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March 17, 2014

SHSU FOOTBALL — Spring practice starts Monday, Bearkats to make first impressions

HUNTSVILLE — There will be a different type of Sam Houston State football team in the fall. With 15 seniors graduated, including 12 starters from the 2013 playoff group, a new band of Bearkats will lead into the 2014 season.

The Bearkats also have a new coach, former FCS champion K.C. Keeler, who plans to leave his imprint on Sam Houston starting at today’s spring football practice opener. Keeler said the biggest adjustment will be establishing the fast tempo of shorter practices, as well as the intensity.

On Sunday, the Sam Houston coaching staff even had its own preview practice session.

“We’re like little kids right now,” Keeler said of the Kats’ coaching staff, which features seven new members and three from the previous staff. “I can’t explain how excited I am to get out on the field and be coaching again. As a staff, we’re going to go through the entire practice schedule and make sure when we’re out there, everybody knows exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. I take great pride in how well we practice.”

Sam Houston looks to to find solutions at key positions such as quarterback on the offensive side of the ball and in the both the secondary and front-seven positions on defense.

One thing Keeler has made note of is the increase of responsibility for the quarterbacks and receivers in the passing game.

Quarterbacks are expected to throw the ball much more in practice than before.

The Kats have three quarterbacks returning from the 2013 roster; Don King III, Jared Johnson and John Roderique.  

Johnson, who saw playing time late last season when senior Brian Bell went down with a shoulder injury, is coming off foot surgery and is unlikely to practice this spring.

Sam Houston also signed Cole Martin of Cy Ranch to its 2014 recruiting class.

The final quarterback evaluations won’t be made until fall, but players are expected to get a feel for the new system by the end of spring practice.

“We’ll get a chance to work with these guys for the first time,” Keeler said. “These guys will throw the ball a lot more than they ever have in the past in terms of practice. It will be interesting to see how much we can develop them. Just watching the tape from before, they didn’t nearly put the premium on throwing the football that we’ll put on throwing the football. So the quarterbacks will get a lot more opportunities to hopefully improve and we’ll coach them a lot.”

The coaching staff doesn’t have a lot of expectations for spring ball outside of what the Bearkats have been doing the last four years under former head coach Willie Fritz.

The idea is to raise the bar and get over the national championship and playoff hump of the last three seasons.

Keeler, who was named as the 15th head football coach at Sam Houston in January, inherits a squad with 52 lettermen including 13 starters from the 2013 Bearkat team that earned Sam Houston its third consecutive FCS playoff berth. Sam Houston is one of only two programs in the nation to make the NCAA playoffs each of the last three years.

The new Bearkat head coach has tons of previous playoff success, leading his 2003 Delaware team to the FCS national championship and reaching the title game in 2007 and 2010.

“We’re not on the field a long time,” Keeler said. “We coach off the videotape. It will be intense. The music is always going, but at different levels. Sometimes it’s loud, sometimes it’s not. We’ll have a lot of fun when we go out there but we’ll coach them very hard. It will be business once we get on that field. They’ll know every minute we’re out there, we’re on a mission to be the best team in the country.”

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    The fate of Sam Houston’s season could rest on the arm of whoever emerges as the team’s starting quarterback. On Monday,  sophomore Don King III played with the first team, but sophomore Jared Johnson and redshirt freshman John Roderique each saw a comparable number of reps.

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