It's getting closer and closer.
The signs of football season are popping up everywhere. The McNeese schedule poster has been released. The roster has been updated with all the new players for the 2019 season. Southland Conference Media Day is next week.
Before you know it, toe will meet ball in Cowboy Stadium as McNeese opens the season against Southern in a possibly sold out venue.
This week, I'm taking a look at five players that I believe will have a huge say in how good or bad the Cowboys are in 2019. There are way more than five players that I could choose, and I could also make the case for entire units (like the wide receivers, offensive line, and defensive line). But for various reasons, I feel like these five players will be a major key for McNeese.
So let's get started.
Cody Orgeron, redshirt junior quarterback: This one is obvious. The starting quarterback always gets a ton of attention. But beyond that, Orgeron – who himself is still pretty inexperienced for a college quarterback – is by far the most experienced signal-caller on the team. Orgeron has thrown 90 passes in his college career, all of which came last season. No other quarterback on the Cowboy roster has thrown a pass in a game.
I'll admit, I was a bit surprised when I realized that first-year McNeese head coach Sterlin Gilbert didn't go after a quarterback with some experience or from a younger kid from a Power 5 school to compete with Orgeron and the other quarterbacks on the squad. Matt Gardner transferred in from UL-Monroe, but he has very little game experience either.
Gilbert also lost highly-touted quarterback Cam Smith to transfer without giving him a ton of reps in scrimmages. It tells me that the offensive coaches must really like Orgeron. In fairness, it seems like this new offense fits his skillset a lot better than the previous one.
In a sense, Orgeron pretty much needs to be the guy. The starting job is his to lose. Behind him is pure uncertainty.
Kody Fulp, sophomore linebacker: The Cowboys were hardest hit by graduation at the linebacker position. Because of that, those positions are especially open. Fulp, who is in his third year of college ball after redshirting at North Texas and playing last season at Navarro College, has a few things in his favor as he looks to secure a starting spot.
One, he knows defensive coordinator Jim Gush's system from playing under him at Navarro. Fulp also had a solid spring, which should set him up to go into fall camp at or near the top of the linebacker depth chart.
Also, because he has three years of eligibility remaining, he's a guy that could wind up as a long-term answer at a key position on the defense. The defensive line and secondary both bring back a lot of talent as well as add transfers in which should help. Those questions are answered. Linebacker is still unsure.
Bailey Raborn, junior punter: Similar to the linebackers, the special teams got hit pretty hard by graduation. Gone is all-conference punter and kickoff specialist Alex Kjellsten, along with Raborn's older brother Gunnar, who mostly handled field goal and extra point duties.
The younger Raborn has experience as a punter and kickoff specialist. I will be surprised if he doesn't earn both of those starting positions while the other specialists on the team figure out the placekicking situation.
With how steady Kjellsten was last season – an argument could be made that he was the best player on the team, or the most important – if Bailey Raborn can replicate that, or come close, he will put the defense in positions to succeed. Of course, the team will hope he doesn't come close to matching Kjellsten's 78 punts from the 2018 season, which came out to over six per game.
Davion Curtis, junior wide receiver: Another junior college transfer that arrived in Lake Charles about when Gilbert did, Curtis also impressed in the spring, capping practices off with two touchdown catches in the spring game.
Curtis spent his freshman year in 2016 redshirting at Texas, where Gilbert was the offensive coordinator. So he should have some familiarity with the offense. He's not the biggest, but he's explosive. I mean, you can't go to a place like UT without some really good ability.
I expect the wide receivers to look a whole lot better than they did last season, with Curtis being reason why.
Cutter Leftwich, sophomore offensive lineman: Last season, McNeese's offensive line was poor. I'm not even saying Leftwich was the main reason why they were, but with his returning experience at center (he started all 11 games and played the second-most snaps on the team in 2018) he should anchor what the Cowboys hope is a better line to open up holes for the running backs and protect the quarterback to get the ball off to his many weapons.
Stay tuned for next week, when I'll preview media day. I may even give my SLC predictions.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com