If Louisiana-Monroe is to put together a repeat of last year’s bowl season, senior quarterback Kolton Browning will have to have another great season. The Mabank senior returns to the Warhawks as the Sun Belt Conference’s best quarterback. He was named the SBC’s preseason first-team quarterback and preseason Offensive Player of the Year. He is also on several award watch lists, including both the Maxwell Award, given to college football’s best overall player, and the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the nation’s best quarterback. Plus, the inaugural Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award.
Browning led the Warhawks to a watershed season in 2012, as they reached a bowl game for the first time in school history. Even though the Warhawks lost to Ohio in the Independence Bowl, they finished 8-5, representing the most wins for Louisiana-Monroe since winning 9 games in 1993, which was their last season in FCS as a member of the Southland Conference.
Browning was the SBC’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2012, as he threw for 3,049 yards, which was a new school record. He also threw a school-record 29 touchdown passes.
The Warhawks open the season on Aug. 31 at Oklahoma. Browning is one of nine East Texas players on the roster.
ET wide receivers hope to spark SMU
SMU begins its first season in the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East) and a pair of East Texas holdovers from last year — John Tyler senior Jeremy Johnson and Troup junior Der’rick Thompson — hope to fuel the passing game once again.
Johnson is coming off a season in which he led SMU with 67 receptions and scored three touchdowns. Thompson meanwhile was third on the team in receptions with 41 and scored four times.
The graduation of Darius Thomas — who had 64 catches last year — opens up the opportunity for the pair to be SMU’s top two targets this season.
Thompson was SMU’s lead kickoff returner as well, averaging 25.7 yards per return last season.
This pair isn’t the only East Texas offensive stars the Mustangs hope make an impact. Cayuga standout Traylon Shead, who transferred from Texas, is seeking to crack the starting lineup at running back. The Mustangs are in need of a replacement for the departed Zach Line.
Mount Enterprise senior linebacker Kevin Pope is also seeking a full-time job at linebacker.
SMU hosts Texas Tech on Aug. 30.
ET Cougars adjusting to AAC
Like SMU, Houston is preparing for its first season in the American Athletic Conference with a half-dozen East Texas products in tow.
Three products — senior linebacker Austin Wilson, junior wide receiver Aaron Johnson and junior offensive lineman Bryce Redman — are seeking expanded playing time from a year ago.
Wilson, from Robert E. Lee, contributed primarily on special teams a year ago. Johnson, from Longview, played in just one game last year, returning two kickoffs against Marshall. He’s competing in a crowded position group for playing time. Redman, also a former Longview Lobo, took over at center at midseason last year, started eight games and earned Conference USA honorable mention selection.
Houston hosts Southern at Reliant Stadium on Aug. 30. The Cougars are playing most of their home games at Reliant this season while their on-campus stadium is being renovated for the 2014 season.
LaTech transitions to C-USA
Louisiana Tech won nine games last year and is moving to Conference USA this season. The Bulldogs are taking a trio of talented East Texas players with them.
Marshall’s Matthew Shepperd, a senior, started all 12 games for the Bulldogs last season and should start again. Senior Vince Cano, from Kilgore, converted from the offensive line to the defensive line a year ago, returns to add depth to the defensive line.
Grace Community redshirt freshman wide receiver Grant Childress is seeking playing time in one of FBS’s most prolific offenses.
The Bulldogs open the season at North Carolina State on Aug. 31.
Gilmer product Luke Turner saw plenty of playing time as a true freshman last year, earning All-Conference USA freshman honors after rushing for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Owls — coming off a bowl appearance — hope Turner is able to contribute more this season.
The Owls have two other East Texas products — Gilmer redshirt freshman cornerback Darrion Pollard and Frankston sophomore cornerback Michael Warren — that could see action in 2013, starting with the season opener at Texas A&M on Aug. 31.
East Texas Pipeline appears weekly in the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is dedicated to updating readers on East Texas athletes who have gone on to college sports. If you know of a former ET high school athlete who is now competing on the college level and is worthy of recognition, email Matthew Postins at TMTpipeline@hotmail.com with the information.