The 2017 Sam Houston State Bearkat football season is nearly upon us, and leading up to the August 27 kickoff vs Richmond, Bearkat Athletics will be taking a look at this year’s Sam Houston roster.

This is the fourth of an eight-part preview, position-by-position of this year’s squad. The Kats were selected as unanimous favorites to reclaim the SLC crown and boast five preseason all-Americans on the roster.

Returning: P.J. Hall, Derick Roberson, Torian Williams, Marcus Loud, Darron Harris, Kahlil Welsh

Newcomers: Chris Stewart, Spencer Williams, Sekou Clark, Azuka Mgbemena, Osi Odume, Moses Johnson 

HUNTSVILLE – The Bearkats have been able to boast having one of the top defensive players in the nation in their corner for the past three seasons, and going into his senior season, P.J. Hall looks like he’s going to have plenty of help around him in 2017.

Hall has been a menace to opposing offenses since his freshman season in 2014, racking up 36 in his career and is now just two away from becoming the all-time sack leader among Southland Conference players. Not just a sack specialist, Hall has totaled 67 tackles for loss along with eight forced fumbles, 10 blocked kicks and three interceptions with a year left to add to his year totals.

“There’s not much else to be said about what P.J. has done here,” Bearkat defensive line coach Rod Wright said. “He is so explosive and does not get fooled by what blockers are doing. He recognizes blocks well, and is going to be a tough for anyone whether he is playing inside or outside.” 

His exploits have garnered him plenty of accolades in his three years, including being named the 2016 Southland Conference Defensive Player of the year and to multiple all-America teams. He is also on the preseason watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award, an honor given to the top defensive player in all of FCS, after finishing second in the voting for the award a year ago.

His 13 sacks in 2016 led the SLC and helped the Bearkats be one of the elite pass rushing teams in the nation as they led they led the league and finished third in total sacks among all programs in the nation.

Aside from Hall, the Bearkats lost several key pieces from that defensive line in Luis Carreno, Sione Latu and all-league defensive end Mouf Adebo who had seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss to his credit a year ago.

But the Bearkat coaching staff has reloaded the line and has plenty of pieces, both returning and with newcomers, giving plenty of optimism that this year’s crew could be even more elite than the year before. One of those pieces is junior defensive end Derick Roberson who joined the team entering last year after playing 10 games at the University of Texas in 2015. 

Roberson was one of the top defensive end recruits in the country coming out of San Antonio’s Brennan High School and made a splash in last year’s Battle of the Piney Woods with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble before being hampered with a broken hand for the latter half of the season.

“Derick is a big piece for us, and I expect him to have a big year,” Wright said. “He got off to a great start last season and looked to be in line for a big year before the injury. So far he’s had a great camp and we have been able to see what he can do.”

Along with Roberson, Torian Williams, Marcus Loud, Darron Harris and Khalil Welsh all return after all making impacts in 2016. Loud racked up 29 tackles in 11 games, making 4.5 stops behind the line and picking up a pair of sacks while Welsh helped out on the inside of the line with 18 tackles in a dozen games of action. Williams also looks to be poised to see plenty of time on the interior of the line entering his juniro season after totaling 29 tackles and a pair of sacks for his career to date.

The Kats also brought in Chris Stewart and Spencer Williams from Wake Forest and Missouri, respectively, along with junior college-transfer Sekou Clark. Each is expected to be significantly involved from the start. According to Wright, both Stewart and Williams are versatile enough to play both inside and on the ends, a characteristic that is the case with the majority of defensive linemen at the Kats’ disposal.

Stewart checks in at 6-2, 270 pounds and was a player on the Demon Deacon defensive line the past two seasons. He had a 2.5 sacks a year ago and picked up 20 tackles in 12 games after playing in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2015.

Meanwhile, Williams followed a similar path at Missouri, redshirting in 2014 before playing in 18 games over the past two years. At 6-4, 250 pounds he brings much-needed size and athleticism to the Bearkat line after recoding 15 tackles and four quarterback hurries last year for the Tigers. 

“Adding Chris and Spencer really helps us,” Wright said. “Both of them can do a lot of things and bring a lot of talent to our group. They have earned their stripes at big schools and have played in some tough environments, so they are going to be ready for anything that gets thrown at them.”

Sam Houston also added three freshman signees to its roster in the spring when it inked three freshmen, in Osi Odume, Moses Johnson and Azuka Mgbemena who is showing indications that he could crack the depth chart as a true freshman. The 6-1, 265-pounder had 15 tackles for loss as a senior at Spring Westfield High School.