Updated: 08/31/2011 15:04:01 (ET)
By SDSU Sports Info
By SDSU Sports Info
SCOUTING SOUTHERN UTAH: The Southern Utah football team enters the 2011 season with high expectations after a breakthrough campaign in 2010.
After winning the Great West Conference title with a 4-0 mark and posting a 6-5 overall record last season, the Thunderbirds are tabbed as the league favorite in 2011.
Leading the Thunderbird offense, which returns nine starters, is junior quarterback Brad Sorensen, who has been named GWC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and is on the initial watch list for the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision. A native of Grand Terrace, Calif., Sorensen is the top returning passer in the FCS ranks after completing an average of 23.73 passes per game in 2010, tallying a school-record 3,163 yards with 21 touchdowns.
Sorensen will be without his top top two targets from a year ago, All-American Tysson Poots and all-GWC performer Fesi Sitake, due to graduation, but does have a pair of dual-threat running backs returning in Austin Minefee and Deckar Alexander.
An all-GWC first-team selection, Minefee was the team's top rusher a year ago, totaling 764 yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He also ranked third on the squad with 27 receptions for 257 yards. Alexander, meanwhile, gained 420 yards with an average of 5.5 yard per attempt, and added 11 catches for 90 yards.
Up front, Southern Utah returns its entire starting offensive line from a year ago. All five starters earned some form of all-conference recognition last season, including sophomore center Gavin Farr, who was named Great West Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year by the media as a redshirt freshman. Also returning are tackles Brock Christensen and Brandon Beddes, and guards Zach Brackus and Trevor Schauerhamer. Key reserve Devin Tavana also returns.
Four of the five projected starters on the offensive line tip the scales at 300-plus pounds.
Defensively, the Thunderbirds return two of their top four tacklers from a year ago, including leading tackler Blake Fenn. A senior from Roosevelt, Utah, Fenn recorded 97 tackles en route to second-team all-GWC honors.
Southern Utah also returns a three first-team all-conference performers from last season in defensive end Tyler Osborne, strong safety Erron Vonner and cornerback Dion Turner.
Osborne has received attention on preseason All-America teams after leading the team with seven sacks in 2010. Of his 52 total tackles a season ago, 18.5 were for loss.
Vonner finished fourth on the team with 60 tackles and also led the squad with seven pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
Turner recorded 54 tackles, 36 of which were solo stops, and also intercepted a pass with four pass breakups.
As a team, SUU finished the 2010 season with only six interceptions, but collected 11 fumble recoveries to finish plus-5 in the turnover battle.
Rounding out the list of top returners on the defensive side of the ball is interior lineman Cody Larsen, who was a second-team all-league selection. Larsen notched 29 tackles with four sacks.
The special teams unit is paced by sophomore kicker Brock Miller, who earned honorable mention all-GWC recognition last season. Miller connected on 12-of-17 field goal attempts in 2010, with a long of 50 yards. He also made 27-of-28 extra-point attempts en route to 63 points.
Return specialist Henna Brown also returns after averaging a team-best 24.6 yards per
kickoff return last season. Brian Wilson and Jared Ursua saw limited action on kickoff and punt returns, respectively, last season.