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Barbier ready to kick off fourth season at Nicholls

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / August 10, 1998

NEW ORLEANS – Nicholls State University is celebrating its 50th year of existence this year and the football team is looking to make it a year to remember on the gridiron as well.

A key to the Colonels success will come from senior leadership. Headcoach Darren Barbier said he will pick senior captains for the first time since coming to Nicholls State from Hahnville High School four years ago.

He said that the young players on the team have to step up as well and that nothing motivates them more than an encouraging word from an upperclassman.

Nicholls State has been picked fifth by both the coaches and the sports information directors in the preseason Southland Football League poll.

Barbier said it will be up to the players, however, where they finish at the end of the season.

“I am going to tell the players what do you want to be – pretenders or contenders,” Barbier said at the SFL Kickoff Tour held July 30 at the Superdome. “You decide. It will depend on how hard you practice.”The Colonels are off to a good start. Twenty-two players worked out inThibodaux this summer, a good number for the Colonels according to Barbier. Barbier said the Colonels should be a better strength andconditioning team than it has been in the past.

The offense returns 18 lettermen and seven starters from a year ago when it ranked last in the conference in total yards (289.5 yards per game) andscoring (15.3 points per game).Lutcher graduate Brad Zeller returns for his senior season at quarterback, having started since the end of his freshman year. Zeller threw for acareer-high 1,537 yards last season and has completed 53 percent of his passes during his career. He has also shown mobility, rushing for over 400yards in his three years.

The Colonels are without their leading rusher from a year ago, Nakia Lumar, but have depth at the position. One of those in the hunt for thestarting spot is former Hahnville running back Kendall Joseph. Joseph wasthe Colonels’ second leading rusher a season ago, rushing for 277 yards despite playing just seven games due to an injury. Also vying for thestarting spot is junior Tawaskie Anderson, Curtis Johnson, a converted receiver, and Sullivan Turner, a transfer from Southwestern Louisiana.

Former Lutcher back Chad Carter will battle Kendrick Barnes at fullback.

“We feel real good about the four guys coming back,” Barbier said. We aredeep in running backs right now.” The Colonels are also deep at wide receiver where six lettermen return.

Leading the pack is senior Julius Alcee who caught 57 passes for 912 yards a year ago. Kajuan Billings is a three-year letterwinner who caught17 passes in 1997. West St. John graduate Ira Jackson is a two-yearletterwinner who had 18 receptions for 210 yards a year ago. Otherletterwinners include Allen Morton, a Destrehan graduate. At tight end,Cliff Cumberland returns after winning honorable mention all-SFL honors a year ago.

“Every receiver is back,” Barbier said. “The skill players are going to bethe strength of the team as well as the defensive line.”A question mark for the Colonels comes on the offensive line where only one starter returns at the same position. Greg Dubose, a three-yearletterwinner at left guard, returns to anchor the line. Andy Naquin, whostarted at guard last season, will start at center this season. Kevin Jones,the other lineman with playing experience, will start at right tackle.

On the other side of the ball, the line looks to be a strength for the Colonels. Returning is senior nose guard Robert Martin, a honorablemention all-SFL selection a year ago after recording 57 tackles and four sacks. Ernie Badeaux, once a highly-recruited prospect, returns at tackleafter transferring from Florida. Jody Hebert returns at end andletterwinner John Campbell will also see action. Redshirt freshman ToddRivera is projected to start at the other end position.

The linebacking corps is led by Murphy Edwards who was named second team all-SFL a year ago at defensive end. Edwards had 61 tackles and ateam-best six sacks a year ago. Sean Johnson returns after recording 55tackles and three sacks. Edward Brown, Eugene Johnson and Lannis Holmesalso return with Holmes expected to start at the third linebacking position.

The question mark on defense comes in the secondary where the Colonels return just three letterwinners, all safeties. Kevin Johnson and JackNicoll both started at free safety while Ricky Wilson is a three-year starter at strong safety.

“We feel pretty good along the front seven,” Barbier said. “We havequestion marks at linebacker and the secondary is young and inexperienced at the corners. If we can find some good corners we have a chance to be agood defensive team.”The special teams are led by punter Quinn Guidry, a graduate of Hahnville.

Guidry ranked 15th nationally with a 41.8 yard average last season. KyleLeisher led Nicholls in scoring as a true freshman with 51 points, making 12 of 18 field goal attempts.

The Colonels dropped their final three games of 1997 to finish the season with a 5-6 record. Barbier said in order to get back to where the team wastwo years ago when it went 8-4 and advanced to the Division I-AA playoffs and to be able to compete in the Southland Conference this season, he will open up the offense.

“The only way to win the conference championship is play defense and score more points,” Barbier said. “We have to be very lucky and stay awayfrom injuries. We have to be a better offensive football team in order tocompete and we can’t give up as many cheap touchdowns.”Nicholls State plays five games at Guidry Stadium where it has lost just two games over the past two seasons. The Colonels opened on the road atNortheast Louisiana before coming home for Mississippi Valley State and Jacksonville State. The Colonels then travel to Samford before hostingSam Houston State in the first-ever Thursday night game in Thibodaux.

A road game against Southwest Texas follows with Northwestern Louisiana then coming in for homecoming. The Colonels go back on the roadfor games against Louisiana Tech, a team that just missed making a bowl last season, and Troy State. Nicholls State plays its final home gameagainst Stephen F. Austin Nov. 14 before closing out the season againstMcNeese State.

The Southland Football League is consistently one of the toughest in Division I-AA and this season should be no exception. McNeese State is thedefending national runners-up and Troy State, Northwestern State, Stephen F. Austin and Nicholls State all have a shot at the playoffs ifthings bounce their way. Sam Houston State, Southwest Texas andJacksonville are also tough opponents.

“One to eight are so strong,” Barbier said. “You have to come to play eachand every week. You have to give Nicholls State respect they earned fromlast year. But I believe anybody can win the conference championship.”The Southland Conference certainly has a River Parishes flavor. NichollsState leads the way with Carter, Jackson, Kenric Johnson, Joseph, Antoine Williams, Daniel Villa, Guidry, Zeller, Morton, Aaron Smith and Russell Bickham. Barbier led Hahnville to two state championships in the early1990s and assistant coach Tim Rebowe was Destrehan’s head coach before going to Nicholls State.

McNeese State’s Blair Bradley, a graduate of Lutcher High School, received all-America, all-conference and all-Louisiana honors last season as a defensive end. Also seeing action for the Cowboys on their road to theDivision I-AA championship game last season was Riverside’s Brian Gill and East St. John’s Bruce Bolden. St. James’ Tramaine Harrison was aredshirted freshman on that team.

East St. John alum T.J. Sutherland saw action with Northwestern Statelast year, catching five passes for 81 yards. And Destrehan’s GermondWilliams signed with the Demons this past recruiting season.

“The River Parishes have been very good to us,” Barbier said. “There isplenty of talent there as far as football players go.”

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