Aug. 30, 2010
NACOGDOCHES, Texas -
It is a good news/bad news scenario for the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack offensive line heading into the 2010 season. The good is SFA returns three of five starters from last years 10-3 Southland Conference Championship season, led by preseason second-team All-SLC selection George Bias. Along with sophomores John Steele and Austin Wright, this trio will provide a strong nucleus of talent and experience in the trenches as SFA looks to get back to the level that led the nation in passing offense, and finished among the nation's top six in scoring and total offense. Although, SFA didn't finish among the nation's top 25 in rushing offense last season, the offensive line helped produce an all-conference running back in Vincent Pervis.
The bad news is the Lumberjacks graduated two of the better offensive linemen in school history in center Max Holmes, and left tackle Karl Glimp. The duo combined for 72 starts during their careers, and neither missed a start from the time they stepped on the SFA campus helping SFA finish among the nation's top 10 in sacks allowed. That stat is made even more impressive considering SFA put the ball in the air 600 times in 2010.
"We lost two very important players from our line with the graduation of Karl Glimp and Max Holmes," said SFA offensive line coach Chris Truax. "But we have three starters returning from a squad that won 10 games, a conference title and went two rounds deep in the playoffs last season. In addition to our returning players, we have some young guys who I think are ready to step up and fill the void."
Although Bias was one of the league's top lineman on the right side last season, he has been moved over to left tackle. A preseason all-conference selection, Bias has the experience and the tools to protect senior quarterback Jeremy Moses' blind side.
"With the loss of Glimp, we have moved Bias from right tackle to left tackle this season," said Truax. "I expect him to be able to hold down the position. I really don't think we will miss a beat at left tackle. I don't see any reason why he can't return to the all-conference team at the end of this year."
There is a real battle going on to replace Holmes as the team's starting center. The battle, which has been going back-and-forth since the spring has comes down to senior Jesse Funk (6-4, 289 lbs.) and redshirt freshman Fitiseula Partsch (6-4, 300 lbs). Funk is the most experienced player on the offensive front, and it is that experience that gives him a slight edge at the starting spot. Partsch was a highly recruited prospect out of Baytown Sterling High School who brings added strength to the 'Jacks' line.
"Jesse is a great kid who has done everything that we've asked of him," said Truax. "He has the experience that we are looking for, and really understands the offense. Fitiseula is the young kid, and the two of them are really fighting for that starting spot. It has been a real good competition through the spring that has carried over into the fall."
Livingston product Corey Dickerson is battling Willie Watkins for the starting nod at right tackle. Dickerson, who is the largest player on the team standing 6-9, 306 pounds, has the early nod but Watkins has really been pressing for playing time.
"I really wanted to have my starter named following our last scrimmage, but they both played so well," said Truax. "Unfortunately, there wasn't anything to separate the two players, which is a good problem to have. I will say this about Corey, he has had a really good offseason and really hit the weight room. But folks have to understand that Corey is still relatively new to football. He basically played only one year in high school. So he has a huge upside."
The Lumberjacks will turn to Wright (6-2, 295 lbs.) and Steel (6-4, 273 lbs.) to hold down the guard positions. Both players return from a rookie season where they worked their way into the starting lineup. Wright is currently penciled in on the left side while Steel is on the right.
"I believe Steel has all-conference ability," said Truax. "He is a young man who can play all five positions on the field if we needed him to. That gives you a lot of confidence when putting together a starting lineup. It is a similar situation for Wright. He is a real versatile kid who also has all-conference ability. Wrigth really took advantage of the opportunity he was given last year when we lost senior Chris Garrison midway through the season. He moved into the starting lineup and never looked back."
While the SFA starting five is loaded with veteran leadership, the second team is a little thin on experience. The `Jacks have a talented group of backups fighting for early playing time, but the SFA coaching staff would like to work them into the rotation slowly. The key reserves consist of Gary Hall (6-3, 290, Redshirt Freshman), Ryne Chambers (6-6, 270, Freshman), R.C. Clinton (6-2, 300, Freshman), David Damien (6-6, 310, Freshman), Matt Newby (6-5, 320, Freshman) and Chance Vernon (6-7, 335, Freshman).
"We have a talented group of freshmen," said Truax. "These are versatile guys who can play several different positions, but experience is the key."
The SFA offensive line will have a formidable task in its season opener against the Aggies. The 'Jacks open the season against Texas A&M Saturday at 6 p.m. from Kyle Field.