Southland Media Day: SFA looking optimistic on upcoming season

HOUSTON (News Release) - With the beginning of Stephen F. Austin's 91st season of football rapidly approaching, head coach Clint Conque, junior defensive lineman Lamont Alexander and sophomore wide receiver Tamrick Pace completed the first official football event of the year by taking part in the 2017 Southland Conference Football Media Day at Hilton Americas in Houston.

After learning they were picked to finish sixth in the 2017 Southland Conference preseason poll, the three stepped up to the podium at 1:45 p.m. where Conque fielded questions from various media members around the Southland Conference institutions as well as the greater Houston area. Alongside Tatum Everett, Alexander and Pace answered questions ranging from the team's injury struggles from last season to what the team's new defensive philosophy is entering the season.

From there, Alexander and Pace headed to the league's social media room where they conducted interviews on Facebook Live and filmed various promotional shots for the Southland Conference.

Now the 'Jacks head back to Nacogdoches to prepare for the start of fall camp which begins on Monday, August 7.

2017 Southland Conference Media Day SFA Transcript

Head coach Clint Conque
Opening statement | It's a pleasure to be here for my fourth year representing SFA. This is my 12th Southland Conference media day and I'm certainly very excited to be back in Houston back where we started this 12 years ago. I'd like to thank the media - TV, print, radio, social media - because it's you guys and the student-athletes who have made this event grow into what it is today. I'd also like to acknowledge Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett and his staff. Mr. Burnett has been a visionary in this conference for a long, long time and the commitment he has had to football and to this event certainly to enhancing the national image of our conference. As we approach the 2017 season I'm genuinely as excited and as optimistic as I have been since 2014. We have recruited well at the high school level and supplemented our roster with some quality transfers. Last season we started out 3-1 and beat a very good McNeese team down in Lake Charles but our coaches knew we had a very fragile football team. By the sixth game we had lost four offensive tackles, two corners, three receivers, a starting tight end and were hit very hard by injuries. Now we turn the page this year and we have great optimism knowing that those guys are back and a year older. Obviously this is a tough league and injuries are going to happen but because of our depth this year we should be able to handle some of those challenges as they occur. After the season we evaluated the program in a couple of areas. There was a lot of self-reflection on my part and we made some changes on the defensive side of the ball. Jeff Byrd is the new defensive coordinator and he comes to us from UT-Martin where he has had tremendous defenses over the last few years in the Ohio Valley Conference. Additionally we changed quite a bit about our player development aspect. I've always been a big player development guy through my 18 years as head football coach and we made some changes there in revamping our approach in that area. My first year at SFA we won eight games and the last two years we have won nine football games - that's not good enough. We anticipate every year to be a contender in this year and certainly in picture for postseason play. We felt like we had the pieces to do that last year but certain things got away from us but because of the efforts of our coaching staff and players we fell as though we're in a better position this offseason than we were at this point last year. We have 14 starters coming back, all of our specialists are back and I feel like we recruited well. We graduated two senior quarterbacks so development at that position will be crucial. We need to get healthy and stay healthy and that development is going to be very important there. Two of our starting linebackers graduated last year and then of course defensively we have to avoid giving up the big play. We feel like we're deeper and healthier there and schematically they'll be able to help us improve on the defensive side of the football. We're very talented but we're very young. We only have 10 seniors but a very big junior, sophomore and freshman class. We're excited about where we are and we're excited to get started. I'd like to take a second to acknowledge Mr. Hill our director of athletics who really preaches that's a huge commitment by our department and our administration to get it done. We have a fair schedule that's very challenging and our annual FBS opponent on opening day at SMU.

Quarterback situation | We brought in Foster Sawyer - a highly talented young man coming out of high school who played at TCU, transferred to SFA and started out for us in spring practice. Unfortunately over the Fourth of July he got in an accident that's non-surgical at this point which will probably sideline him for eight to 10 weeks. It's an unfortunate situation but we have two very capable young men in Jake Blumrick and Ryan Cottingame and we signed a true freshman Zack Smith and they've all been on campus working hard over the summer. Since a backup has not yet been established, there hasn't been a true pecking order because of the fact that Foster was our guy right away. It's fortunate to know that we have some experience back there, but we'll have a full-fledged competition to find out who will rise to the top once week one comes around. I feel like we've improved our size and length at wide receiver and our offensive line has a chance to be a strength for us. The quarterback position has to grow and it will come from one of those three men early in the year but the players around the quarterback have to grow to help those quarterbacks. We hope to get Foster back as quickly as possible.

On whether or not you bring Foster Sawyer back right away | I've been through this situation before at multiple positions and if he misses a significant among of time early in the year then you have to weigh the chemistry aspect and those values before you make a decision. Obviously it's a tough break for us but if there's a glass half full look it's that it happened in the summer and we'll get a chance to work with our three quarterbacks that are healthy.

On how much tougher the Southland Conference has gotten | As I look around, there aren't many people who are sitting here today that were here 12 years ago. What hasn't changed, however, is the quality of our coaches. We've seen this on both sides of the football and as a result anybody can beat the other guy on any given day if you don't bring your "A" game. We have great players at every school now our transition schools are conference eligible. They had outstanding players and across the board the the coaching and the athletic ability of this league has gone up.

Takeaways from spring football | On defense it was an opportunity for coach Byrd and his staff to install everything they needed to install from a play standpoint and a terminology standpoint. Offensively this is our second year with Gary Crowton and we were able to add a couple of great pieces from FBS schools and then just starting another year with guys like Tamrick to grow and become more familiar with our offense.

What SFA lost offensive from last year | What's scary is when you look we lost 99-percent of our passing offense and about 80-percent of our rushing offense but then that's why young people come to play here. We have sophomores and redshirt freshmen waiting in the wings who have been putting in the reps and we're excited about the talent we have on campus.

Wide receiver Tamrick Pace
What was your reaction when coach said he'd like you to come and represent SFA? | It was a real honor especially considering I'm just a sophomore. Lamont | i was surprised but it's a great experience

How do you ensure a strong finish to your schedule this season | Have the same mentality as we had coming into the summer and that's looking at each other as teammates, brothers and family. If we go in tight and together we'll be able to overcome that adversity every day.

What will the taller receivers do for your offense? | When you put more speed and height out there it helps your offense and takes it to another level against these defenses we have in the Southland. 

Defensive tackle Lamont Alexander

What are some of the changes in the defensive philosophy? | We are more fast-paced and have a different attitude as far as being hard-nosed and getting after it every day.

What was it like being involved in the Battle of the Piney Woods and the Battle for Chief Caddo? | It felt great to play on a big stage at NRG and bringing Chief Caddo back to Nacogdochesat the end of the year was great.