CARBONDALE — Sam Straub is back, and will have two senior wide receivers to throw to when SIU's football team opens spring practice this afternoon at Saluki Stadium.
Straub, one of 12 fifth-year seniors on this year's club, broke a bone in his right (throwing) wrist at South Dakota in the eighth game of the season. The Salukis fell 42-0, and dropped their final three games to finish 4-7 overall and 2-6 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Before the injury, Straub had thrown for 1,886 yards and 20 touchdowns, 10 of them to either seniors Darrell James (six) or Raphael Leonard (four).
"We've got two seniors that, when you look at them, have played a lot of football and are going to be experienced leaders on your team," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "Fifth-year senior quarterback, so, the inexperience is not going to be in anybody's eyes. They've been here long enough to know how we want to play. They gotta continue to grow, but I feel like Ralph and Darrell can be as good as anybody in the country at the FCS level."
James, a 6-foot, 184-pound fifth-year senior, led SIU with 47 catches, 773 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his third season. He had three 100-yard games in 2017 after earning two in his first two years, and enters his final season with 1,600 career yards and 12 career touchdown catches. His 1,600 yards put him sixth-best in SIU history, and his 12 touchdown catches put him eighth.
Leonard, a 6-2, 194-pound junior college transfer from East Mississippi Community College, caught 34 passes for 530 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games. His 15.6 yards-per-catch was the second-best mark on the team, behind James (16.4), of receivers that caught at least five passes.
The Salukis lost both tackles, all-conference second team pick Austin Olsen and DeVondre Seymour, but return all three interior offensive linemen and four of their top-five rushers from last season. Fifth-year senior Ben Bailey and fourth-year junior Ernest Dye Jr. will start out on the ends, Hill said. Center Jack White and guards Jacob Marnin and Josh Podzielinski return in the middle.
Daquan Isom (491 yards rushing, two touchdowns), D.J. Davis (336 yards, three touchdowns), and Jonathan Mixon (193 yards, four touchdowns) all return in the backfield, as well as redshirt freshman D.J. Hampton out of Sanford, Florida. SIU also added Missouri transfer Nate Strong, who rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in 2016. Strong left the Tigers right before the first game of 2017 and will have two years of eligibility with the Salukis, beginning this spring.
SIU is scheduled to practice Sunday at 3 p.m. and on Tuesday and Thursday at 4:15 p.m. All practices are open to the public.
The spring game is scheduled for Saturday, April 7, at 11 a.m.