GAMEDAY: LSU opens with ULM

Coming off a 3-9 season, things can't go anywhere but up for the Louisiana-Monroe Indians. <br><br> They hope the upward swing began in May when former Utah State and Navy head coach Charlie Weatherbie was hired. The 13th head coach in school history, Weatherbie brings a new and optimistic few to Monroe.

"We can win the Sun Belt Conference and go to the New Orleans Bowl—that is our goal," Weatherbie said at the press conference announcing his hiring. "It's going to take a change in attitude, but we can get it done here."

 

The strength of the Indian offense is the multiple threats they possess. Returning nine starters from the 2002 squad, ULM averaged nearly 350 yards of total offense a game.

 

Sophomore quarterback Steven Jyles returns after a 2002 season in which he threw for over 2300 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jyles was equally as lethal on the ground as the Glen Oaks product rushed for over 300 yards and three touchdowns leading up to him being named 2002 Louisiana Offensive Freshman of the Year.

 

Behind Jyles, ULM must replace tailback Bryant Jacobs' 1094 yards and seven touchdowns. Looking to step into Jacobs's shoes will be redshirt freshman Kevin Payne. Payne is coming off an impressive spring in which he averaged nearly five yards per carry in four scrimmages during the spring.

 

The wide receiver position is perhaps the strength of the Indian offense featuring senior Mack Vincent. The John Ehret product returns after a record-breaking 2002 season in which he caught 79 passes for 1,198 yards and seven scores. A first-team All-Sun Belt selection, Vincent needs just 39 catches this season to break Cisco Richard's ULM career record of 179.

 

On Vincent's other side is junior Floyd Smith. A LaPlace native, Smith had a solid 2002 campaign as he caught 39 passes for 429 yards and three touchdowns, including a 50-yard reception at Kansas State; the first of his career. Senior H.J. Adams is also back as the third receiver for the Indians.

 

Up front, ULM returns four starters and are led by center Hayden Wadsworth. The junior center started all 12 games last season for the Indians and helped the offensive line cut its quarterback sacks in half over a two-year period. Shane Luna has been a fixture at right guard and is starting for the fourth straight season at the position.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Indians run a 4-2-5 attack, mainly taking advantage of a tremendous duo of linebackers and deep secondary.

 

Up front, Southern Arkansas transfer Jamond Mason-Taylor leads the attack. The defensive tackle started four games last year and had 22 total tackles to go along with two pass break-ups.

 

Maurice Sonnier and John Winchester are the strength of the Indian defense as the two linebackers combined for 108 tackles last season.

 

"We feel like with Maurice and John, we have a set of linebackers as good as there are in Division I football," linebackers coach Pat Murphy said.

 

Sonnier is once again a member of the Lombardi Award Watch List and looks to be fully recovered from a broken ankle that forced him to miss the final eight games of the 2002 season.

 

Winchester finished fourth on the team in tackles with 74, a number that seems insignificant until you realize the junior from Logansport missed the first four games of the season.

 

In the secondary, ULM has tremendous depth with four cornerbacks who have been a starter at sometime in their career. Cash Mouton led the Indian secondary with 55 tackles last season, including seven pass break-ups.

 

At safety, the Indians return two starters in juniors Damien Richard and Chris Harris. Harris earned second-team all conference honors after leading the team in tackles with 127, including 78 solo stops. After a 60-tackle season in 2002, Travin Moore emerged as the starter at the third safety position.

 

On special teams, ULM returns Tyler Kuecker and Joel Stelly at place-kicker. Both shared the duties last season and will once again in 2003. Kuecker made 4-of-10 field goals last season and will also serve as the team's punter where he averaged 36.5 yards a punt in limited action.


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