NACOGDOCHES, Texas (Press Release)- Arguably the biggest question mark Stephen F. Austin faced heading into the 2015 season was how the Lumberjacks were going to fill the gap left by the departing Gus Johnson, and for good reason. After all, it's not every day you face the task of replacing your program's all-time leading rusher.
But in 2016, it is a much different narrative when it comes to the SFA running backs as the Lumberjacks return a number of known commodities, as well as a trio of newcomers that are eager to prove their worth. As a team in 2015, SFA averaged for 5.7 yards a carry, setting a new program record and establishing a sense of confidence for 2016.
Leading the way for SFA is the one-two punch of senior Joshawa West and sophomore Loren Easly, giving the Lumberjacks a pair of experienced returners. West, who provides the `Jacks speed and quickness, rushed for 617 yards with 204 receiving yards in 2015, while Easly's physical presence accounted for a team-best 759 yards and four touchdowns in his freshman season.
Sophomore Jacolby Whitaker also saw his first collegiate action last season, appearing in five games and accumulating 122 rushing yards with a touchdown. Add in the threat of quarterback Zach Conque, who rushed for 554 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015, and the SFA rushing attack appears poised to have another breakout year.
Head coach Clint Conque also brought in three talented backs, all of which will add depth and scoring threats to the group. Junior Kijana Amous transferred to Nacogdoches after rushing for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns during his time at Navarro College and has looked quick and strong after suffering a foot injury during his final season at Navarro.
Two talented freshmen were also added, both of which bring a great deal of excitement to the coaching staff. Josh McGowen brings with him speed rarely seen in Nacogdoches, qualifying for the track state championships in six events while winning the 300 meter hurdles this past May, racking up nearly 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at McAllen High. Jamall Shaw adds another physical back as the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, native was named the Oklahoma 6A Player of the Year, rushing for just shy of 4,000 yards in his career with 53 touchdowns.
But in addition to just providing an offensive threat, SFA's running attack likely will be called up on to do a number of things for the good of the team. One of those tasks surely will be on special teams, the area in which practice 13 was almost entirely centered Friday afternoon.
With week two of fall camp nearing its completion, Friday's practice was a low-key, 14-period helmet and shorts workout, focusing on special teams for the duration. Everything from kickoff coverage to punt return to onside kicks got its due time, and for good reason. Special teams played a major role in determining the outcome of a number of games in 2015 and has a key focal point for Conque since spring practices.
While West has been a mainstay on special teams for the past two seasons, the rest of the running backs could also find a new way to make their mark, especially the incoming freshmen.
Earlier Friday morning, the SFA team and coaching staff held its annual media day, taking the official team picture as well as group and individual shots, video board elements and promotional photo shoots. For many of the younger players, it becomes the day when it all becomes "real," being able to put on the SFA jersey for the first time.
As week two of fall camp comes to a close Saturday, a slight alteration has been made to the schedule. Due to the inconsistent weather throughout the week, as well as injury concerns on both sides of the ball, Saturday's second scrimmage at Homer Bryce Stadium has been canceled with the coaching staff opting for a controlled, situational practice as a precautionary measure.
When Saturday's practice is wrapped up, it will be right around the two-week mark of when the Lumberjacks will kick off at Texas Tech in the 2016 season opener on September 3rd. It also signifies the final week of camp, the final chance for some players to earn their spot on the 65-man roster during the regular season.
2016 STEPHEN F. AUSTIN FALL CAMP SCHEDULE