In 2011, the Sam Houston State football team exploded on the national scene, rising from an unranked team to No. 1 in the nation. The Bearkats advanced to the national championship game, forcing the nation to take notice.

Expectations will be high this season, as the Kats will return 20 starters off last season’s 14-1 team. On Monday, five of those returning players were recognized by The Sports Network on the preseason All-America squad.

Running back Tim Flanders, all-purpose back Richard Sincere and safety Darnell Taylor were named to the first team. A pair of defensive players round out the Kats selections with J.T. Cleveland named to the second team and Daxton Swanson on the third team.

The five selections by the Bearkats was the most by any team in the nation, and part of a group of 14 players from the Southland Conference, which was tied for most from any one league.

"This is a great honor for not only these players, but for our program as well as our university," head coach Willie Fritz said. "All of those guys bring something special to this team, and I am happy to see them get some national recognition for their hard work and dedication to this program."

Taylor makes a return to the Sports Network first team, after being tabbed to the first team last season. Taylor led the Bearkats in tackles with 128 and was named to a five All-American squads following the 2011. Taylor was named the Southland Conference "Defensive Player of the Year" last season and was a first team All-Southland selection. His 128 tackles was the highest single season total since 1988 and he posted double digit tackles in eight games including season best of 12 in McNeese victory.

Flanders was named to five All-America squads including American Football Coaches Association and Associated Press following the 2011 season. He was seventh in voting for Walter Payton award and was named Southland Conference Player of the Year. He was a first team All-Southland Conference running back and led the league in rushing (109.6 yards per game) and scoring (144 points) and was No. 2 in the league in all-purpose yards (137.2). Nationally, Flanders ranked No. 4 in scoring, No. 16 in rushing and No. 24 in all-purpose yards and set Southland Conference single season records for touchdowns (24), points (144) and rushing yards (1,644).

Sincere was a College Sporting News first team All-America in 2011 and the Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He was a first team All-Southland offensive selection and two-time Southland "Offensive Player of the Week" (Central Arkansas and SFA). Sincere was the No. 3 rusher in the Southland (979 yards) and No. 7 in Southland scoring (78 points). He rushed for more than 100 yards in five games (season best 11 for 160 vs. Montana State) and totaled 14 runs of more than 20 yards including long of 52 (Montana State) and TDs of 45 (Central Arkansas) and 50 (Lamar). He also caught TD passes of 77 (Lamar) and 62 (Northwestern St.) and seven of passes of more than 20 yards.

Cleveland is a two-time All-Southland Conference selection and was a 2011 Phil Steele Magazine All-America selection. He is a three-year letterman with 95 career tackles including 16 tackles for losses. He started all 15 games last season and led the defensive line with 46 tackles including nine for losses, posting a season high five solo tackles in Texas State victory.

Swanson is a two-year starter as a corner and begins his senior season tied for No. 5 in Bearkat career interceptions (10) with Charles Boyce (1988-91) and No. 3 in SHSU career interception return yards (199). He was an Associated Press and College third team All-America selection and second team All-Southland Conference. Swanson set a school record, led the Southland Conference and ranked No. 3 nationally with 8 interceptions. He was credited with 49 tackles including season high of six in victory over SFA at Reliant Stadium