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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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(Rick Hickman/American Press)

(Rick Hickman/American Press)

Cowboy optimism: It all starts today

Last Modified: Friday, August 08, 2014 1:18 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

It all begins today.

Ninety-five players reported Thursday for the beginning of McNeese State’s 2014 football training camp, and will hit the practice fields for the first time at 4:30 p.m. today.

They will bring with them great expectations. The Cowboys are coming off a 10-3 campaign and are ranked ninth nationally in the preseason Football Championship Subdivision Coaches Poll.

“We’re just excited to get going,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator.

There is reason for optimism.

The Cowboys are a far different-looking unit than they were as recently as the spring with 19 freshmen and four summer transfers coming into the fold. All of the newcomers are academically cleared to play this fall.

In addition, senior wide receivers Wes Briscoe and Ernest Celestie are ready to roll after receiving additional eligibility from the NCAA, and freshman phenom Kent Shelby is eligible to practice with the team again after redshirting last season.

That potentially strong receiving corps, along with a backfield featuring the speed of Kelvin Bennett and power of Dylan Long to go with Southeastern Conference transfers Derrick Milton and Nate Holmes, has Viator trying to solve an exciting puzzle.

“Where and how will the running backs fit in? Is Ernest and Wes healthy enough to be what they were in previous years? Is Kent Shelby what I think Kent Shelby’s gonna be?” Viator quizzed. “Those are the things (to watch for) on offense.”

That, of course, and the situation at quarterback, where Kansas State transfer Daniel Sams will try to beat out incumbent Tyler Bolfing.

Viator said he thinks the team is fairly deep at most positions, but knows that can change in a heartbeat and an ankle twist.

“I’m always so reluctant to comment on depth, and it doesn’t have anything to do with being superstitious, but everything can change so fast,” Viator said. “I’ve gone into camps thinking ‘We’ve got so many kids here,’ and then after the first scrimmage you wonder how we’re going to practice.”

To that end, Viator won’t be pushing the Cowboys any harder than he has to. With McNeese opening its season at Nebraska a week later than most other schools, the camp schedule is more spread out than years past.

Unless weather forces his hand in canceling a day’s practice at some point, Viator doesn’t have any two-a-days scheduled for the Cowboys.

“We just kind of have to lighten up and chill out a little bit because it’s going to be a long, marathon camp in terms of getting to Sept. 6,” Viator said. “You want to get off to a fast start, but you don’t want to get off so fast that you bottom out anytime. Just keep ascending throughout camp and improving.”

The no two-a-day strategy worked last year for the Cowboys, who were clearly the fresher team in a 53-21 Week 1 win at South Florida.

With teams permitted to work on conditioning over the summer, Viator said two-a-days simply aren’t as much of a necessity as they were in days of yore.

“You used to have to spend so much time trying to get them in shape,” he said. “Now they come in in a little better shape.”

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