From Stephen F. Austin State University
FRISCO, TEXAS (News Release) - A total of seven Stephen F. Austin football players earned 2017 Southland Conference Preseason All-Conference honors as the league unveiled its full list Thursday morning.
Senior offensive lineman Josh Keith and senior defensive end John Franklin each earned first team citations as did senior Trae Hart for the category of punt returner. Hart was also placed on the second team offense as an all-purpose player. Others who received second team accolades were junior defensive lineman Lamont Alexander, sophomore tight end Kiki Hill, sophomore wide receiver Tamrick Pace and sophomore kick returner Alize Ward.
Following a selection to the All-Southland Conference Second Team during his inaugural season with the 'Jacks in 2016, Keith returns to lead an SFA front line that paved the way for the 18th-most prolific offense in all of FCS football one season ago (438.1 yards per game). Keith took part in every one of the Jacks 11 contests and made six of his seven starts at left tackle.
When he wasn't stationed in a wide receiver slot last season, Hart was busy making a name for himself as one of the premier return men in all of the FCS. In all, the Mesquite, Texas, product racked up 210 yards and a touchdown on 17 punt returns which worked out to the nation's seventh-best and the Southland's top punt return average (12.4 yards). As one of the 'Jacks' receivers, he hauled in 42 passes for 511 yards and a pair of scores to shore up his All-Southland Conference Second Team resume.
Maintaining his reputation as one of the nation's most fearsome defensive linemen, Franklin topped the 2016 Southland Conference standings in both quarterback hurries (nine) and forced fumbles (four) and ranked eighth nationally in the latter. That, coupled with 32 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks through 11 games all but assured the Greenville, Texas, product All-Southland Conference First Team laurels at the end of his most recent campaign on the gridiron.
Stationed alongside Franklin on SFA's defensive line, Alexander enjoyed a highly productive 2016 campaign. Through 10 games, the native of Nolanville, Texas, totaled 30 tackles including 10 solo stops and provided one sack which came against Northwestern State and helped SFA reclaim the prized Chief Caddo trophy.
All of the 2016 damage done by Hill in the receiving game came in 10 games where the redshirt freshman appeared in the starting lineup seven times and latched onto 19 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Hailing from Goliad, Texas, Hill snared his first career touchdown in a Southland Conference triumph over Abilene Christian and took home All-Southland Conference Honorable Mention honors following his first full season of college football.
Arguably no man on the 'Jacks' roster made as big of a splash as Pace did in 2016. As a true freshmen, the Brownsboro, Texas, native immediately turned into one of the league's top receiving threats and finished the season as SFA's leader in receptions (52), receiving yards (836) and touchdowns (eight). Pace turned in four 100-plus yard receiving games which included a season-best 187 yards on eight receptions and a score at Houston Baptist. Nationally, his eight receiving touchdowns ranked 33rd in the FCS and fifth in the Southland while his 76 receiving yards per game placed him third among all league student-athletes.
Pulling double duty as a member of the 'Jacks' defensive secondary as well as the squads primary kick returner, Ward was just one of a large group of underclassmen who turned in some fine numbers when pressed into action during the 2016 season. One of two Californians among the 'Jacks' ranks, the rising sophomore took part in all 11 engagements and made seven starts in 2016. In that time, the safety made 59 stops - 28 of the solo variety - and in the return game he totaled 316 yards on 14 kickoff returns he attempted. That was good for 22.6 yards per return - the fifth-highest figure in the league and the 49th-best among all FCS competitors.
Returning student-athletes who earned all-conference honors at the conclusion of the 2015 season were automatically named to the preseason teams. Head coaches from the 11 schools that play football in the Southland Conference voted for the remaining 38 positions, which included six on the first-team offense, four on the first-team defense, 13 positions on the second-team offense and 15 on the second-team defense. No placekickers or punters were nominated to fill the spots on the second team. Coaches could not vote for their own players.