College Football is finally back and the Louisiana College Wildcats are more than excited for the 2011 season to begin.
After falling short of the Division III playoffs and finishing with a six-game win streak that included a dramatic season-finale win against Hard-Simmons, the Wildcats got to work in the offseason. Players and coaches say they have one goal in mind this year, and that is not just to win the American Southwest Conference but to also make it to the final destination of Salem, Va. for the Div. III National Championship in December.
That quest begins Saturday when the Wildcats host the Belhaven Blazers out of Jackson, MS., a team which handed LC one of its only losses last season, 41-34.
“I love the culture of this team and everything it has come to represent off the field,” LC coach Dennis Dunn said. “I believe that the quality of these young men off the field will be reflected in what happens on the field this season. We have great leadership, chemistry and unity.”
The Wildcats are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and bring a great deal of experience and leadership to the team.
Leading the way on offense is senior All-American wide receiver Darnell Williams who will be joined by another big target in 6'-3" junior D’Mario Parker. With the loss of All-American Jordan Rideaux to graduation, his speed and quickness are going to be hard to replace, but looking fill that void is speedy junior Cortland Bell. Adding depth and experience will be returning seniors Dayne Reeves and Justin Usey along with junior college transfer Tyler Ray.
The Wildcats are also talented in the running back department with senior Daron Bartholomew leading the way. Complementing Daron is talented sophomore Ryan Montague who did not see any time last year due to a torn ACL he suffered in last year's fall camp.
If there is one main area of strength for LC this season it could be on the offensive line where all five starters return. Leading the way is four-year starter, senior center Ben Fiebel. His fellow senior, guard Hunter Crowder , is joined by junior guard Darin Moore, and junior tackles Jeremy Vunjnovich and Shawn Cook.
With all this experience in key areas on offense, one big area of concern is quarterback. With the departure of four-year starter Ben McLaughlin to graduation (and on to his current position as an LC assistant coach), it will certainly be hard to replace not only one of the nation's top quarterbacks statistically, but also a tremendous leader. Until this week, there had been a three-way race for the starting position between junior Jamie Bunting, junior college transfer sophomore Alonzo Bellamy and junior transfer Tim Curry. Each brings something different to the table that the others don’t necessarily have. But late this week, Dunn announced that he would begin the season with Bunting as the starter.
On defense last year, the Wildcats struggled with injuries, especially at the safety position, along with the inexperience of otherwise extremely talented freshmen and sophomores. Fast forward a year and the Wildcats feel their defensive story will be a much different one with perhaps the most talented defense in their recent history. Defensive coordinator Buck Buchanan has switched to a 3-4 defense, which is more adept to stopping the pass especially in the pass happy ASC.
Among the returning defensive players, All-ASC junior linebacker Nate Janzen is a tackling machine and not too much gets past him. Along side Janzen is another all-conference player in senior linebacker Taylor Cottano. On the outside, the Cats return yet another all-conference player in linebacker/defensive end Peter "Phil" Ford who was also Freshman Conference Player of the year. Opposite Ford is another key piece in junior Richard Logan, a freakishly physical player to watch this year. The Wildcats' three down lineman bring speed and include defensive ends and juniors Grant Medine and Logan Bonnette both of whom saw significant playing time last year and will be fighting it out for the starting position. The other two-down lineman are junior redshirt Josh Montgomery and junior Wyreaz Bradley who also saw time last year and brings his experience to the defensive line.
The key area for the Wildcats this year and arguably the most athletic and most exciting unit to watch on the entire team are the defensive backs. They are a fast, hard-hitting deep unit and are led by junior cornerback Reggie Calhoun, a talented and exciting player to watch and one who seems to always make a play when the defense needs it the most. On the other side is junior corner Broderick Fredrick, another player to watch and another who seems to be at the right place at the right time. Along with these two the cornerback position is deep with seniors Pat Chitman and Demel Dumas, both of whom have started and are reliable backups. The safety position is loaded with talent with sophomores Daniel Hebert and Eugene Jackson, both of whom started a few games each last year. Jake George is also looking to get some playing time. That group of safeties is joined by SirDerrick Dotson and junior transfer Anthony Johnson who bring additional experience to the secondary.
What does it all add up to? High expectations. The Wildcats say their goal is not only to win the conference championship but also to be in Salem, Virginia for the National Championship.
NOTE: Saturday's will be broadcast live on local radio through 105.5 FM KBKK as well as online at 1055kbuck.com. Live video will be available at iHigh.com/louisianacollege and live updates will be provided through the official Louisiana College Athletics Twitter page (@LaColAthletics).
Watch this week's edition of Wildcat Weekly which previews the 2011 LC Wildcats: