The Southeastern Louisiana Lions are coming into 2023, hoping to continue where they left off in 2022. Last season, the Lions finished with a regular season record of 8-3, with two losses against FBS opponents, and 5-1 in conference. The Lions earned an FCS playoff berth and won a nail biter against Idaho at home before falling to Samford in the second round.
The Lions enter 2023 under the guidance of 6th year Head Coach Frank Scelfo. The Abbeville, Louisiana native has led the Lions to a 34-23 overall record, including a 3-3 record in the FCS playoffs. Scelfo has previously coached at many other notable programs, including Tulane, Arizona, UTSA, and Louisiana Tech, plus the Jacksonville Jaguars, and specializes in working with quarterbacks, having worked with JP Losman, Nick Foles, and Blake Bortles in the past. Scelfo also coached Cole Kelly, the 2020 Walter Payton award winner and two-time FCS All-American. Coach Scelfo took over a middling squad in 2018 and has seen success, having taken the Lions to the playoffs three times and winning all three first-round playoff games.
In 2022, the Lions saw two individuals split time at the quarterback position, with senior Cephus Johnson III spending equal time with redshirt-freshman Eli Sawyer. Coach Scelfo and Offensive Coordinator Greg Stevens often run a two-quarterback system, and it seems as though that won’t change in 2023, as Sawyer and NSU transfer Zachary Clement have both impressed in camp. Clement has run with the first-team offense this fall, while Sawyer has seen action with the second-team offense. Coach Scelfo is confident that both quarterbacks will help lead the Lions to the top of the conference again this season.
The Lions have tough shoes to fill after the departure of running back Carlos Washington Jr., who scored 15 times on the ground last season and is currently with the Atlanta Falcons organization. Their second-leading rusher last season, Jesse Britt, and fifth-leading rusher, Taron Jones, have both graduated and left the program, so sophomore Rodeo Graham Jr. and Louisiana Tech transfer Harlan Dixon will split time in the backfield. SLU usually operates with a running-back-by-committee system, and while Coach Scelfo is confident in Graham and Dixon to take on the bulk of the carries, he is watching the rest of the running back room closely to figure out his third and fourth string running backs. True freshman Deantre Jackson, from Edna Karr High in New Orleans, and Butler CC transfer Cyrus Zuell seem to be the men for the job.
Southeastern lacks experience in the wide receiver room entering 2023, but Coach Scelfo threw out eight names that have impressed him in camp this fall. With last season’s leading receiver, Gage Larvadian transferring to Miami University, and with CJ Turner and Terrell Carter running out of eligibility, the Lions have found numerous options to replace the production seen at the position. One of the few returners to the squad at the position is Darius Lewis, who caught 15 passes last season and seems to have the coaches trust. Another returning receiver is Maurice Massey. The Missouri transfer finished second on the team in both catches, with 40, and yards, with 525, and also scored 4 times in 2022. Many new faces will see the field, with some names to watch out for being freshman Mike Williams, Jaylon Domingeaux, Tristian Goodly, and Clayton Lonardo.
Kennesaw State transfer Xavier Hill is another wide receiver who will see playing time in 2023. He caught 20 passes and 5 touchdowns in two seasons with the Owls. Former Lamar quarterback-turned wide receiver Marcellus Johnson is another name to keep an eye on in 2023 at the position. Lastly, Coach Scelfo named Corey Lorio as someone else who’s impressed in camp. There will be plenty of mouth’s to feed at the wide receiver position, and it will be interesting to see who rises to the top and if all the names listed can see action this upcoming season.
SLU doesn’t feature the tight end a whole lot in the offense. Junior Ivan Drobocky led the position in catches, yards, and touchdowns last season, posting a 14-234-6 statline. Coach Scelfo is excited for his tight end room this season, and mentioned that Drobocky, Jacob Logan, Bauer Sharp, and Cade Collier are all guys that this offense can lean on to make plays in the passing game, and look towards for leadership. Connor Briggs is the best blocking tight end in this group, and will see action on a lot of running downs. Briggs appeared in all 13 games last season but did not record a catch. Coach Scelfo emphasized the importance of this position through fall camp, and we shall see if the tight end group earns a bigger share of targets in the passing game.
The offensive line was one of the key units that helped the Lions reach the playoffs in 2022. Returning are six lineman with starting experience, totaling 83 starts among them. Veteran LT Jalen Bell, a two-time all-conference selection, was injured the season opener last season, but returns and is ready to protect the blindside this season. Veteran right tackle Brennan Lanclos was lost three weeks into the season, but returns as well. Jhy Orgeron, who filled in for Bell and took home the second-team all-conference selection at tackle, returns as well to provide depth at the position. At guard, Brockhim Wicks looks slated to start the season at LG, and Javin Turner at RG. Last seasons left guard, John Allen, took home SLC (Southland Conference) Offensive Lineman of the year honors, and moves over to his more natural position of center for the upcoming year. Allen is seen as a great communicator and is developing a great bond with his quarterbacks. He has received a spot as a. FCS Preseason All-American.
On the defensive line, Coach Scelfo feels as though he has a great mix of returning veterans and newcomers, and that this position group is one of the deepest on the squad. One name to keep an eye on is Kaleb Proctor. Proctor recorded 16 tackles and 0.5 sacks last season for the Lions, but entering his sophomore season, he has made a huge leap and figures to be a key piece to the puzzle. Arlen Williams and Garrett Crawford are two more members of this unit who will play huge roles in keeping stability to the defensive line. Both Williams and Crawford have been added to the SLC Preseason All-Conference team. Additionally, Tyrik Mitchell was mentioned by coaches as someone else to expect a big season from. Mitchell was recently added to the Senior Bowl Watchlist. Rodney Sopsher is another member of the line who will receive playing time this season. Coming off a season-ending injury, coaches are expecting him to return to form and make an impact up front. Shemar Pearl and Javen Sanchez are two more names to watch in 2023.
Tom Rinaldi, DL coach, was asked recently about who the biggest leader in his group was. Without hesitation, Coach Rinaldi gave the title to Crawford, a three-year starter who has shown versatility throughout his time in Hammond and has the capability to play all defensive line positions.
The Lions bring back their three leading tacklers at the linebacker position last season: Donte’ Daniels, Herman Christophe IV, and Anthony Britton Jr. Add in more returning veterans, such as KK Reno, and the Lions have an experienced group. Behind the returning veterans are Freshman Lemar Harris, Jordan Okoye, and Jirrea Johnson Jr. Second-year linebackers coach Dustin Landry is complementary of the veterans showing the younger players the ropes and “the Lion way.” Landry is excited to work with an experienced group, and one that seems to be more athletic overall compared to last season.
The Lions defensive backfield is perhaps the deepest position, even with four All-Conference starters leaving the squad. The most notable of those four was Zy Alexander, who transferred to LSU. The Lions brought in a pair of transfers into the unit themselves: Victor Tademy from Harvard and Donald Clay from SMU. There were so many other names that have made impacts in camp thrown out by Coach Scelfo and AHC/ DC Bill D’Ottavio, including veterans Markell Linzer, Ian Goodly, Kunta Hester, Coryell Pierce, Varon Douglas, Rob Buquoi, Tyrone Legette, Blayne Delahoussaye, and Justin Dumas. The freshman who have made the biggest impact in camp include Tylon Cooper, Ralph Walker, Tyler Mansfield, and Jonathan Vaughn, who switched from running back this past spring. We won’t see how earns the most playing time, and if all the names above are able to get involved on the field, until Week 1.
Moving on to the specialists. SLU boasts one of the premier punters in the FCS, as three-time all-SLC selection Austin Dunlap returns for the Lions. Dunlap averaged an impressive 43.4 yards per punt last season, best for 10th in the country. The Lions also have two options at kicker: Riley Callaghan and Mateo Rengifo. Both are former all-SLC selections, as Callaghan handled field goals and extra points in 2022 as a Freshman, while Rengifo performed kickoffs. Long snapper Korey Karbowsky returns to the lineup after a season-ending injury in Week 2 last season. Tight end Cade Collier stepped into the role after Karbowsky’s injury, and will serve as the emergency long snapper in 2023. Karbowsky brings stability to the position, one in which can hard to find reliability. Wide receiver Darius Lewis seems to be the man for the returning duties in 2023, just as he was last season.
SLU opens the season on the road in Starkville against Mississippi State on September 2nd. The Lions have a 3.6% chance of victory, according to ESPN. The full schedule is below:
9/2 @Mississippi State 3PM
9/9 @South Alabama 4PM
9/16 @Eastern Washington, 3PM
9/23 vs. Houston Christian, 6PM (Green out)
9/30 vs. Tarlton State, 3PM (Gold out)
10/7 @Incarnate Word, 4PM
10/14 vs. Lamar, 3PM (Homecoming)
10/21 @NSU, 2PM
11/4 vs. McNeese, 3PM (Football Hall of Famers Recognition Night)
11/11 @TA&M – Commerce, 3:30PM
11/16 vs. Nicholls, 6PM (River Bell Classic, Senior Night)