a little time off for Spring Break and then get back after it.”

Sam Houston has been one of the nation’s elite programs over the past six seasons, qualifying for the playoffs each year and racking up 68 wins in that time. Head coach K.C. Keeler has been the man in charge for each of the past three years and has the Bearkats coming off a 2016 season that saw it win its first 12 games and reach the No. 1 spot in the national polls for the final six weeks of the regular season on their way to the program’s seventh Southland title.

Along the way, the Kats racked up their share of accolades as Keeler was named the Eddie Robinson Award winner as the nation’s top coach and quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe was named the Walter Payton Award winner as the top offensive player in the FCS after throwing for an FCS record 57 touchdowns.

Briscoe, along with seven other starters from an offense that led the FCS with an average of 49.5 points per game, are all back for 2017 under the direction of new offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey, who joins the Kats from Nevada where he directed the Wolf Pack offense a year ago. The Kats will have to fill some holes on the offensive line, but return each of its starting wide receivers – including Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Yedidiah Louis - and its top three running backs.

“I’ve been tremendously impressed with Tim Cramsey,” Keeler said. “He really has a great understanding of quarterback play. Our quarterbacks have really grown from his expertise. You can see there is more of a physical mentality with the way we are trying to play offense.”

The defense will also have its share of familiar faces returning, headlined by defensive end P.J. Hall who finished as the runner-up for the Buck Buchanan Award as the nation's top defensive player in the FCS in 2016. Hall finished with 11.0 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss a year ago, leading the way for a Bearkat defensive unit that led the Southland with 40 sacks and in opponent’s third-down conversions.

“We haven’t been able to block P.J.,” Keeler said. “He’s been a level above where he even was last year. I think Derick Roberson and Marcus Loud have had a really strong first five days. I really like what I’ve seen from several of the transfers, including Sekou Clark and Craig Williams Jr., who I expect to both make an impact for us next year.”

Sam Houston will run spring drills throughout March and into April with the annual Orange-White Game set for April 7 at 6 p.m. at Bowers Stadium.

The training schedule includes 15 total dates the Bearkats can be on the field with practices approximately every two days and concluding April 10. Sam Houston got in five practices before taking the week off for Spring Break and returned to the field on Monday morning to get back to work. Practice sessions may be changed due to weather.

Season tickets for Sam Houston’s six 2017 home games, plus the Battle of the Piney Woods presented by H-E-B at NRG Stadium are now on sale.

Football season ticket holders from 2016 have the convenience of renewing their seats through their My Bearkat Account, by calling the ticket office at (936) 294-1729 or by visiting the box office located on the west (press box) side of Bowers Stadium.