HOUSTON — With the start of fall football practice just about two weeks away, the McNeese football team unofficially kicked off the season as they participated in the 2019 Southland Conference Football Media Day at the Hilton Houston Post Oak by the Galleria.
First-year McNeese head coach Sterlin Gilbert along with junior quarterback Cody Orgeron and senior defensive end Chris Livings were the three Cowboy participants at media day. It was Gilbert's first media as a college football head coach.
"It's exciting," Gilbert said of the experience. "Just really honored and humbled to be the head football coach at McNeese.
"It's an exciting day and it's a great conference. One of the top FCS conferences in the country just as far as coaches and players and the success that's traditionally been here year-in and year-out. It's a great opportunity to be here today representing McNeese, representing our student-athletes."
Media day started out with the release of the SLC preseason polls, which were picked by the conference's head coaches and football sports information directors. McNeese was picked to finished sixth in the conference; defending conference co-champion Nicholls was picked to win the SLC, receiving 20 out a possible 22 first-place votes. Central Arkansas was picked to finish second, followed by Incarnate Word, Sam Houston State, and Lamar. Following McNeese is Abilene Christian, Southeastern Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin, Northwestern State, and Houston Baptist. UIW and ACU each picked up one of the remaining first-place votes.
When asked about the preseason poll, Gilbert didn't want to make much of the prediction, but did acknowledge that he'll use it to drive the team a little bit.
"I think it's motivation," Gilbert admitted. "Because you look at it and you see, that's the coaches poll.
"That's coaches in this conference, people who know McNeese. Once the ball gets kicked off for everybody, those polls seem to go away and you've got to fight and battle for everything you're going to earn and get throughout the season anyway. But right now, there's not a whole lot going, that ball's not getting kicked in the air. People tend to focus on a preseason poll. We're heavy focus on us going into camp. We still got a lot of work to do."
Some of the news on media day was made beforehand by who was announced to attend for the Cowboys. Orgeron's announced attendance gave some thought that he could be the starting quarterback going into training camp. Gilbert confirmed that on Thursday, saying that, "Cody's our triggerman."
Orgeron, who played in all 11 games and started in three during the 2018 season, completed 50-of-90 passes for 406 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ran for 148 yards and one touchdown on 43 carries last season.
There's a bit of pressure being named the starting quarterback, and Orgeron acknowledges that. Last season, James Tabary went into the season as the starter and Orgeron gradually played more. Now, the focus is solely on Orgeron.
"My mindset this summer has been totally different," Orgeron said. "I'm way more locked in, wake up with a purpose every single morning. I know it's my job to execute and lead this football team. I know a lot of eyes are going to be on me Aug. 31, but I'm ready to show everybody how hard we've been working."
While Oregon is stepping into a new role as a leader on the offensive side of the ball, Livings comes in with a lot more on-field equity built up for the Cowboys due to his defensive production. The senior and Barbe-graduate finished last season with eight sacks, including a 5-sack performance against Abilene Christian. He had 20.5 career sacks — which ranks him fourth all-time in McNeese history — and needs 11 this season to break Bryan Smith's all-time record of 31. And while team accomplishments mean more to Livings, he didn't shy away from what that individual record would mean.
"That God is great and a miracle-worker," Livings answered. "When I broke my wrist, I wasn't thinking about a sack record at all. He's a beautiful painter and he's painting my life perfect right now. That's all going to God."
McNeese is set to report to camp on Aug. 1 and will play its first game on Aug. 31 against visiting Southern.