CEDAR CITY, Utah, July 23 – Southern Utah football team begins preparations for its second season in the Big Sky Conference next week as the Thunderbirds welcome newcomers and returning players to camp on Monday.

Players are scheduled to report for camp on Monday afternoon, with the first workout scheduled for Tuesday morning. The team will hold one full practice each day, from 8:50 to 11:00 a.m., during the first week before moving to two-a-day practices every other day on subsequent weeks heading into the beginning of classes on August 27.

Coach Ed Lamb, who is entering his sixth season at the helm of the program, said he is looking forward to getting started, noting that with an experienced but young squad coming back he is curious about the mind-set of the team.

“I’m really anxious to find out the character of this team,” he said. “That’s the biggest question mark going forward. We appear to have a very talented and experienced team and yet not a senior-laden team so I’d like to find out how important this season and this training camp is to this team.”

He is also interested to see who will emerge as contributors in those positions most effected by graduation: running back and quarterback.

“I’m always curious to see how the next group of guys at that position will step up and compete,” Lamb pointed out. “The positions where we lost the most were running back and quarterback.

“I have a goal to find a running back or running backs who can secure the football and pierce the line of scrimmage behind what I feel will be the best offensive line we’ve had,” he went on to say. “I also have a goal to find the quarterback who best operates our offense.”

The Thunderbirds open the season with a Thursday night game at first-time opponent South Alabama on Aug. 29. The following week they open the home schedule with a Sept. 7 match-up against one of their oldest rivals, Fort Lewis, a team they have faced 30 times through the years although they have not squared off since a 54-46 SUU win in 2000.

The team then hits the road for back-to-back non-conference games at Washington State (Sept. 14) and Sacramento State (Sept. 21). The game at WSU is the Thunderbirds’ second in as many seasons against a Pac-12 foe, while the Sac State game is a non-conference game against a Big Sky opponent because of a home-and-home series the two teams began before SUU entered the conference.

The Thunderbirds open the conference slate with a third consecutive road game, at Northern Colorado, on Sept. 28. That game will mark the first meeting between the two schools on the gridiron since a 20-17 overtime win in Cedar City in 2005 when the teams were both members of the American West Conference.

The home portion of the T-Birds’ schedule begins on Oct. 5 when the Thunderbirds host UC Davis with the annual Homecoming game scheduled for Oct. 12 when Portland State visits Cedar City. After traveling to Eastern Washington for an Oct. 19 game the Thunderbirds return home to host Idaho State –  another team they haven’t faced since ‘05, a 38-13 Bengal win in Pocatello – on Oct. 26, then the team enjoys a bye the week of Nov. 2.

SUU wraps up the regular season by traveling to Weber State on Nov. 9 and Montana State on Nov. 16 before hosting Northern Arizona Nov. 23 in the regular-season finale’.

Thunderbird Practice Schedule:

Week One: The team will practice in helmets-only, beginning at 8:50 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, with positional run and lift sessions in the afternoons. On Thursday and Friday mornings the team will practice in limited pads before the first full-pad workout on Saturday morning.

Weeks Two and Three: Beginning August 5, the team will hold two-a-day practices on alternate days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), with morning practices beginning at 8:50 and afternoon practices beginning at 3:10. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays one practice will be held, beginning at 8:50 a.m.

Week Four: The team have an off day Aug. 19 before departing for Camp Thunder on Aug. 20 for a two-night team-building activity. The team will return from Camp Thunder on Aug. 22 and hold a walk-through practice that afternoon. The team will then practice on Friday at 4:45 p.m. and on Saturday at 8:50 a.m. prior to the annual Watermelon Bust.

Week Five: With the beginning of classes on Aug. 26, the team will begin its in-season schedule, with single practices daily at 4:45 p.m. and the season-opener at South Alabama on Thursday, Aug. 29.

Thunderbird Quick Hits:

• SUU is entering its 51st season as a four-year football-playing institution and its 28th as a member of the NCAA. The 2013 season also marks the Thunderbirds’ 21st as a member of the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision and is the school’s second in the Big Sky Conference. Prior to joining the Big Sky SUU competed in the Great West Conference for eight seasons.

• The opener at South Alabama marks the ninth time in the last 11 seasons the Thunderbirds have played their first game of the season on the road, including the last four in a row. Last year SUU opened at Utah State, in 2011 it opened at South Dakota State and in 2010 the T-Birds opened at Wyoming. The other openers at the road during the past 10 years came at Air Force (2008), at Montana (2007), at Idaho State (2005), at Weber State (2004) and in 2003 the opener was at Nevada. The two openers at home were in 2009 against Dixie State and in 2006 when the ‘Birds kicked off the season against Montana Tech at Eccles Coliseum.

• The Thunderbirds have two preseason all-America and three preseason first-team all-Big Sky honorees on the roster this fall, and return five players who earned post-season honors in 2012.

Senior kicker Colton Cook, a second-team all-Big Sky honoree as well as a second-team AP All-American in 2012, is on the pre-season all-BSC squad as well as on a handful of pre-season all-American squads. He was second in the nation in field goals per game last year and 26th in the country in scoring at 7.91 points per game.

Senior offensive lineman Gavin Farr has been an all-conference performer each of his three seasons with the Thunderbirds, including the GWC’s offensive lineman of the year in 2010. He was a first-team all-Big Sky performer last year and is a pre-season all-BSC honoree this year as well as being listed on a handful of pre-season all-American lists.

Fatu Moala is a pre-season all-Big Sky selection this year following a 2012 campaign in which he earned second-team all-BSC honors after leading the Thunderbirds in receiving yards, receptions per game and receiving touchdowns.

SUU also has a pair of 2012 freshman all-Americans returning: linebacker Zak Browning and defensive end James Cowser. Browning was named the Big Sky’s newcomer of the year after ranking second in the conference and leading the country’s freshmen in tackles last year with 11.5 stops per game (which ranked eighth in the nation overall). Cowser, an honorable-mention all-BSC performer in 2012, led the nation’s freshmen in sacks and tackles for loss last year with 0.68 and 1.23 per game, respectively.

Another former award-winner who was slowed by injuries in 2012 is senior linebacker Chad Hansen, who earned first-team all-Great West honors in 2011 as a sophomore after leading the team with 104 tackles, including a team-high 53 solo stops.

• SUU has six returning academic all-BSC honorees, including Cook and Cowser, senior offensive lineman Brad Meyer, junior defensive lineman Kouri Jones, and junior receivers Mitch Jessop and Easton Pedersen.

• SUU plays 11 of its 12 games against NCAA Division I opponents this year, with nine against teams from the championship subdivision and two from the bowl subdivision. South Florida and Washington State are the two FBS opponents with Fort Lewis, an NCAA Division II school, the only non-Division I opponent on the schedule.

• Nearly half of the players on the roster are Utah natives, with 40 of the 84 scheduled to report for camp hailing from the Beehive State. California is the next-most represented state, with 17, while 10 call Nevada home. Texas and Washington are each home to three players, while two hail from Colorado, Idaho and Florida. The states of Arizona, Hawai’i and Oregon are each home to one Thunderbird, while one calls Tonga home and another is from France.

-- SUU --