CARBONDALE — For the first time in four years, SIU's football team will have the same offensive and defensive coordinators when it opens training camp Saturday morning.
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach John Van Dam, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Kraig Paulson and the Salukis are scheduled to kick off the second year of the Nick Hill era at approximately 8:40 a.m. SIU returns 15 starters from last season's 4-7 squad that finished tied for last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference at 2-6.
Five of the returning starters are underclassmen, center Jacob Marnin, tight end Jacob Varble, safety Jeremy Chinn and specialists Matt Sotiropoulos and Lane Reazin.
"I'm excited about Year 2. I really am. I'm excited that the majority of the staff is back, and both coordinators are back. The terminology is the same, and our guys can really fluorish," Hill said. "I'm really excited about our defense, to be able to play in the same defense for two years in a row. There isn't anybody on our team that has played in the same defense for more than a year, for two years in a row. Ryan Neal, this will his fourth year starting games for us, and he's never had back-to-back coordinators, so it's been a brand-new training camp for him every year."
Neal, a senior safety, is a three-year starter and will have to battle to be a fourth-year starter. Chinn took his starting spot towards the end of the year and made the MVFC All-Newcomer Team. The Salukis want to get backup quarterback Matt DeSomer on the field at safety, as well as sophomore James Ceasar, who played cornerback last season.
Senior Charlie Harris also played in 11 games at safety last season, grabbing 15 tackles.
The most important position battles lie at SIU's two youngest positions. Sam Straub is back at quarterback after leading the Salukis to wins in two of their last three games, but DeSomer is the most experienced backup. The 6-foot, 198-pound junior has been more of a wildcat-type option in the past, but did complete his first passes as a Saluki in 2016, going 4 of 6 for 19 yards.
SIU's only other backups are third-year sophomore Tanner Hearn, who got into only one game last season, and freshman Brandon George.
George was not your typical freshman, as he was named the Oklahoma Gatorade player of the year as a senior, but Saturday will be his first day on the field with SIU's coaches. The 6-foot, 206-pound quarterback led his high school to a 28-1 record his final two seasons, including the Class 3A Oklahoma state championship. George threw for 7,407 yards and 76 touchdowns as a prep and rushed for 2,307 yards and 36 touchdowns.
The defensive line could have four new starters after three of them graduated or transferred out. Sophomore Malik Haynes, who had 19 tackles in 11 games as a true freshman at tackle, is the Salukis' only returning starter in that front four.
SIU gets the opening weekend of college football off and begins a run of 11 consecutive weeks Sept. 9 against Mississippi Valley State.