Head coach Willie Fritz greeted a fired-up group of 90 student-athletes for the first practice of 2012 Sam Houston football preseason camp Friday night.

The Bearkats  return 19 starters and 50 lettermen from the squad that won the Southland Conference championship last year and advanced to the NCAA Division I national championship game in Frisco with 14 straight wins.

"It's a very exciting day," Fritz said. "We've got lots of veterans returning and its going to be fun to get our first look at the new guys."

Sam Houston State is the pick to win the league again according to the annual poll of the Southland Conference's head football coaches. With "FiniSH" as their 2012 team motto, the Bearkats also have hopes of making noise again in the NCAA post-season.

"We have big time goals and aspirations," Fritz said. "The main thing we're trying to focus on, however, is just working hard to get better every day.

"This first week, we'll work on putting in base packages on offense, defense and special teams. We'll see who fits where in the two-deep and, with so many veterans back, look to expand our packages."

With five returning All-Americans and 19 preseason All-Southland Conference performers on the practice field, Fritz is looking for the veterans to be leaders.

"We want to have another 40 coaches out on the field," Fritz said. "This program needs to be player driven, not coach driven. These veterans have a great understanding of what we're looking for and what we need to do to succeed."

Sam Houston State opens the 2012 season on Saturday Sept. 8 when the Bearkats play host to the University of Incarnate Word from San Antonio.