The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

New-look Lions ready to roar into 2023

Chloe Williams
Arlan Williams (No. 34), Donte’ Daniels (No. 27) and Anthony Britton Jr. (30) celebrate a big defensive play against Texas A&M-Commerce during last year’s Homecoming game at Strawberry Stadium. (Oct. 8, 2022 – Hammond)

In 2022, the Southeastern Lions football team had a banner year, finishing 9-4 and claiming the Southland Conference title with a victory over the Nicholls Colonels down the bayou.

During the title run, SLU ranked second in the Southland in offense at 35.3 points per contest and third in defense, allowing 26 points per game. Southeastern’s high-powered offense was led by their rushing attack, which accumulated 2,582 total yards (No. 2 in the SLC) and led the Southland in rushing touchdowns with 34. 

One notable game came against the No. 4-ranked UIW Cardinals, in which SLU pulled out a 41-35 win. Wideout CJ Turner had a career-high 139 yards and two touchdowns against the Cards, including a 59-yard house call as time expired. 

During the NCAA FCS Playoffs, the Green and Gold overcame a 21-10 deficit to defeat the Idaho Vandals 45-42 at Strawberry Stadium. In the second round, SLU lost a close overtime battle 48-42 to Samford on the road. Overall, the 2022 season was a huge success and a step in the right direction heading into 2023. 

Head Coach Frank Scelfo has maintained a family-like culture despite the absence of many key players. On offense, quarterback Cephus Johnson lll and running backs Carlos Washington Jr. and Jessie Britt all ran out of eligibility. Johnson accumulated 1,882 total yards and 15 total touchdowns for the Lions in 2022. 

“Cephus is an unbelievable leader and he left great examples throughout his time here. I’m just picking up where he left off as a quarterback and a leader,” quarterback Eli Sawyer said. 

Washington Jr. led SLU in rushing yards with 731 and touchdowns with 15. Britt was just a little behind with 577 yards and five rushing touchdowns. 

“When you have fifth-year seniors like they are, we’re going to miss them more as leaders and as quality people more than anything else. I think that’s what they brought to the team,” Scelfo said.

Replacing their production is a tall task to accomplish, but second-year running back Rodeo Graham is up for the challenge. As a third-string back, Graham posted 356 rushing yards and one touchdown on 78 touches last year during his true freshman campaign. 

Southeastern also brought in Junior running back Harlan Dixon from Louisiana Tech. The Slidell native racked up 175 rushing yards for the Bulldogs in 2022. Going back to high school, Dixon feasted on his opponents by piling up 3,097 yards and 31 touchdowns in his last two years. 

Wide receiver Gage Larvadain also left during the offseason after entering the transfer portal and committing to the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks. He led the Lions in receiving yards last year with 731 and caught two touchdown passes. 

With Larvadain’s departure, wideout Maurice Massey will look to get more targets and step into a “WR1” role. In 2022, Massey had 525 yards and four touchdowns. He had a career game last season against the Lamar University Cardinals with 150 yards and two touchdowns. 

“We still have some quality receivers that are going to be able to step up and do everything that we need them to do for us to be successful on offense,” Scelfo said. 

The Lions also added more depth to the QB room this offseason by bringing in Cammon Cooper and Zachary Clement. Cooper is from Lehi, Utah, and attended Lehi High School. 

As a senior in high school, he set a single-state record for passing yards (4,726) and touchdowns (58). He led LHS to a title and finished his career with a school record of 118 passing touchdowns. The Utah native was rated a four-star recruit out of high school and ESPN ranked him the No. 38 best pocket-passing quarterback in the nation. 

Cooper went to Washington State, where he played six games for the Cougars. After spending 2022 in Hawaii, Cooper transferred to Southeastern for another opportunity to play the sport he loves. 

Clement is transferring from Northwestern State, where he put up 3,713 yards, 23 passing touchdowns and nine rushing touchdowns in 23 starts for the Devils. At NSU, he was a three-time Southland Commissioner’s Honor Roll member. 

During his high school career at Lafayette Christian Academy, he won the 2018 District Offensive MVP with 2,055 yards, 36 passing touchdowns and 11 rushing touchdowns. Clement also won multiple state championships and was a multi-time All-State performer. Overall, he accumulated 9,448 total yards and 134 touchdowns.  

“This quarterback room is mature, and they’ve got a lot of experience. I’m excited to see where they take us this year,” Scelfo said. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Southeastern is losing top defensive backs Jack Henderson, Ferlando Jordan and Zy Alexander. 

Henderson played a crucial role in SLU being the third-ranked defense in 2022. He led the Lions in solo tackles (55), was tied for second in sacks (2) and tied for second in interceptions (2). Jordan also had a great season; he led Southeastern in pass breakups and compiled 22 solo tackles. As for Alexander, he was tied for first place in interceptions (3) for the Green and Gold. 

In the FCS playoffs, Alexander had a pick-six for 48 yards against the Vandals late in the fourth quarter to give SLU a 45-35 lead. He also had a key pick-six right before halftime of the Lions’ SLC title-clinching River Bell Classic victory in Thibodaux over Nicholls. The DB trio of Henderson, Jordan and Alexander earned spots on the All-Southland First-Team Defense a year ago. 

Redshirt freshman safety Markell Linzer will be a player to look out for in the secondary. In 2022, he played in all 13 games and started in seven. Linzer collected 33 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. He had career games against Murray State and Texas A&M-Commerce, with six career tackles in each game.

Regarding the schedule, the Green and Gold will open up the year with three straight road games against Mississippi State, South Alabama and Eastern Washington. The three teams went a combined 22-15 last season, so the new-look Lions will have a tall task at the beginning of the year. The first home game of the season comes against HCU on Sept. 23 at 6 p.m. 

A noteworthy game for the fans comes against Texas A&M-Commerce on Nov. 11. Last year, the Lions fell to TAMC 31-28 at home on Homecoming. This year, they have a chance to travel on the road and beat a competitive Southland rival. A&M-Commerce gave SLU their only conference loss last season. 

With many roster changes and moves, Southeastern is poised to make another run for a Southland Title. The potential for this year’s team is limitless thanks to Scelfo’s creation of a family-like culture and strong leaders in the locker room. 

The Lions are one of just three FCS teams (North Dakota State and South Dakota State) to finish ranked in the final top 25 polls each of the past four seasons and have advanced past the first round of the playoffs in three of the past four campaigns. The Green and Gold will hope this trend continues into the end of 2023.

Southeastern was picked No. 15 in the 2023 Stats Perform FCS Preseason Top 25 and No. 11 in Athlon Sports’ Preseason Top 25 while being picked to repeat as Southland Conference champions in the 2023 SLC poll voted upon by head coaches and media relations directors across the conference. 

SLU will first take the field on Sept. 2 in Starkville, Miss. to kick off its season against SEC opponent Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium. The game is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. and will be aired on the SEC Network. 

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About the Contributors
Troy Allen, Assistant Sports Editor
Troy Allen is a senior mass communication major with a concentration in sports journalism. He joined The Lion’s Roar as a staff reporter in September of 2022 with hopes of contributing to a great program. Troy plans to follow his passion for covering various sports like football, basketball and baseball. On his off days, he loves to hang out with friends and family, watch football and play video games.
Chase Gispert, Sports Editor
Chase Gispert is a communication major with a concentration in sports communication. He joined The Lion’s Roar in March of 2021 and now serves as sports editor. Chase is a native of Madisonville. He has a strong passion for sports and is excited about where the future may take him.
Chloe Williams, Editor-in-Chief
Chloe Williams is an English major with a concentration in creative writing and minors in communication and theater. She hopes to become a newspaper reporter who will be able to write and travel for the news and spread the voice of the people. You can find her anywhere that contains a stage, hanging out and eating with her friends on campus or taking a nap when she gets the chance.
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    Joey GrazianoAug 11, 2023 at 8:03 pm

    Good read… nice look at upcoming season