South Alabama's young football team had a breakout season in 2013 with a strong group of offensive lineman. Graduating only five seniors last year, the offense returns four starting lineman and plenty of talent poised for another strong season. The only lingering question is at quarterback where head coach Joey Jones and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Robert Matthews must replace Ross Metheny, who earned All-Conference Honors and led the Sun Belt in total offense per game.
Here are five players you need to know for the 2014 Jaguar season.
Joseph Scelfo, Center
Scelfo, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound sophomore from Bogart, Georgia, will take over at center for the Jaguars in 2014. He was a three-star recruit from Rivals.com and ESPN.com and a two-star by Scout.com. He was the top-rated center in Georgia and ranked 12th among all centers in the country by ESPN.com. His father lettered in football at Louisiana-Monroe and is currently an assistant coach with the Atlanta Falcons.
Scelfo redshirted in 2012, but was named the coaches’ offensive scout team award winner. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, he played in 10 games and recorded 15 knockdown blocks on 57 snaps.
Scelfo will be the only new starter on the Jaguar offensive line, which could prove to be one of the best units in the conference. Ucambre Williams and Drew Dearman will anchor the left side again this season. Chris May will anchor the opposite side at right tackle with the return of Melvin Meggs from a knee injury prior to the beginning of last season at right guard.
Brandon Bridge, Quarterback
Behind the offensive line the Jaguars will be led by senior Brandon Bridge, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound senior who takes over for Metheny. He appeared in nine of 12 games last season completing 29-of-66 pass attempts for 398 yards and a touchdown. He also gained 170 yards on 37 rushes with a touchdown.
Bridge played two seasons at Alcorn State before transferring to South Alabama and sitting out the 2012 season. Last year he was beat out by Metheny who had several starts under his belt from the 2012 season. Metheny made big plays with both his arm and his legs. Bridge has a cannon for an arm and a sports car for legs. He outran the Mississippi State defense at Alcorn State and will get another chance against the Bulldogs this season. Expect some big things with the added dimension that Bridge brings if his accuracy is better than what we saw the few times in games last season. By all indications his accuracy has improved as he threw his way into the finals of the Manning Passing Academy over the summer. Now it's his turn to take control and lead the offense.
Xavier Johnson, Running Back
The 5-foot-11 redshirt freshman was rated among the top 30 running backs in Florida by ESPN.com a year ago and he is already factoring into offensive coordinator Robert Matthew's plan for the upcoming season. Johnson will be sharing carries with seniors Jay Jones, T.J. Glover and Kendall Houston among others. While Jay Jones was the leading rusher last season with 737 yards, Matthews wants more production from the backfield and to incorporate more zone reads into the playbook. Johnson could be the guy who has a breakout season from the backfield.
Jay Jones will start and brings speed to the table. Number two on the depth chart is Kendall Houston, who brings power to the lineup. With a nice stable of running backs, the other carries will get spread around to Terrance Timmons, T.J. Glover and Johnson. I expect Johnson to make the most of his opportunities to carry the ball.
Braedon Bowman, Tight End
Bowman, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior from Scottsdale Community College, transferred to South Alabama after earning a host of honors last year. He was named a First-Team NJCAA All- American, a First-Team All-Western States Football League and All-Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. He led his team with 66 catches for 1,030 yards and 13 touchdowns. With his help, the Fighting Artichokes finished fourth in the final NJCAA poll with a 10-1 record after dropping its first game of the season.
Bowman gives a different look at tight end for the Jaguars. He is more of a receiver and runs routes at a high level, but has the physical stature to block. He should provide the Jaguars quality depth behind Saxton who returns after tying for the team lead for catches, earning first-team All-SBC honors by Phil Steele, College Sports Madness, league coaches, ranked in the top 5 nationally among tight ends and is on a number of preseason watch lists. Bowman will have plenty of opportunities to produce this season behind Saxton.
Corliss Waitman, Punter/Placekicker
Waitman, a true freshman who stands 6-foot-2, 185-pounds, was a three star prospect according to ESPN.com which had him ranked nationally among kickers. He earned two stars from 247Sports.com ranking him the fifth best punter in the country. He lettered two years at Milton High in Florida and was first-team All-Area and All-State as a senior where he averaged 44 yards per kick. As a placekicker he connected on 8-of-10 field goal attempts and was 15-of-16 on PAT’s. On kickoff duty, 80% of his kicks were touchbacks. He also lettered in basketball, soccer and track.
Waitman comes from a family with deep ties to sports. As a second-generation Jaguar, his father, Jose Waitman, lettered in basketball at South Alabama from 1983-1986, his uncle lettered in football at Florida State from 1981-1984, his cousin lettered in basketball at Georgia from 2008-2011, and his aunt lettered in basketball at Texas from 1986-1988.
During the Jaguars' first scrimmage Waitman booted two very long punts. In the second scrimmage, he only punted once for 37 yards, but ended the scrimmage by making a 55-yard field goal attempt, his only of the day, with room to spare. He will get the start at punter and while the coaches have not made a decision between Aleem Sunanon and Grant McLaurin at placekicker, don't rule out Waitman from attempting a 50+ field goal if needed.
Wildcard: Wide Receivers
The Jaguars are deep at wide receiver. Very deep. Jeremè Jones may only be 5-foot-8 and 165-pounds, but he is a beast. He is such a beast he was featured in an article at NFL.com naming him one of 14 for ’14 Freakish Athletes in College Football. In the article by Mike Huguenin he mentioned that Jones squats 545 pounds, bench presses 365 pounds, hang cleans 335 pounds, vertical jumps 37.5 inches, broad jumps 10’1" and runs a 4.48 40 with 7.5% body fat.
Shavarez Smith tied for the team lead with 50 receptions last season for 940 yards and six touchdowns. Behind Smith is newcomer Claude Garrett who was named to the first-team All-Midwest Football Conference his sophomore year after recording 53 catches for 772 yards and four touchdowns to rank in the top 20 nationally in receptions, receiving yards, and yards per game in his colleges' division last season.
Danny Woodson Jr., a transfer from Alabama, returns after missing the end of last season with an Achilles injury. He was really starting to make big time plays prior to his injury, but the coaches think he will have another good season this year. Behind Woodson is Marvin Shinn, another Alabama transfer on the Jaguar roster, who spent his first two seasons at Alabama on back-to-back BCS National Championship teams. He sat out last year and will finally get back on the field to show his stuff. Nathan Sassaman has also impressed the coaches throughout preseason camp and could see field time in the wide receiver rotation along with Tony Ray Parnell.
The Jaguars ended the season with a three-game winning streak and look to keep that momentum going in 2014. Their offense sustained drives and put points on the board which allowed the defense to stay rested and play well. Offensive coordinator Robert Matthews and head coach Joey Jones have the most talented offensive unit in the Jaguar's six seasons of football. This team in general and this offense in particular should compete well in conference play and throughout the 2014 season.