The Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference landscape will have a different look in the 2013 football season, and the Austin College Kangaroos will be looking to get to the top of the mountain this season behind a deep and experienced defense as well as some strong returning talent on offense.
The 'Roos will help welcome two new programs in old American Southwest Conference rival Texas Lutheran, which begins its first season in the SCAC, as well as Southwestern, which brings its brand new varsity program to the conference this season. In a bit of a scheduling quirk, the 'Roos will actually get two shots at both TLU and Southwestern along with longtime SCAC rival Trinity this season.
Austin College returns eight starters on the defensive side of the ball, including seniors Nathan Packard and Stephen Young at linebacker as well as seniors De'Andre Holmes and Logan Estes in the secondary. Packard and Estes are expected to lead the defense after being selected as Preseason All-Americans this year. Packard led the 'Roos with 66 tackles with 5.0 for loss and 1.0 sack, and added an interception while Estes made 36 stops and picked off one pass from his cornerback position.
While the 'Roos are forced to replace a pair of seniors at defensive end, the team boasts several strong interior linemen who return from a year ago, including Tre Stewart and two talented defensive tackles both coincidentally named Brett Vaughn. Stewart made 47 stops last year while Brett T. Vaughn, a junior, had 37 tackles and Brett H. Vaughn, a sophomore, added 32.
The 'Roos will be looking to players such as Josh Uland, Madison Parkhill, and Casey Davis to shore up the defensive end spots in what will likely be one of the fiercest position battles in preseason camp.
The secondary should be the strength of the team with not only Holmes and Estes returning, but also fellow starter Scott Loy along with Colter Headrick and Shane Hodge, all of whom saw significant action last year. Holmes was second on the team with 59 tackles and Loy was third with 57, while Headrick had a team-high three interceptions and Hodge added two picks.
On offense, the 'Roos will be forced to replace six senior starters from a year ago but will lean heavily quarterback Noah Jesko, who enters his third season as the team's starter. Jesko completed 56.3% of his passes last year while throwing for 723 yards and five touchdowns. Also returning this season is Madison Ross, who earned SCAC Newcomer of the Year honors a season ago after rushing for 290 yards and two touchdowns and adding 12 receptions for 138 yards and two more scores.
Ross will get help in the backfield from James Nwankpah, Devin Smith, and Bryce Murphy. After Ross, Murphy is the second leading returning rusher after gaining 181 yards and two touchdowns last season while Nwankpah rushed for 124 and Smith added 94 and a touchdown. All three are expected to step into much larger roles in the offense this season.
Three of five starters return on the offensive line to help open up the holes for the talented stable of running backs, led by Hunter Womack, Chris Tanner, and Bradley Oh. Coach Loren Dawson expects Cole Caldwell and Cody Kovach to step up and help fill the void created by departed All-SCAC selections Tim Smith and Russell Gentry.
The 'Roos will also have to replace wide receiver PJ Fuller, who caught a team-high 30 passes last season for 491 yards and three touchdowns. Among the returning players, Ross has the most receptions but junior tight end Travis McClinton is back and Dawson also has high hopes for Gabe McCarthy and Kyle Crawford heading into the season. Mitch Trentman also returns to bolster the receiving corps.
Andrew Klink returns as the team's kicker this season after hitting on 9-of-11 field goals and 16-of-17 point after attempts last season, but the 'Roos will be forced to find a new punter with the graduation of Fuller, who had also performed that role in addition to being the team's go-to receiver. Freshmen Javier Reynoso and Ethan Smith will both be in the mix, while Dawson also says that Klink has the capability to perform a double role as the team's starting punter in addition to his duties as placekicker.
Austin College kicks off the season in Memphis on September 7 with a game at Rhodes College at 1:00 p.m. before returning home the following week to play host to East Texas Baptist with a 2:00 p.m. kickoff.