Last year was the first time in more than 75 years Texas Wesleyan University fielded a football team. Though they didn’t win a game on the field, it was nonetheless a historic campaign for the Rams.
And now they are making history again as part of the Sooner Athletic Conference’s first football season. The league held its first media day Thursday at the historic Davey O’Brien Sports Lounge inside the Fort Worth Club.
“This is a great day in history. It’s going to give us brand recognition,” Rams head coach Joe Prud’homme said. “This conference is loaded with great coaches. I’m honored to be a part of them.”
As part of the event, the SAC announced its preseason coaches poll. The Rams are picked ninth in the nine-team league, with 2017 Central States Football League champion Langston picked first.
“Our goal is to win every day,” Langston head coach Quinton Morgan said, stressing success in practice and the mindset leading up to each contest. His team returns 38 lettermen, including 19 starters, from a 10-1 season.
The RamClub, on top of securing the Davey O’Brien Sports Lounge as the site of media day, also hosted a welcome dinner for all attendees on Wednesday. Student-athletes heard from Cory Proctor, former NFL offensive lineman, on the value of leadership.
“Our direction this season is straight up.” Prud’homme said. “We have a lot of new faces on the team, we had a great recruiting season, and we feel like we put ourselves in a good position to start the year.”
The most notable additions to the Ram roster includes former Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Donovan Isom and Former Texas Tech running back Desmond Nisby.
Returning senior cornerback Michael Miller, who led the team in tackles (57), along with a pair of interceptions, said that while he understands the preseason prediction, the Rams are going to prove the coaches wrong.
“Looking at it on the screen, it kind of pisses you off,” he said. “We have the talent to be so much better than last season, and we’re ready to get on the field and prove it.”
Another top returner for the Rams is senior running back Jermarcus Jones, a second-team All-CSFL selection who led the Rams with 713 rushing yards (second in the league).
The Rams’ lone victory in 11 games last season came as a result of a forfeit by Wayland Baptist, who played an ineligible player in a 54-24 win over Texas Wesleyan. Prud’homme said that while it officially shows in the records as his team’s first win, there is more success to come on the field starting this season.
“It kind of bothered me. I don’t like the fact that they awarded us the game. They don’t get my mindset,” he said.
Conference coaches also named preseason award winners. Southwestern Assemblies of God quarterback C.J. Collins is the preseason SAC Offensive Player of the Year.
Oklahoma Panhandle State linebacker Nate Leithead has been tabbed preseason Defensive Player of the Year, while Lyon kicker-punter Ignacio Gomez snared preseason Special Teams Player of the Year.
Collins, a senior from Bosqueville, produced 2,840 yards and 26 touchdowns passing last year for the Lions. He ranked 15th in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in passing yardage to grab CSFL Player of the Year honors
Leithead, a junior from Colorado Springs, Colo., picked up 69 tackles, 32 solo tackles, 2½ sacks and an interception for the Aggies to snag all-league acclaim. Gomez, a junior from Wilmer, Texas, connected on nine of a dozen field-goal attempts and was 37-of-39 on extra-point attempts while averaging 39.5 yards on punts to make the all-league team.
“What a great moment in history for this conference,” said SAC commissioner Stan Wagnon. “For us to embark upon being a football conference and to be able to provide some stability for years to come for the nine programs represented today is truly unique. Hopefully create a winning tradition in football as we have in our other sports and we look forward to sharing that success.”
While this year marks the inaugural football season for the SAC, member schools have amassed a NAIA-best 106 national championships in 14 sports throughout its 40-year history. The first game of 2018 featuring an SAC member happens Thursday, Aug. 23, when Southwestern Assemblies of God visits Evangel (Mo.) for an ESPN3-broadcasted bout. The first ever SAC contest is set for Saturday, Sept. 8, when Ottawa-Arizona visits Langston.
The Rams will kick off the 2018 season on Saturday, Sept. 1 when the team takes on Kansas Wesleyan. The game is set for 7 p.m. under the lights of Farrington Field, their first night game.
Sooner Athletic Conference
2018 Football Coaches’ Preseason Poll
First-place votes in parentheses, followed by points
1. Langston (7), 63
T2. Arizona Christian (1), 51
T2. Southwestern Assemblies of God (1), 51
4. Oklahoma Panhandle State, 46
T5. Lyon, 30
T5. Wayland Baptist, 30
7. Ottawa-Arizona, 22
8. Texas College, 16
9. Texas Wesleyan, 15
NOTE: Votes were cast by each of the nine head coaches. Coaches could not vote for their own team.
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: C.J. Collins, QB, Southwestern Assemblies of God.
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Nate Leithead, LB, Panhandle State.
Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year: Ignacio Gomez, P/K, Lyon.