CEDAR CITY, Utah, March 19 – Southern Utah University begins on-field preparations for the 2014 football season Tuesday afternoon when the Thunderbirds are scheduled to take the field for the first day of spring practice.
The spring 2014 schedule calls for the team to hold meetings on Monday, with the first official practice on Tuesday. Practices will be held each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:30 p.m., with Saturday practices scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Meetings will be held on the alternate days and the spring game is slated for April 26, with kickoff tentatively scheduled for noon in Eccles Coliseum.
SUU Coach Ed Lamb, who is in his seventh season at the helm of the Thunderbird program, has 15 starters – including eight on offense and seven on defense – returning from last year’s squad that finished 8-5 overall and 5-3 and tied for fourth place in Big Sky Conference play.
“We’re looking forward to getting out on the field as a team,” Lamb notes. “Last year’s team developed an identity through its work ethic and dedication during the off-season and while we have many of the same players returning, this group has been working and developing it’s own identity. I’m looking forward to seeing how that translates out on the field.”
The Thunderbirds accomplished a pair of firsts last season, as the team advanced to the NCAA playoffs for the first time in its history and also finished the season ranked among the nation’s top-25 teams for the first time. SUU ended the season ranked No. 21 by the Sports Network’s panel of writers and sports information directors, and No. 24 in the coaches’ poll.
Southern Utah returns one second-team and one third-team all-Big Sky performer from last season, as well as six players who earned honorable mention honors.
Sophomore defensive end James Cowser, a 2013 freshman all-American, earned second-team all-BSC recognition as well as academic all-America honors last year after leading the Thunderbirds in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19) and ranking second in the Big Sky and 14th in the nation in both categories. He tallied 78 total tackles last year to lead the Thunderbirds’ defensive linemen.
Linebacker Matt Holley was a third-team all-BSC honoree after leading the Thunderbirds with 110 tackles and finishing second on the squad with 13.5 TFL while intercepting two passes and breaking up two more. He also recovered two fumbles and ranked second on the team, behind Cowser, with six quarterback hurries.
Returning players who earned honorable mention Big Sky recognition were junior OL Nick Nissen along with sophomores Anthony Norris (TE), LeShaun Sims (CB) and Miles Killebrew (SS). Two SUU freshmen also earned honorable mention, defensive linemen Andrew Eide and Robert Torgerson.
Torgerson and long snapper Chandler Dowell earned freshman all-American honors last year as well. Torgerson had 5.5 TFL and three sacks last season, as well as four passes broken up, a fumble forced and a fumble recovery – which he returned for a touchdown in the Thunderbirds’ playoff loss to Sam Houston State – and he was second among SUU’s defensive linemen with 35 total tackles. Dowell was perfect on all but two snaps, both on punts, last season.
In addition to Dowell, the Thunderbird special teams will welcome the return of punter Tate Lewis, who earned all-Great West Conference honorable mention honors in 2011 after averaging 44.5 yards per punt on 31 kicks that season. His return comes at the perfect time as Brock Miller, an all-BSC honorable mention honoree last season, was a senior in 2013 and will graduate this spring.
Another player who returns to the T-Bird roster this spring is quarterback Ammon Olsen, who played at SUU in 2009 before serving an LDS church mission then transferring to BYU. He spent the 2013 season as the primary reserve quarterback for the Cougars but opted to return to SUU in the winter. He will be eligible to play immediately.
In all the Thunderbirds return 39 lettermen and 14 redshirts from the 2013 playoff team and they will have seven players back from LDS missions. That group of 61 will be joined by 14 additional first-year players this spring.
-- SUU --
Sat. Oct. 18
@ Idaho State
Sat. Oct. 11
vs. Eastern Washington
(L) 30 -42
Sat. Oct. 4
@ Cal Poly
(L) 39 -42
Sat. Sep. 27
vs. Weber State
(W) 31 -28
Sat. Sep. 20
@ Fresno State
(L) 16 -56
Sat. Sep. 13
vs. South Dakota State (Homecoming)
(L) 6 -26
Sat. Oct. 25
vs. North Dakota
Sat. Nov. 8
@ Sacramento State
Sat. Nov. 15
Sat. Nov. 22
@ Northern Arizona