Beau Branyan is changing his number this year.
The SIU football team is hoping the new number results in the same consistent play he’s given them the last three years.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound junior left tackle figures to make his 35th straight start, barring injury or some other circumstance, when the 9th-ranked Salukis open their season on Sept. 3 at Incarnate Word.
Branyan was still sporting a necklace with 76 – his old number – when he talked after practice Tuesday morning.
“I’ve already ordered the new one with number 54,” he said with a smile. “It’ll be here.”
And so too will SIU’s most experienced and best returning lineman, ready to provide creases for its running backs and time to throw for junior quarterback Nic Baker. The Salukis averaged nearly 31 points per game last year and have a realistic chance to be even better with the amount of proven players back.
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Even with wide receiver Avante Cox sidelined for at least the first two games after breaking his hand on Aug. 7, SIU still has a bevy of threats around Baker. That’s why Branyan isn’t concerned about the offense’s slow start in preseason camp.
“I’m excited about this season,” he said. “In the five years I’ve been here, this is the most talent we’ve had. The defense has come out and given us good looks and I think the offense has given good responses to it.
“Injuries are just a part of the game, unfortunately, but I think you’re really going to see us come together these next two weeks. The biggest thing is really not taking a step back. We’ve just got to keep putting good on good.”
In the Salukis’ case, that means saddling up Branyan to lead an offensive line that does have a 325-pound size hole to fill. ZeVeyon Furcron started 46 consecutive games at left guard the last four years and started 54 of 56 games in a great career.
While Furcron is still around the program as a graduate assistant, someone still needs to take up the mantle of leadership up front. Branyan is the most likely candidate to do that and his offseason work shows he understands the need.
“I had a good summer in the weight room and most importantly, I got faster,” he said. “I had a good 20-(yard) time and that’s what I was trying to do. I was already strong enough, but I wanted to get quicker.
“Just working on my pulls, getting faster, getting out of my pass set quicker … having good feet is the biggest thing about the offensive line. Opening those holes and giving Nic time to get the ball to our playmakers is going to be crucial.”
Branyan and a whole lot of other people in the program are excited about the potential of a defense that has been the team’s most positive development in preseason camp. Although no starters returned along the line, the defense didn’t allow a point during a 70-play scrimmage on Aug. 11, consistently flashing speed and playmaking skills.
Should the defense be able to play up to that standard when facing a tough schedule, the team’s chances of doing damage in the regular season and advancing to the FCS playoffs improve greatly.
That Branyan is at SIU is the result of a snap decision made on gut feel as much as logic. He had preferred walk-on offers from Iowa and Illinois, and could have played as a defensive end at multiple Division II schools.
“I had a few other FCS offers and coach (Nick) Hill came in and offered me a partial scholarship,” Branyan said, “and I said, ‘I’ll commit.’ He said, ‘You haven’t even visited yet.’ I told him I’d commit.
“So then he offered me a full scholarship.”
As the last three seasons have proven, Hill’s upgrade and Branyan’s play have proven both of them right.