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Southeastern Louisiana head football coach Ron Roberts. (Associated Press)

Southeastern Louisiana head football coach Ron Roberts. (Associated Press)

SLC Notebook: Lions biggest surprise in league this season

Last Modified: Tuesday, October 02, 2012 7:31 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Without question, the biggest surprise of the young Southland season is the all-alone-in-first-place Southeastern Louisiana Lions.

SLU doesn’t exactly have a championship heritage to fall back on in football. The Lions haven’t won a conference title since winning the Gulf States in 1961. But a 2-0 start in league play has them sitting pretty at the quarter pole.

New coach Ron Roberts knows there is still a long way to go for a team that still sits below .500 overall.

“You never know in the game of football what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of football left to say we’re at the top of the conference,” Roberts said. “I’m happy we’re getting better. We’ve got to continue to go in that direction if we want to stay at the top.”

The schedule sets up nicely to give the Lions a shot to stay a factor longer than most figured when they picked the team to finish seventh in the eight-team league in both preseason polls. After this week’s game at Alabama-Birmingham, SLU plays host to Northwestern State, Central Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin to go along with road games at Sam Houston State and Nicholls State.

One of the keys to SLU’s success is cornerback Robert Alford, who followed up his SLC Defensive Player of the Week effort against McNeese State by being named special teams player of the week at Lamar.

Don’t look for him to play Charles Woodson and add some catches to that repertoire, though.

“Right now we’re just going to make sure he continues to stay solid on defense and be a great player for us there,” Roberts said.

• MAC AND ‘JACKS: Monsoon-like conditions in Nacogdoches on Saturday night forced Stephen F. Austin to do something it hasn’t done much under head coach J.C. Harper — run the ball between the tackles.

But now that Harper has started, he might not want to stop. Sophomore running back Gus Johnson — no relation to the excitable TV play-by-play man — plowed through UCA for 215 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries in a 42-37 win.

Not bad for a team that set the NCAA record for pass attempts in a game just a few years ago.

“I love to grind it out,” Harper said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Harper said there is a secret ingredient to Johnson’s bulldozing success.

“At times I thought we had Jerome Bettis, No. 6, who we had when I coached at Notre Dame. He’s hard to tackle,” Harper said. “He’s listed at 215 and told me he’s 235, but he weighs about 260. He loves his macaroni and cheese.”

WIND SPRINTS, ANYONE? UCA picked up one-third of its season penalty total in one game.

The Bears were flagged 11 times for 122 yards against SFA. In their previous four games, they had a total of 27 penalties for 136 yards.

Coach Clint Conque didn’t care to spend much time dwelling on the subject.

“Our discipline wasn’t what it needed to be,” was Conque’s terse response. “And it’s being addressed internally.”

HORSE HENDERSON: Northwestern State coach Bradley Dale Peveto said quarterback Brad Henderson has improved his play in the last three games because he responded to some tough coaching challenges.

“I thought he would respond,” Peveto said. “A donkey usually doesn’t, but he’s a thoroughbred.”

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